By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Sen. Grace Poe and lawyer George GarciaThe embattled Senator Grace Poe got a reprieve after the Supreme Court (SC) issued recently temporary restraining orders (TROs), stopping the Comelec from implementing its resolutions to bar her from running for President in the May 2016 elections.
The decision came a few hours after Poe filed two petitions asking the Supreme Court to reverse the Comelec decision which canceled her Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for President on the grounds that she is not a natural-born Filipino and she failed to meet the 10-year residency, constitutional requirements for candidates running for the said position.
In the petition for certiorari with the issuance of a TRO on the poll body’s ruling, Poe, through her lawyer George Garcia, urged the Supreme Court that she should be allowed to join the presidential race in next year’s election.
Although the Supreme Court is on holiday recess, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno issued the TROs upon the written recommendations of Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Mariano del Castillo.
SC spokesman Theodore Te said the TROs, effective immediately and until further orders, allow Poe to keep her slot in the ballots to be printed by the Comelec in early February.
Under the court rules, Te said the Chief Justice could act on urgent petitions, which later on must be sustained by majority of the 15 justices. He said the TROs would be subject to confirmation of the full SC when justices resume session on Jan. 12, 2016.
In the same orders, the Supreme Court directed the Comelec to answer Poe’s petitions within 10 days from receipt of notice. The court also set the case for oral argument on Jan. 19, 2016.
In filing her petitions, Poe underscored the urgent need to issue the TROs as the Comelec order would become executory should a disqualified candidate fail to secure a restraining order from the High Court within five days from promulgation of the ruling on disqualification.
“This is a matter of extreme urgency. 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,” read the petitions filed by Poe recently.
“If the SC fails to resolve their plea for a TRO on time, it could always issue a status quo ante order that would keep Poe in the running for the presidency,” it added.
A motion for the consolidation of the two cases was also filed by Poe’s lawyer.
Garcia said they would also petition the Supreme Court for the inhibition of the three SC justices who are members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) — Antonio Carpio who sits as its chairman and Teresita Leonardo- De Castro and Arturo Brion.
The three justices favored the disqualification case to oust Poe filed by losing senatorial candidate Rizalito David on the grounds that she is not a natural-born citizen and failed to meet the residency period mandated by the law.
Leonen is also the justice in charge of David’s petition.
Humbled and grateful, Poe hailed the Supreme Court for a just and compassionate decision.
“From the start, I put my full faith in the judicial process. The Comelec denied our people their choices in an open election but I am confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the truth and the spirit of the Constitution,” stressed Poe.
The TRO prevents the COMELEC from implementing Poe’s disqualification and from removing her name from the ballot. This also means that Poe remains a candidate for president.
Poe also thanked the High Court for acting on her petition despite being on recess for the holidays. The TRO was granted on the same day the petition for certiorari was filed by Garcia, who called out Comelec’s haste and timing in issuing two separate decisions granting petitions to disqualify his client.
The poll body came out with the decision last December 23, the last working day before the long Christmas break, and gave Poe only five days to seek reversal from the Supreme Court. Garcia had earlier pointed out that the Comelec’s deadline violated the Omnibus Election Code, which states that rulings can only be implemented after 30 days.
“Now that case has reached its final battleground, all Poe is asking for is a fair consideration of the facts,” said Garcia.
“We are confident the Supreme Court will honor previous jurisprudence on the rights of foundlings to a country and citizenship. I also pray that they will carefully look into the facts of my residence and my actual physical presence in the country,” said Poe.
Poe is also hopeful the Supreme Court will decide the same way it did on her father’s case in 2004 and let the people decide for a “truly democratic elections.”
Her running mate Sen. Francis Escudero also praised the SC for its decision.
“I thank and commend the SC for issuing the TRO in order to uphold justice and to ensure that, despite all the black propaganda and negative efforts of her opponents… Grace Poe is, and remains, a candidate for president,” Escudero said.
Escudero said he remains “hopeful that the SC will soon make this restraining order permanent and put the Comelec in its rightfully disdainful place in the annals of our history.”
“I trust that our magistrates’ unquestionable wisdom and integrity will once and for all settle questions surrounding Senator Poe’s qualifications to seek the highest post in the land,” he further stated.
Poe’s spokesman Mayor Rex Gatchalian said the SC decision was a confirmation of Comelec’s grave abuse of authority in handling Poe’s cases.
“Similar to what we pointed out before, the SC clearly saw the grave abuse of authority committed by the Comelec,” said Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, spokesperson of Poe.
In a text message, Gatchalian noted that this move prevent further damage to our democracy.
“We are confident that in the coming days as the legal points are being threshed out, the SC will see the merits of our position that Poe is a natural-born Filipino and has met the required residency pre-requisite.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, also a candidate for vice president, said a favorable SC decision would ensure that the Filipino people would retain their right to decide on their own future.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the administration would like to “join our people’s hope and trust that any decision that will eventually be rendered on the matter would be imbued with fairness and justice.”
“In our system of laws, decisions on qualifications of presidential candidates are made by the Comelec and are appealable to the Supreme Court as the final arbiter,” Coloma said.
Poe asked the SC to reverse and set aside the separate resolutions of the Comelec’s First and Second Divisions canceling her certificate of candidacy (COC) due to misrepresenting her citizenship and residency in the country.
The Comelec First Division canceled Poe’s COC due to questions on her citizenship and residency status raised by former Senator Francisco Tatad, De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras and former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez.
On the other hand, the Comelec Second Division canceled Poe’s COC based on a petition filed by lawyer Estrella Elamparo stating that Poe failed to meet the constitutional requirement of a 10-year residency for presidential candidates.
“The Comelec gravely abused its discretion when, instead of requiring private respondent (Elamparo) to prove, in the first instance, her allegation that Poe is not a natural-born citizen, it placed the burden on Senator Poe to prove that she is born of Filipino parents,” read Poe’s petition.
“But the only way that private respondent can prove that Senator Poe committed a false representation, with the intent to deceive is for her to prove that Senator Poe indeed was born of alien parents, and hence cannot be a natural-born citizen,” it pointed out.
However, even before the SC order, Elamparo filed at around 3 p.m. a manifestation objecting to Poe’s plea for TRO and status quo ante order.
In the Prefatory of the petition filed with the SC, Poe accused the Comelec as “reeking not just of the usual grave abuse of discretion, but of outright hostility and arrogance, which has chosen to disenfranchise the sovereign people and deprive them of something rightfully theirs; the consideration of petitioner as a viable and valid choice for President in the next elections.
“The latest act of thinly disguised oppression by the Comelec is the timing of the release of its En Banc’s 23 December 2015 Resolution, affirming the Comelec Second Division’s 1 December 2015 Resolution…. canceling Petitioner’s Certificate of Candidacy, with an ominous citation of its own Rule 37 that its decision will become final and executory after the lapse of five days from their promulgation, unless restrained by the Supreme Court,” read the petition.
The resolution was released on December 23, a day the Supreme Court declared it would be closed and on the eve of the four-day holiday stretch. Due to this, the petitioner can file her petition only on December 28.
“The deliberate intent to inflict maximum prejudice on petitioner, by obstructing her opportunity to seek injunctive relief, is obvious. Surely, this is irreparable damage not just to petitioner, but more importantly, to the at least 50 million voters who are being deprived of a valid choice in the electoral process, which must be urgently addressed,” explained the petition.
Poe also noted the “maximum prejudice” was doubled because of the two Comelec resolutions issued by the First and Second Divisions.
She said the Comelec declined to consolidate all four cases despite all of them concerning the same COC and involving common question of fact and law.
“Now she is doubly jeopardized by the Comelec’s constraint to file two petitions on December 28, the only day left of her five-day period.”
Due to these circumstances, Poe sought immediate relief from the Supreme Court to prevent the Comelec from inflicting more injustice, by enjoining the poll body from treating its Resolutions as final and executory and deleting her name from the official list of Comelec ballots to be printed for May 2016 elections.
“Only with a TRO or status quo ante order will prevent the Comelec from subverting the very process it is mandated to uphold,” she said.
Poe is an incumbent senator who enjoys a mandate from over 20 million Filipino voters– the highest number of votes cast for a senator in Philippine election history.
Meanwhile, the Comelec said the SC issuance of TROs would have no effect on the poll body’s timetable since Poe’s name has not been removed from the list of candidates anyway.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body has been given 10 days to comment and I think the oral arguments have been set for Jan. 19. Right now I guess all that is left for the Comelec is to comply with the order of the court.” He said the overall effect of the TROs would probably be minimal.
“Remember when we started loading the (names of candidates) in the Election Management System, we left the name of Senator Poe,” he added.