MANILA (UPDATED) - For the first time since Rizalito David filed a quo warranto petition against the citizenship of Senator Grace Poe in August, both parties found themselves in the same room on Friday: the Supreme Court (SC) En Banc Conference Room for the preliminary conference scheduled by the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).
The conference lasted for more or less 30 minutes, with both parties telling members of the media later that the main or threshold issue of the entire proceedings is whether or not Poe is a natural-born Filipino.
Poe's chief counsel, Atty. Alex Poblador, said the challenge to the lawmaker's residency has been "abandoned."
In an interview on radio dzMM, Poe's legal counsel Dino Tamayo said they believe the residency issue was dropped since it can only be questioned within 10 days after the senator's proclamation.
“Since Senator Poe was proclaimed on May 16, 2013, those who would want to question her qualifications had only until May 26, 2013 to file a petition against her," said her lead counsel Alex Poblador, in a press statement.
"Yun po ang aming belief," Tamayo told dzMM. "Pero yung kanina naman wala namang ganun na sinabi, basta dinrop lang."
According to David, the decision to set citizenship as the main issue was suggested by the SET through its chairman, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
"I accepted para mapadali na ang proseso, in good faith," David told ABS-CBN News.
David's lawyer, Atty. Manuelito Luna, added that they agreed to the suggestion so that they can concentrate on the citizenship issue.
"Dahil pag na-disqualify po siya due to ineligibility for lack of natural born status eh ganun din po ang effect eh," said Luna.
In his petition, David claimed Poe, a foundling, is not qualified to sit as a senator of the republic because she is not a natural-born Filipino.
"Magulo her status if she is a natural-born citizen, [that is] if she is a [Filipino] citizen at all... Dapat i-establish sino parents niya," David said in a chance interview.
David said he has a "hunch" that Poe knows the identity of her parents but refuses to publicly name them. He added that identifying her parents will "cure" and resolve the issue once and for all.
GRACE POE CONFIDENT
For her part, Poe, daughter of 2004 presidential candidate and actor Fernando Poe Jr., and leading presidential and vice-presidential contender for 2016, said she is confident of her status. Poe said she hopes for a speedy resolution of the case.
"Ako ay kusang nagpunta dito upang depensahan ang mga paratang laban sa akin, upang depensahan po ang aking sarili nang walang takot at direktang sinasabi sa kanila (SET) na ako ay isang tunay na Pilipino... Replay ito ng nangyari sa aking tatay noong 2004," Poe said, referring to her late father's citizenship case.
In his petition, David argues that under the 1987 Constitution, natural-born Filipinos are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire their citizenship.
Poe's camp, however, argues that based on the deliberations of the 1935 Constitution, which was the Constitution "in effect" at the time of her birth in 1968, citizens born in the Philippines are natural-born.
The SET has scheduled oral arguments on the case on September 21, 2 p.m., at the SC En Banc Session Hall.
The SET members include SC Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Arturo Brion, and Senators Loren Legarda, Tito Sotto, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Bam Aquino, and Nancy Binay.