Nothing capricious in Comelec rulings on Poe
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 2, 2016 at 12:29 am

Fifteen justices of the Supreme Court deliberated on the case involving Sen. Grace Poe. The issue was whether the Commission on Elections had committed grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying her from running for president.
The Comelec’s First and Second Divisions, on different cases, cancelled her certificate of candidacy (COC) for the presidency, on the ground that she made material representations that were false (i.e., she lied in her COC) with respect to her natural-born citizenship and 10-year period of residence in the Philippines.

When her motion for reconsideration to the Comelec en banc was denied, she went to the Supreme Court.

The Court, voting 9-6, sided with her. The majority ruled that the Comelec had committed grave abuse of discretion. Not only that, it seems (it is disputed) that the Court also said she was a natural-born citizen and complied with the 10-year residency rule.

What is grave abuse of discretion? Here is what the Supreme Court said in one of its rulings: “Grave abuse of discretion” defies exact definition; generally, it refers to “capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction”; “the abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough; it must be grave.”

Given this definition, do you agree with the Court’s majority that the Comelec had committed grave abuse of discretion? I don’t. I’m not a particular fan of the Comelec, but I read its rulings and there was nothing whimsical or capricious about them.

Did Grace Poe lie in her COC? She did: 1) She said she was a natural-born citizen because she was born to Ronnie and Susan Poe (in an official document of the Bureau of Immigration), and 2) she asserted in her COC for senator in 2013 that she had been a resident of the Philippines for six years and six months, which means that by 2016, she would have been a resident for nine years and six months. That does not add up to 10 years, the requirement for the presidency.

But the majority said that those were not lies, only honest mistakes. Well, gee whiz. If those were honest mistakes, then Grace Poe doesn’t deserve to be president. Committing those honest mistakes makes her less than intelligent. Besides, what is so honest-mistake about saying that one was born to parents who had adopted her? What is so honest-mistake about not being able to add up to 10?

The Supreme Court’s decision on Poe must qualify as one of the most disputed decisions, based on the number of written opinions of justices. I counted 10 separate opinions, dissenting or concurring, and I read every one of them.

But there is one interesting thing I want to point out to you, dear Reader: how (some) justices can write  polar opposite opinions on the same subject without batting an eyelash. Do you remember Regina Ongsiako Reyes—who was disqualified from Congress on the basis that she did not satisfy the citizenship and one-year-residency requirements—complaining that the Court was using a double standard?

In the Reyes case, the Court upheld the Comelec, and the ponente was Justice Jose Perez, who happens to be the ponente in the Poe case, where he has taken the opposite view. A not so trivial aside: Reyes’ loss was the gain of Lord Allan Jay Velasco, whom she had beaten, and who is the son of Justice Presbitero Velasco.

Justice Teresita de Castro brought up this anomalous viewpoint change in her dissenting opinion to the Poe decision. She quotes from Justice Perez’s ponencia in the Reyes case: “At this point, the burden of proof shifted to petitioner, imposing upon her the duty to prove that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen and has not lost the same, or that she has re-acquired such status in accordance with the provisions of [Republic Act] No. 9225…. All in all, considering that the petition for denial and cancellation of the COC is summary in nature, the Comelec is given much discretion in the evaluation and admission of evidence pursuant to its principal objective of determining whether or not the COC should be cancelled…”

Given the above, how come the Supreme Court came down hard on the Comelec this time, with some justices implying that the poll body must have been partisan? Justice De Castro, in her dissenting opinion: “With the above, I am at a loss how the Court, through the majority, could rule the way it did in this case when not so long ago it took the opposite position and dismissed the petition of Reyes.”

How, indeed?  Justice Velasco voted with the majority in the Poe case. Does that mean that if he had voted in the Reyes case (he recused himself), he would have sided with Reyes and left his son twisting in the wind?

At least one justice implied that the Comelec, in its judgment against Poe, was being partisan. Maybe it takes one to know one. It seems that the Court majority in this case voted, not on the basis of the law, but on other considerations.

Justice Mariano del Castillo (his was supposed to be the majority opinion, but the vote changed at the last minute, so his became a dissenting opinion) hit the nail right on the head when he said:

“In ending, I wish to reiterate that the very precept and principle that is at once the capstone and the polestar that had guided the undersigned in drafting his opinion in this landmark case: this statement from the December 1, 2015 Resolution of the Comelec’s Second Division in SPA No. 15-001 (DC): ‘A person who aspires to occupy the highest position in the land must obey the highest law of the land.’”

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