MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Another division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has ruled to cancel the certificate of candidacy (COC) of Senator Grace Poe, disqualifying her from the 2016 presidential race.
Poe's counsel, Atty. George Garcia, on Friday morning confirmed that the poll body's first division, with a vote of 2-1, ruled to cancel Poe's COC for president.
Speaking to radio dzMM, Garcia said the first division's decision is in response to the consolidated petitions of former Senator Francisco "Kit" Tatad, former UE Law Dean Amado Valdez, and De La Salle University Professor Antonio Contreras to disqualify Poe in next year's presidential elections.
Tatad, in his motion, said Poe cannot run for president next year because she is not a natural-born Filipino and she failed to meet the 10-year residency requirement for candidates.
Valdez, for his part, argued that Poe lost her natural-born status the moment she renounced her Filipino citizenship to be an American. Even though she reacquired her citizenship in 2006, Poe never regained her natural-born status, he said.
The petition of Contreras, meanwhile, did not tackle the senator's citizenship status and only included Poe's residency as a ground against disqualification. He believes Poe is two months and 9 days short of the 10-year-minimum-residency requirement to run for president.
In its decision, the first division cited the COC Poe filed when she ran for senator in the 2013 polls, wherein she stated that she had been a resident of the Philippines for 6 years and 6 months, which means that Poe shall have been a resident for only 9 years and 6 months up to the election day on May 9, 2016.
Poe's camp has repeatedly maintained that the senator just committed an "honest mistake," erroneously computing her period of residency up to the day she filed her COC on October 2, 2012, instead of the election day on May 13, 2013.
This explanation, however, did not convince the Comelec's first division.
The division added that Poe should not have been confused since the COC form clearly states that what is required to be stated is the period of residence up to the day of the polls.
"It is indeed incredible to think that Respondent, a well-educated woman and already then a public servant with full staff support, including a legal team, would not know how to correctly declare the facts material to her candidacy for the 13 May 2013 Elections," it said.
It also pointed out the "inconsistency" in statements of Poe, who has said she has actually been a resident of the Philippines since May 2005.
The division noted that if the 6 years, 6 months period Poe stated in her COC for senator is computed from the day she filed the COC form, she should have been a resident only since April 2006.
"This stark variance in Respondent's declaration of her residence and her inconsistent statements in connection therewith are clear indications of her intent and attempt to deliberately misrepresent a material matter in her COC for President for the purpose of hiding her ineligibility and mislead the electorate.
"This glaring disparity proves that Respondent intended and attempted to conceal the material fact that she is ineligible to run for President for failure to meet the 10-year residency requirement," the first division said.
Concerning Poe's citizenship, the division said she cannot claim that she is a natural-born Filipino under the 1935 or the 1987 Constitution because she "could not definitively show her direct blood relationship with a Filipino parent since her biological parents are unknown."
It added that Poe's status as a foundling is not one of the recognized modes under the 1935 Constitution by which one acquires or is vested with natural-born citizenship status.
The division also held that the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "is silent and does not particularly state that such a right to a nationality entitles the child to a natural-born citizenship status."
The Comelec panel also similarly cited that the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) does not "commit a natural-born citizenship."
"Regrettably there is no such law which has been enacted by Congress on the basis of the UN CRC which grants or allows presumption of natural-born citizenship to foundlings."
The Comelec, meantime, also pointed out that the Philippines is not a signatory to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1930 Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Law.
The panel said Poe cannot invoke customary international law as "there is however no proof that the recognition of foundlings as natural-born citizens of the country where they are found has become an established, widespread and consistent practice among states."
The Comelec body further held that following the above disquisition showing that Poe is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, it is clear that she could not have availed of the benefit of repatriation under Republic Act 9225.
"We reiterate that respondent became a naturalized American citizen on 18 October 2001, as a consequence of her naturalization as a citizen of a foreign country, she effectively lost and divested herself of Philippine citizenship, abjured and renounced any and all allegiance and fidelity to the Philippines."
Under RA 9225, natural-born citizens of the Philippines, who, after the effectivity of this act, become citizens of a foreign country shall retain their Philippine citizenship upon taking the aforesaid oath. And even if she was natural-born, the Comelec said under RA 9225, she would have only reacquired Philippine citizenship but not natural-born status.
"Respondent claims that as far back as 24 May 2005 she had already begun reestablishing her domicile of choice in the Philippines," the division noted, but pointed out that Poe's frequent travels to the US using her US passport, five times according to her counsel during this time and even after she filed her petition for repatriation, between 2006 and 2010, negate her claim that she abandoned her domicile in the US and changed the same to the Philippines.
"It is evident that the earliest period that respondent could have established her domicile assuming she can be validly repatriated under RA 9225 was when she reacquired her Philippine citizenship upon her repatriation on 18 July 2006.
"It must be underscored that the reestablishment by respondent of her domicile in the Philippines does not follow upon her repatriation as a matter of due course. The Supreme Court held that the reacquisition of Philippine citizenship under RA 9225 had no automatic impact or effect on residence/domicile," the division said.
The two commissioners who voted to cancel Poe's COC were Luie Tito Guia and Rowena Guanzon. The commissioner who voted in favor of Poe was Christian Robert Lim, who chairs the poll body's first division.
Poe, for her part, said she is "happy" that at least one commissioner voted in her favor.
"Actually masaya na nga ako eh, kasi akala ko magiging unanimous. At least meron tayong isang nakinig sa ating mga dokumento at ako'y nagpapasalamat sa kanyang pagiging patas," said Poe. "Para sa akin, parang boxing lang ito, tuloy hangga't hindi ka natutumba."
Garcia, likewise, said they consider it a "welcome" development that the decision of the first division was not unanimous.
Garcia said they will file a motion for reconsideration before the Comelec en banc by Tuesday or Wednesday.
"Pagaaralan naming mabuti, bubusisiin naming mabuti yung mga puntong itinalakay," he said. "Lalong-lalo pa na nakakatuwa rin po ito kahit papano, merong nag-dissent na commissioner."
"Ibig sabihin naniniwala sa pinapanindigan namin at sinasabing mali ang naging desisyon ng majority," he added.
The second division of the Comelec also earlier voted to cancel the senator's COC. The decision was in response to the disqualification case filed by lawyer Estrella Elamparo, who also claimed that Poe misrepresented herself in stating that she met the 10-year residency requirement to run for president.
Thus far, the commissioners who voted against Poe across all the Comelec divisions are Al Parreno, Arthur Lim, Sheriff Abbas, Guanzon and Guia. Comelec chairman Jose Andres Bautista chairs the commission en banc before which Poe can appeal.
Poe has said she is ready to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court (SC).
READ: Grace Poe: Tuloy ang laban
'I AM A TRUE FILIPINO'
In a statement following the decision of the Comelec's first division, Poe again maintained that she is "a true Filipino from birth" and that taking her identity away hurts.
"I was raised as a Filipino, lived, studied, got married in the Philippines, and wish to serve fellow Filipinos as a Filipino. That my very identity is being taken away from me, is hurtful," said Poe.
She claimed the first division has chosen to "ignore" the facts and the evidence of her citizenship and residence "just to deny me the chance to better serve our countrymen, and to also deny our people their choices in an open election."
She nonetheless assured the public that she remains a candidate for president in 2016.
"I will say it again: This issue is not just about my candidacy. How these cases will be resolved will ultimately pervade the lives, status and limited opportunities accorded to all other foundlings, putting them at disadvantage for reasons and circumstances that are not their doing. It will also affect once and current overseas Filipinos who may wish to give back to their true country through public service. Thus, that institutions are being used to exclude fellow Filipinos, is a cause for serious concern. Our laws should protect and defend their welfare, not shut them out," Poe added.
LIM'S DISSENTING OPINION
In his dissenting opinion, Lim said that the petition of Tatad should have been dismissed outright "for availing of the wrong mode to assail the qualifications of the respondent." He said Tatad's petition cannot be treated as one to deny due course to or cancel the COC of Poe since the basis of the action is not whether the respondent committed material misrepresentation but that she lacks the citizenship and residency qualifications.
"On the issue of residency, both the Contreras and Valdez petitions failed to take into account that as early as 24 May 2003, the respondent was able to show actual, physical and personal presence in the country, coupled with the intention of permanently residing herein. There is hence no material misrepresentation in the certificate of candidacy of the respondent as to the number of years she has been a resident of the Philippines," Lim added.
"On the issue of citizenship, the Valdez petition did not squarely put in issue the fact that the respondent is not a natural-born citizen, only that she cannot claim to be a natural-born citizen based on her reacquisition of her Filipino citizenship under RA 9225. Consequently, no ruling can be rendered whether the respondent misrepresented her claim to being a natural-born Filipino citizen in her certificate of candidacy." -- With reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News; Johnson Manabat, dzMM