Court removes hurdles to Grace Poe's run to become Philippine president

Philippine presidential candidate Grace Poe (right) next to her running mate Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero at a rally in Manila on Feb 9, 2016.
Philippine presidential candidate Grace Poe (right) next to her running mate Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero at a rally in Manila on Feb 9, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippine Supreme Court voted on Tuesday (March 8) to allow the daughter of a Filipino movie icon to run for president, overturning an earlier decision by the nation's polling body that disqualified her due to questions regarding her citizenship and residency.

In a news briefing, the court's spokesman Theodore Te said nine of the justices, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, concluded that Senator Grace Poe, who leads in polls on who voter prefer to succeed President Benigno Aquino, is qualified to run for president.

Six voted against her.

Mr Te said the text of the main ruling, as well as the opinions of the justices, would be released in the coming days.

The Supreme Court overturned a ruling released in December (2015) by the seven-man Commission on Election that said Ms Poe was not qualified to run for president.

The commission ruled that the 47-year-old Ms Poe - having been abandoned as a baby and having not known the identity, and nationality, of her real parents - is not a natural-born Filipino, a requirement for candidates running for public office.

Ms Poe, long rumoured to be an illegitimate child of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has been unsuccessful in trying to locate her real parents.

She was abandoned as a baby on the steps of a church in Iloilo city 620km south of the capital Manila.

She was later raised by the late Filipino movie icon Fernando Poe Jr and his wife Susan Roces.

The poll body also concluded that Ms Poe had not resided in the Philippines longer than 10 years since she returned from the United States in 2004, based on an election form she filed when she ran for senator in 2013.

In five oral arguments before the high court, Ms Poe's chief counsel Alexander Poblador insisted that the 1930 Hague Convention and the 1962 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, guarantee Ms Poe's right, even as a foundling, to run for president.

He also argued that the circumstances surrounding Ms Poe's birth show that the senator was born a Filipino.

She was born in a town where the chances of her parents being non-Filipinos are slim, he said.

Regarding questions about Ms Poe's residency, Mr Poblador said the timeline was clear as to when Ms Poe decided to move back to the Philippines.

Ms Poe moved to the US in 1988, and became a US citizen in 2001. In 2004, she returned to the Philippines to help in his father's bid to become president. He lost and died a year later.

After her father died, Ms Poe quit her job in the US and relocated her children to the Philippines in 2005.

A year later, Ms Poe reacquired her Philippine citizenship, becoming a dual citizen. She renounced her American citizenship in 2010, after she was appointed head of the government censors board.

Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay, the government's chief counsel, had backed Ms Poe in the oral arguments, noting defects in the election commission's ruling.

Reacting to the Supreme Court's ruling, the other candidates running for president said it would not have much effect on their campaigns.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who co-leads with Ms Poe in surveys, said: "The decision has no bearing on our campaign."

Mr Aquino's choice to succeed him, former interior minister Mar Roxas, meanwhile, said: "We've always been prepared to run against Senator Poe. We have been campaigning in the past few months on the assumption that she was in the race. With 62 days left till elections, it simply means we have to keep focused on the campaign and our message."

rdancel@sph.com.sg