Philippine presidential hopeful gets all-clear

Senator Grace Poe was cleared to continue her presidential campaign after the Philippine Supreme Court reversed an earlier disqualification.
Senator Grace Poe was cleared to continue her presidential campaign after the Philippine Supreme Court reversed an earlier disqualification.

The Philippine Supreme Court yesterday allowed the leading candidate in the nation's presidential race to continue her campaign, reversing an earlier disqualification by the polling body.

Court spokesman Theodore Te said nine justices, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, concluded that Senator Grace Poe, who leads in polls on who voters prefer to succeed President Benigno Aquino, is qualified to run. Six voted against her.

"This is a victory not only for myself, but also for the poor and the downtrodden... as well as for all women," Ms Poe told cheering supporters at an International Women's Day rally.

The Supreme Court overturned a ruling released in December by the seven-man Commission on Elections. The commission had ruled that 47-year-old Ms Poe, having been abandoned as a baby and not knowing her real parents' identity and nationality, is not a natural- born Filipino, a requirement for candidates running for public office.

Ms Poe's rivals downplayed the decision's impact. Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who is tied with Ms Poe in surveys, said: "The decision has no bearing on our campaign."

Former interior minister Mar Roxas, who is Mr Aquino's choice to succeed him, said: "We've always been… campaigning in the past few months on the assumption that she was in the race."

But political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the ruling could see Ms Poe bolt ahead in the race. It "seals her front-runner position", he said.

The elections commission had also concluded that Ms Poe had not resided in the Philippines for 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 appearances before the Supreme Court, Ms Poe's chief counsel Alexander Poblador argued that two international treaties guarantee Ms Poe's right, even as a foundling, to run for president.

He said that in quitting her job in the US, relocating her children and buying a house in the Philippines in 2005, Ms Poe had been a Philippine resident for more than 10 years, even though she kept her dual citizenship until 2010.

Ms Poe, long rumoured to be an illegitimate child of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was left as a baby at a church in Iloilo city, south of the capital Manila. She was later raised by actor Fernando Poe Jr.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Philippine presidential hopeful gets all-clear'. Print Edition | Subscribe