COMMENT: DQ ‘Must-Dos’

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 January) -- The credibility, as well as integrity, of the Commission on Elections and of the 2016 election is at stake in the disqualification cases against Sen. Grace Poe’s presidential bid at the Supreme Court. So is the validity of the Constitution and of applicable jurisprudence.

Will the Court uphold the decision of the Commission cancelling Poe’s (COC) certificate of candidacy for president due to material misrepresentation regarding her citizenship and residency requirements or give in to the pleas of Poe and her supporters to let the voters decide in case her qualifications are found wanting?

If the Comelec decision is reversed its authority will be weakened; and so will be that of Section 3 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution and the decided Supreme Court cases it applied to vet Poe’s COC. That will establish the doctrine — “Let the voters decide” (equated to “vox populi”) – to be followed in ultimately deciding the qualification of candidates.

Concerning the credibility of the 2016 election, whichever way the Court decides, two “must-dos’ must prevail: First, the Court must promulgate its decision before February 1 when the printing of the ballots starts. Second, Poe should accept the decision as she had promised, even if it is adverse to her, foregoing the filing of a motion for reconsideration.

However, there will be no credibility problem whatsoever if the Court promulgates its decision before February 1 finding Poe’s citizenship and residency qualifications without defect and Comelec readily bows to the Court.

Promulgation

If the oral arguments that started on January 19 will end on January 26 as scheduled, the Court has five days to promulgate a decision that will determine whether Poe’s name is included in or deleted from the ballots when the printing starts. Five days is short. Can the Comelec extend for the second time the starting date to February 8? That will give the Court ample time.

At present, the Comelec is under Court order not to cancel Poe’s certificate of candidacy. Without knowing the final status of Poe before the printing starts, the Comelec will have to include her name in the ballots.

With her name in the ballots, complicated problems will ensue should Poe be disqualified eventually. Foremost, she can be voted upon – the votes considered as “stray”. The stray votes that can be in millions will result not only in massive disenfranchisement but in doubt as to who the real winner is. The stray votes if cast for the other candidates will be significant to determine the true winner. The doubt and other forms of complication must be avoided.

Considering the urgency of the case, there is no doubt the Court will give it top priority.

Acceptance

Will Poe oblige, complying with the second “must-do”, should the Court not side with her contrary to her assurance in the media? Indications are that she will exhaust all legal remedies before bowing down and out. Instead of humbly accepting her disqualification, she files a motion for reconsideration (MR).

She has 15 days after receiving the decision to file MR. That will prevent the Court from lifting its temporary restraining orders that stopped the poll body from cancelling Poe’s COC. The TRO will be in effect until the MR is finally resolved – a time that will be well after the start of the printing the ballots even if extended from February 1. Poe’s name will remain the ballots.

Poe has waged a media blitz to sustain her supporters’ morale and, very obviously, to influence the thinking of the Supreme Court justices. The only way to preempt Poe’s rejection of the second “must-do” is for the Court to adopt Poe’s line of thinking and reasoning then reverse the Comelec’s decision.

Will this happen?

Best Option

By how Poe’s counsel, Alexander Poblador, was grilled in the January 19 hearing of oral arguments, Poe is uncertain of a favorable decision. Justice Mariano del Castillo, who will write the decision, led the dissection of her citizenship and residency qualifications. Of the four other justices who interpellated Poblador, Justice Marvic Leonen was Poe’s only source of hope.

Poe’s media blitz has placed the Court in a precarious balance. However, it appeared in the January 19 hearing — unless a new tone turns out on January 26 — that the Court will render an adverse ruling regardless of a backlash from her millions of supporters – she, being the most popular of all the candidates. The stray votes will be inevitable to mar the credibility of the May 2016 election.

There is a possibility that Leonen’s plea for the foundlings can sway the majority to favor Poe. If Poblador’s argument that under Paragraph 8 of Section 4, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution only the Supreme Court sitting en banc “shall be the sole judge” regarding the “qualifications of the President” prevails – amplified by Article IX(C), Section 2(2) that limits the jurisdiction of the Comelec over qualifications of candidates to those for local government offices only — the Comelec decision will be thrown out.

In that event, Poe will be able to run while her qualification is being directly questioned before the Court. This question Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro posed to Poblador is meant for all: “Is it good for our people to vote for someone whose qualification is uncertain and whose qualification can be overturned?” In fact, it can be any time before the votes are canvassed or immediately after. Not only the credibility but also the integrity of the May 2016 election will still be at stake.

The decision of the Comelec was not to disqualify Poe for failing to meet her residency and citizenship qualifications but for the cancellation of her COC due to “material misrepresentation” regarding her residency and citizenship to affirm she is qualified.

The best option for the Court is to disqualify Poe outright if it finds the “material misrepresentation” is true, promulgate its decision before the printing of the ballots starts, and lift the TRO. Leave it to the Comelec to minimize the fall-out from the stray ballots.

However, let Poe disprove the skeptics. She is honorable. She promised to abide by the decision of the Court. She will be most admired if in living up to the promise, in the event of an unfavorable decision, she will no longer file a motion for reconsideration

Regarding her Senate seat, the Court must let her keep it until her term expires while she is trying to identify her biological mother or father. Should she fail to, she should not be allowed to run for reelection in 2019. If she can, she will be more mature to run for president in 2022. By then, there will be no question about her residency. (Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])