Editorial Notes

Resolve Grace Poe's residency issue to avert electoral disaster: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Philippine Senator Grace Poe (centre) arriving at an election forum in Manila on Dec 2, 2015.
Philippine Senator Grace Poe (centre) arriving at an election forum in Manila on Dec 2, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer calls for a speedy resolution of the issue. 

Disqualified from the presidential race by the Commission on Elections’ Second Division, Senator Grace Poe isn’t about to throw in the towel. 

She is pinning her hopes on the Supreme Court, reminding the nation that her late father, Fernando Poe Jr., or FPJ as he was known, won his own case for Filipino citizenship in that tribunal.

That’s true, though the parallels pretty much end there. 

In FPJ’s case, the issue was not his being a foundling, as is the case with the senator, but whether he was a natural-born Filipino since his father was supposedly a Spanish national and he was delivered out of wedlock by an American mother whose citizenship he should have followed. 

In March 2004, by a vote of 8-5, the Supreme Court ruled that FPJ was a natural-born Filipino and therefore qualified to run for president. 

He did so, but lost in what was widely perceived as a stolen election underscored by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s infamous “Hello, Garci” conversation caught on tape.

Well before that, however, the trigger for FPJ’s case reaching the high court was a Comelec resolution upholding his citizenship and allowing him to run. 

It was the petitioners against FPJ who sought relief from the Supreme Court when their disqualification suit against him was dismissed by the poll body—a scenario that has been turned on its head in the case of the senator, whose candidacy was rendered moot at the Comelec level, so it’s her camp that’s about to seek succor from the high court.

The Comelec ruling throwing out the senator’s candidacy rested not only on grounds of citizenship—that she is not a natural-born citizen because she was a foundling—but also on a quite unrelated fact: By allegedly writing on her certificate of candidacy that she was a resident of the Philippines for “six years and six months,” she does not fulfill the constitutional requirement of a 10-year residency for a presidential candidate.

Poe has claimed that the numbers were an “honest mistake”— a defence that the Comelec panel rejected. 

Counting the relevant numbers should be simple enough, but various quarters for or against her have advanced their own notions of how to correctly calculate the length of the senator’s stay in the Philippines after her return from the United States. 

But even more contentious than this is the question of her citizenship; the Comelec decision denying her such status on the basis of her history as a foundling flies in the face of the earlier ruling of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, which voted 5-4 in favour of seeing her as a citizen fully qualified to run for president.

Which is truly which? 

Now that the case is about to be elevated for higher and final resolution, the Supreme Court needs to decide on it more expeditiously than usual, to forestall any possibility of chaos or confusion in the coming elections. 

By Dec 15, the Comelec will have to release the official list of candidates; Poe’s case is not expected to be resolved with finality by then, in which case her name would still be on the ballot. 

That would not present a problem if she eventually wins her case; if she loses, however, the Comelec would be in a quandary over having to redo the ballots, at significant additional cost, to strike out her name.

The time it would take to argue the case back and forth might also further polarise the electorate, given the stark positions of the opposing camps on this issue. 

Former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes all but charged the poll body with abuse of authority by saying it has no business deciding on the senator’s qualifications to run for president, because that function allegedly only resides not even in the Supreme Court but in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). 

Furthermore, he said, that determination can only happen in the event Poe wins the presidency.

If Brillantes is right, what are ordinary citizens to make of such confounding laws, which appear to guarantee only mess and uncertainty? 

What is the point, after all, of resolving Poe’s, or anyone else’s, qualifications for president after the fact, when millions of pesos have been spent on the election, and a number of lives have inevitably been lost to poll-related violence? 

The nation will have to endure a prolonged period of instability as the PET—if indeed it has the sole power to decide such things—deliberates on whether a duly elected candidate should be deprived of the popular mandate.

Left unresolved for long, Grace Poe’s case is a recipe for disorder. 

It needs to be resolved definitively, and fast.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.