COMMENT: Overspinning can backfire

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 09 January) — Senator Grace Poe got a reprieve for her beleaguered presidential candidacy last December 28 when the Supreme Court restrained temporarily the Commission on Elections from enforcing its two decisions cancelling her certificate of candidacy. It’s just a reprieve until the Supreme Court’s final orders based on merits.

The feeling of relief of Poe, her camp and her supporters was understandably expected. But their overspinning of the Court action bears watching and mindin

Tall Order

For Poe’s supporters to hail the TROs as a “triumph for truth, justice, democracy and human rights” and the Supreme Court for “upholding the cause of Senator Poe and the cause of the sovereign people … consistent with the democratic precept that favors inclusion rather than exclusion” is premature and a misreading of the cases.

The Court en banc will still confirm the temporary restraining orders when it resumes session on January 12 since the Chief Justice issued them when the Court was not in session. What if the en banc denies it? Hopefully, not! Oral arguments on the cases will be heard on January 19 unless advanced to January 15 as the Comelec has petitioned. How sure are Poe’s supporters that Poe’s arguments will prevail?

There are three disqualification cases. One is the appeal of Rizalito David to reverse the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal in favor of Poe on the issue of her citizenship status – that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen and is qualified as senator. The two others are Poe’s appeal to reverse two Comelec decisions to cancel her COC for president for having failed to meet the constitutional requirements on citizenship and residency.

If Poe loses in the SET case, she is finished. Even if she wins, she is only assured of her seat in the Senate; she still has to win in the residency issues of the Comelec cases to remain in the presidential race. In short, she has to win in both the citizenship and residency issues to completely triumph. Tall order, isn’t it?

Poe’s citizenship and residency as required of her by the Constitution as a candidate are the questions before the Supreme Court. “Truth, justice, democracy and human rights” and the “cause of Senator Poe and the cause of the sovereign people” are extraneous matters spun into the cases.

Vilifying the Comelec

The petition against the Comelec is on its alleged “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction” by upholding en banc last December 23 the separate decisions of its two divisions disqualifying Poe from the presidential race. However, did Poe, her running mate and legal team have to vilify the Comelec? They imputed malice on the acts of the poll body in the performance of its constitutional mandate.

The Daily Tribune editor-in-chief Ninez Cacho-Olivarez in her December 30, 2015 commentary (What chutzpah) quoted a portion of Poe’s petition for a TRO, reading: “…Through arbitrary, capricious and seemingly orchestrated acts over the past two months, the Comelec has single-handedly imperiled the sovereign right of the Filipino people to elect the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines.” This can backfire. Instead of just proving “grave abuse of discretion …”, they have to prove the malice.

Note very well the presumption that Poe will overwhelmingly win as the “16th president of the Republic of the Philippines” and the “Comelec has single-handedly imperiled the sovereign right of the Filipino people to elect her” so. In the words of Cacho-Olivarez, what nerve, what temerity they have!

Poe, like her legal team, questioned the Comelec’s motive in releasing its en banc decision a day before Christmas and criticized the poll body for “not even taking a look at the evidence” her lawyers had presented – boldly expostulating: “I am not lying. I do not understand why they never considered our evidence. I cannot believe that all of them are lawyers and they never looked at evidence. …I am not afraid of them … Candidates should not fear the Comelec. If they cheat us, the people will make them pay.”

To those who have read how the Comelec decisions would avow how the commissioners evaluated Poe’s evidence against the Constitution and applicable jurisprudence, Poe’s expostulation can backfire. Material misrepresentation was logically deduced from her evidence; lying was the inevitable inference. Poe and her legal team want the Comelec and the Supreme Court, as well, to see their evidence as they do.

Poe’s running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero called the Comelec “a bully” and hoped the Supreme Court will take the Comelec to task for “bullying” Poe, the leading presidential bet, during the oral arguments on Poe’s petitions on January 19. He accused the Comelec of working “overtime” en banc to disqualify her two days before Christmas “giving her very little and difficult time to seek redress in the SC.” (INQUIRER.net, January 3, 2016: Escudero: SC will avenge Poe from ‘bully’ Comelec).

Escudero is a lawyer. As a senator and the running mate of the popular Poe, he enjoys the support of a vast fanatical constituency. In vilifying the Comelec, he was agitating their supporters to vent their anger against the Comelec; in some way, he must be reminding the Supreme Court of the “voice of the people” behind Poe. Who is the bully?

Comelec Lauded But …

In issuing the TROs when the Court was not in session, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno only did so following the Court rules and policy concerning urgent cases. To delay the resolution of Poe’s disqualification cases would jeopardize the Comelec’s preparations for the May 2016 elections. Did Poe and her legal team see it that way?

Poe considered the Court as her protector for temporarily blocking the cancellation of her COC for President. She said, “We gave our full trust in the institution of the Supreme Court, and we wholeheartedly thank Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, as well as Justice Mariano del Castillo and Justice Marvic Leonen, because they upheld the truth, defended the rights of the small and prevented unjust oppression.”

By praising the Chief Justice and the two Justices (“because they …”), she apparently was not only ingratiating herself but evidently pitting the Court against the Comelec. She and her legal team equivocated in putting their “full trust in the institution of the Supreme Court” – excepting Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Arturo Brion.

Carpio as chair of the SET and De Castro and Brion as members voted to disqualify Poe and in their dissenting opinions explained their grounds. The three had already recused themselves from the case to reverse the SET decision. Unnecessarily, Poe and her legal team still demanded their exclusion from the Comelec cases for having already prejudged the question of Poe’s citizenship.

To appear professional and ethical, Poe’s lead counsel George Garcia stressed they were not questioning the integrity of the three justices; they only wanted the three to inhibit because of their membership in the SET. What equivocation!

If they are not questioning the integrity of the three, why demand their inhibition? They have the integrity to recuse themselves from the SET case. Expect them to inhibit from taking part in the deliberation on the citizenship issues in the Comelec case; but they must not be barred from the residency questions which were not tackled in the SET.

The Court has rules which the justices honorably follow. Why not leave it to the three justices to live up to their integrity as honor and Court rules dictate? That would truly be the full and unequivocal trust on the Supreme Court.

Backfire

Do the TROs mean the Supreme Court’s support of Poe? By thanking and lauding the Supreme Court can Poe and his legal team move it to reverse the vilified Comelec? The gambit can backfire.

The Comelec weighed Poe’s evidence against the clear provisions of the Constitution and applicable jurisprudence and found Poe not qualified to run for president. For this, the Comelec is vilified. But it is prepared to defend its decisions. More than its integrity is at stake – the primacy of the Constitution over popularity.

Two dates bear watching – January 12 when the Court en banc meets to validate the TROs and January 19 when the oral arguments will be heard. Poe, her legal team and supporters have high expectation for favorable rulings from the Court. The TROs are expected to be formalized. But the oral arguments are most critical. What if the Court sustains the Comelec and the petitioners against Poe?

(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])