VAL ABELGAS ON DISTANT SHORE COLUMN Why Leave Citizenship Issue Hanging?

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  By VAL G. ABELGAS
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court upholding its earlier decision reversing the Commission on Elections’ disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe has removed all obstacles for her to run in the May 9 elections. But apparently, it has not removed the possibility that Poe may be disqualified later on by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) if she’s elected.
While she was allowed to run, there was no explicit and final ruling from the high tribunal on the issue of her citizenship as questions remain on whether the 7-5-3 vote (7 justices saying Poe is a natural born citizen, 5 saying she is not, and 3 refusing to rule on the issue) could be considered final.
The seven justices who voted to declare Poe a natural-born Filipino were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Presbitero Veleasco, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Mendoza, Marvic Leonen, Jose Perez and Francis Jardeleza.
The five Justices against it were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Arturo Brion, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas Bernabe.
Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo declined from giving an opinion while Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Diosdado Peralta disagreed with the majority when it proceeded to vote on the citizenship issue.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is insisting that the tribunal failed to reach the eight votes needed to grant a petition filed before it. Under the Supreme Court’s internal rules, if all 15 justices deliberated and voted on a case, a majority of 8 votes is required in granting a petition. Carpio said no justice inhibited from the case but Sereno interpreted the positions of Del Castillo, Caguioa and Peralta as non-participation and non-voting.
“Since there is no dispute that there are only seven justices who declared that petitioner is a natural-born Filipino citizen, there is clearly no majority vote on the issue of petitioner’s citizenship. Seven votes is less than a majority. Accordingly, there is no majority sustaining petitioner’s status as a natural-born Filipino citizen. In short, the issue of petitioner’s citizenship remains hanging and unsettled,” Carpio said.
Justices De Castro, Brion and Reyes believe that the ruling would jeopardize the conduct of the election and even stressed that a victory by Poe would not erase the questions on Poe’s eligibility.
“The delay in the ruling on citizenship will only invite instability in the conduct of the coming elections,” De Castro pointed out.
Brion hinted of a possible Presidential Electoral Tribunal case due to the failure of the high court to settle the legal issues on Poe’s qualifications. He said no legal bar exists for a qualified petitioner to question Poe’s qualifications after the elections should she win.
Reyes agreed that here was no majority ruling that Grace Poe is natural-born citizen and that foundlings found here are natural-born Filipinos.
With Sereno stressing that the court would no longer entertain any appeal or motion on the matter, it now appears that the issue on Poe’s citizenship would be left hanging until the elections.
I can’t understand why the Supreme Court could not break the impasse on the citizenship ruling. If the justices could take a 9-6 vote on the residency issue and on allowing Poe to proceed with her candidacy by overturning the Comelec cancellation of her COC, there is room for Cagouia and Peralta, who both voted with Sereno, et al to allow Poe to run and in dismissing the motion for reconsideration, to finally agree to vote to get the needed majority decision.
Caguioa and Peralta didn’t want the court to proceed in voting on the citizenship issue until the Presidential Electoral Tribunal had made its determination. But that would mean a Supreme Court majority ruling wouldn’t be coming until after the election, and only if Poe wins and somebody brings the matter to the PET.
The situation has given credence to rumors quietly circulating among opposition circles that the administration would allow Poe to run, which could create a situation where the LP could claim that Poe snatched votes from the other opposition candidates, and enable poll fraud operators to slip Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas into second place behind Poe.
Roxas would then file a protest before the PET questioning Poe’s qualification based on the same reason of not being a natural-born citizen. The Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which is composed of the Chief Justice and the associate justices, would then proceed to disqualify Poe, and Roxas would be declared the duly elected president. Neat, isn’t it?
I can’t understand why Caguioa and Peralta insist that it is the PET and not the SC that should make the determination whether to disqualify Poe or not based on the citizenship requirement when the PET is the same Supreme Court that reconstitutes itself as the Presidential Election Tribunal to decide on protests involving the presidential and vice presidential elections.
Is it being done intentionally and maliciously? Is the Supreme Court being used to suit the machinations of political powers as claimed by some sectors?
Why wait until after the elections to decide on such a critical constitutional question as to whether foundlings are natural-born citizens or not? The question raised on Poe’s citizenship after all constitutes a constitutional issue that only the Supreme Court can decide with finality.
I agree with several sectors that the high tribunal should do it before the May 9 elections to avoid any potential constitutional crisis and possible political instability later on.