Grace Poe
Image Source: philstar.com

MANILA – I am neither a mind reader nor a clairvoyant, but when former movie-TV censors chief Grace Poe filled out her certificate of candidacy (COC) for senator in 2013, qualifying for candidate for senator was all that mattered to her. Winning for senator seemed farthest thing from her mind.

That is why while she was accomplishing her COC and learned that she needed only to be “a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election” to qualify as a senatorial candidate, she thought it was an ordinary, routine application.

Matters, however, turned complicated when she topped the senatorial elections. This came as a result of a nationwide clamor for her to run for highest office of the land – the presidency.

I really don’t blame Poe for her lackadaisical attitude while she was accomplishing her COC for senator. If she were a player trying to qualify in an open tournament, she would just be contented to win the first round.

That is why when it was found out later that she came up short of five months and 13 days of the required residency period in her 2013 COC for the Senate, the discovery  triggered a court case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Voting 9-6, the Supreme Court justices, in a decision written recently by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., found Poe qualified to run for president. On the issue of residency, the Supreme Court majority ruled that for a candidate to qualify to run for president, he/she must have “1) residence or bodily presence in the new locality; 2) intention to remain there (animus manendi); and 3) an intention to abandon the old domicile (animus non revertendi).

The High Court reiterated that the intent to change domicile can be made “via a series of steps as what the Court adverts in ‘Mitra v. Comelec’ and ‘Sabili v. Comelec’ as an ‘incremental process’ or the execution of ‘incremental transfer moves.’”

The Comelec had disqualified Poe solely on the basis of the COC she filed as candidate for senator, saying Poe provided “false material representation.”

The Supreme Court majority cited the case of “Romualdez-Marcos v. Comelec (1995),” in which the candidate mistakenly put seven months as her period of residence although the required period was a minimum of one year. “We said that ‘[i]t is the fact of residence, not a statement in a certificate of candidacy which ought to be decisive in determining whether or not an individual has satisfied the constitution’s residency qualification requirement.”

On the natural-born citizenship issue, the Supreme Court held, among others, that “There is more than sufficient evidence that petitioner (Poe) has Filipino parents and is, therefore, a natural-born Filipino.

Parenthetically, the burden of proof was on private respondents to show that both petitioner’s parents are aliens. Her admission that she is a foundling did not shift the burden to her because such status did not exclude the possibility that her parents were Filipinos, especially as in this case where there is a high possibility, if not certainty, that her parents are Filipinos.”

Concurring in Justice Velasco’s majority opinion were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Associate Justices Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, Jose P. Perez, Alfred Benjamin Caguioa, Francis H. Jardeleza and Diosdado M. Peralta.

Two others, who joined the majority without issuing separate opinion, were Associate Justices Jose C. Mendoza and Lucas P. Bersamin.

Chief Justice Sereno, in her concurring opinion, wrote, “Out of the 12 members who voted on the substantive question on citizenship, a clear majority of seven (7) voted in favor of petitioner. As to residency, seven (7) out of thirteen (13) voted that petitioner complied with the 10-year residency requirement.”

Six other Associate Justices led by Antonio Carpio, however, described the majority ruling as “no majority that will lead to absurd results, making a mockery of our national elections by allowing a presidential candidate with uncertain citizenship status to be elected president.” Joining Carpio in his dissenting opinion were Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Bienvenido L. Reyes and Leonardo de Castro.

If Senator Poe wins the presidency, it would mean that the Filipino people affirm the Supreme Court’s majority decision.

Although a motion for reconsideration of the decision is going to be filed shortly, I believe the motion is not likely to prosper and overturn the majority ruling.

My take is this: When Ms. Poe filled out the COC in which she stated that she was a resident for six years and six months before the May 13, 2013 elections, she did not need to consult her legal adviser as she was already in full compliance with the minimum of two-year residency requirement for a senatorial candidate.

With the wind from the Supreme Court majority blowing behind her and propelling her, Poe is likely to withstand the headwind caused by the dissenting opinions of Justice Carpio and the other associate justices. After all, she did not commit moral turpitude in her COC application nor committed a “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”

With the Supreme Court ruling, the lady senator can now focus on the tough part of the road towards Malacanang: How she can convince the 20-million Filipinos, who voted for her during her senatorial election, to stick with her and help her spread the word that she is the best among the presidential candidates.

I remember that the late comedian Dolphy used to mock his fellow entertainers who tried to parlay their popularity into elective positions. He would quip, “Paano kung manalo ako? (What happens if I win?)”
The popular comedian dreaded the thought that he was not prepared to do the job if he were elected to a public office.

In the early stage of the campaign in the 2016 elections, Dolphy’s ex-wife, Alma Moreno, who is running for senator under the banner of Vice President Binay’s UNA party, was asked by ABS-CBN anchor Karin Davila what are her advocacies in her Senate bid. She failed to give a responsive answer, saying “Kailangan pa bang sagutin yan?”

I hope Senator Poe will always be guided by honesty, accountability, transparency, integrity and credibility (ATIC) in handling major public decisions and crises of her presidency. ATIC was coined by Grace Poe’s supporter, Los Angeles, California balikbayan (returning Filipino) Bobby M. Reyes, who is running for governor in his native Sorsogon Province, which is also my home province.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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