MANILA - The Commission on Elections en banc sustained the cancellation of Senator Grace Poe's certificate of candidacy for president in the 2016 elections by the first and second divisions of the poll body based on four separate petitions that argued she does not meet the natural born citizenship and ten-year residency requirements for candidates under the 1987 Constitution.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Christian Robert Lim and Commissioner Rowena Guanzon separately faced the media to explain the ruling after Poe's lawyer George Garcia personally picked up their copies of the decisions today.
Bautista explained that the commission voted on the motions for reconsideration on the rulings of the two divisions separately on the issues of jurisdiction, residency for 10 years, natural born citizenship, deliberate attempt to mislead on the residency and citizenship and finally to grant the petitions to cancel the certificate of candidacy.
Concerning the case filed by lawyer Estrella Elamparo, Christian Robert Lim inhibited because Elamparo is his former law firm's associate. The en banc voted 6-0 that the Comelec has jurisdiction over the case instead of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, 5 voted Poe doesn't meet the 10-year residency requirement, only Commissioner Luie Tito Guia voted that she complied with it.
The commission en banc voted 6-0 that Poe is not a natural born citizen, 4-2 voted there was a deliberate attempt to mislead on the residency, with Guia and Bautista dissenting, and 4-2 voted there was an attempt to mislead on the citizenship. In the end, the Comelec voted 5-1 to grant the petition, with Bautista as the lone dissent.
Concerning the consolidated cases filed by former senator Francisco Tatad, Antonio Contreras and Dean Amado Valdez, the en banc voted 5-2 to grant the petition to cancel Poe's COC.
Four out of the seven Comelec commissioners said there was deliberate intent to mislead on the residency, while Guia, Bautista and Lim dissented. The Comelec also found there was deliberate attempt to mislead on the citizenship in a vote of 4-2-1.
The Comelec voted 7-0 that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino, 5-2 voted she does not meet the ten-year residency requirement (Guia and Christian Lim dissented), and 7-0 voted the Comelec has jurisdiction.
Bautista said the Presidential Electoral Tribunal only takes jurisdiction over a case once the winner is proclaimed after the elections. "Hindi ko pa malaman bakit nire-raise yun," he said.
He also said the vote shows it's a fair conclusion that the Comelec unanimously found Poe is not a natural-born citizen.
The Comelec chairman said he does not think there was a deliberate attempt to mislead on the part of Poe.
Bautista admitted they wanted to release the decisions sooner to give Poe a chance to seek relief from the Supreme Court.
"Yun ang aming dilemma. On one hand, gusto naming ilabas kaagad para nga magkaroon ng pagkakataon ang kampo ni Senator Poe na dumulog sa Supreme Court."
Bautista maintained Poe is still on the ballot, stressing she can avail of the remedies of a temporary restraining order, status quo ante order or a mandatory injunction.
Bautista said the vote was only taken yesterday. "As I said, nangyari kahapon nagkabotohan. Ngayon yung promulgation."
In a separate interview with media, Guanzon had a different take on the disqualification cases against Poe.
Guanzon explained that the majority felt there was deliberate misrepresentation on the natural-born citizenship since Poe had no evidence she is a natural-born citizen and that she knows she's adopted.
Guanzon explained that in so far as the residency is concerned, the commission en banc felt that the earliest she could have established her domicile here was August 2006 when she registered to be a voter. She noted that in May 2005, Poe was still a foreign visitor.
"Both matters are false. The declaration in the COC she was natural born and she has ten years residency as of May 9, 2016 are false. These are material to her candidacy. This affects her qualification to run for the highest office of the land," she said.
The poll official said the Comelec could have released the results sooner.
"We were done. We were almost done voting a week ago. I was ready. I was telling them, I was saying in the en banc we should decide this already a week ago because the people are getting anxious. There's a rally every day. It is best for the parties to dispose. As I said, some commissioners were not ready."
Guanzon said they acted with dispatch even if they did not consolidate the cases, which were raffled off to separate divisions.
"No new arguments were raised. No new evidence. No new jurisprudence in their favor so the majority voted to affirm the decision of the First Division and the Second Division," she said.
POE CAMP PLANS NEXT MOVE
Poe's lawyer George Garcia raised concerns about the timing of the issuance of the decision during the holidays and revealed plans to file their appeals before the Supreme Court first thing Monday.
The lawyer said they did not expect any favorable rulings on their appeals. Garcia pointed out there would have been no difference if the decision was issued later.
However since the decision was issued now, the 5-day limit within which they can appeal to the Supreme Court was limited since the Comelec counts calendar days instead of working days. This means the decision may be implemented and Poe's name taken off the list as early as next week.
"Kundi kami makakauha ng TRO hanggang Lunes or Martes, i-implement nila desisyon. E-execute nila desisyon. Effect is tatanggalin pangalan ni Senator Grace Poe."
Garcia said previous Comelec bodies adhered to judicial courtesy to give the Supreme Court time to hear and rule on appeals. Garcia pointed out that printing of ballots doesn't begin till middle or late January.
"Bakit nagmamadali ma-implement ang desisyon. Pakinggan natin inisyal na gagawin ng Korte Suprema. Pupunta na kami sa SC umagang-umaga magfa-file ng petisyon."
The lawyer said voters should be reminded that Poe's name is still on the list of candidates.
"Kung wala pangalan niya sa listahan, para po sa amin madagdagan dahilan para makakuha ng TRO," he said.
He also said he cannot accuse the Comelec of deliberately timing the release of its decision on Poe's disqualification before Christmas.
"Hindi ko po masasagot yung salitang sinadya. Hindi naman po siguro malilihim. Pwede naman po ito nailabas nung nakaraang linggo. Pwede sa susundo na linggo. Bakit ngayon nailabas bago mag-Pasko?'
Garcia added that previously appeals took months to be resolved. He also noted that the Comelec decision on Poe's disqualification had been leaked as early as Tuesday.
"Highly irregular. This is something which is beyond the ordinary dahil nga medyo kandidato siya for president," he said.
"Kahapon, kumalat na ang balita na kami ay disqualified na. Sa lahat ng nakabasa ng dyaryo, wala na kami sa listahan. Bakit di nila ilabas listahan? Pagtinanggal pangalan ni Senator Poe, di lang grave abuse that's super, super grave abuse [of authority]. Bakit ini-implement desisyon na di pa final and executory? Nasa diskresyon yan ng Comelec," he added.
Garcia added they wanted the poll body to consolidate their rulings on the two cases. Since there was no consolidation, Garcia now has to get TROs or separate orders for both cases.
Garcia added Poe is worried since the disqualification cases have taken their toll on her numbers based on recent surveys.