Grace wants 3 justices to inhibit from disqualification case

MANILA – After securing a restraining order against her disqualification in next year’s presidential election, Sen. Grace Poe now wants three justices of the Supreme Court (SC) out of her cases.

In a motion filed on Tuesday, her lawyers led by George Garcia sought the inhibition of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Arturo Brion from Poe’s petitions contesting the Commission on Elections (Comelec) rulings disqualifying her from the May 2016 polls.

Garcia argued that the three justices should inhibit from the case since they took part in earlier deliberations of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) on a disqualification case against Poe filed by Rizalito David, a losing senatorial candidate in the 2013 elections.

Earlier, Carpio said he and his two colleagues would have to inhibit if the SET case was elevated to the SC because based on rules they cannot review their own decision.

“We filed a motion to disqualify and inhibit the three justice-members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal because they already prejudged the case, as far as we are concerned, at least on the issue of citizenship,” Garcia said in an interview.

Garcia stressed they were not questioning the integrity of the three justices and they only wanted the three to inhibit because of their membership in the SET.

The Comelec rulings canceled Poe’s certificate of candidacy due to misrepresentation on her citizenship and residency in the country.

The same issue of whether or not she is a natural-born citizen eligible to run for the legislature was resolved by the SET last month in deliberations where the three justices participated.

The SET, however, did not touch on the residency issue. David has filed a petition with the SC questioning the tribunal’s majority ruling upholding the eligibility of Poe to run for senator in the 2013 polls.

In the SET, the three justices voted with the minority that Poe is not a natural-born citizen unless she proves that either of her biological parents is Filipino.

Poe’s lawyers are also seeking the consolidation of all the disqualification cases.

In a separate motion filed also yesterday, they asked the high court to consolidate for practical purposes their two petitions assailing the separate resolutions of the First and Second Divisions of the poll body with that of David involving the SET ruling.

“Perhaps this may be a legal strategy on our part, but our primary purpose really is to expedite the disposition of the cases. If our motion is granted, it will be more convenient for the Supreme Court as it will just come up with a single decision in all these three cases,” he explained.

The high court is set to hear the cases in oral arguments on Jan.19, 2016 at 2 p.m.

Also on Tuesday, the SC amended the two temporary restraining orders (TROs) it issued against the Comelec last Monday.

The high court initially ordered just the poll body to answer Poe’s separate petitions. But in the amended orders released on Tuesday, the high tribunal also directed private petitioners in the disqualification cases – lawyer Estrella Elamparo, former senator Franciso Tatad, De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras and former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez – to file their comments on the petitions.

Just like the Comelec, the private respondents in Poe’s petitions were given 10 days from receipt of notice to comply with the order.

Last Monday, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno issued two TROs enjoining the Comelec from implementing the disqualification ruling of its two divisions against Poe.

Since the high court is on holiday recess, the Chief Justice issued the orders upon recommendation of the two justices to whom the two petitions filed by Poe were assigned.

The TROs, which are effective immediately and until further orders, allow Poe to keep her slot in the ballots to be printed by the Comelec late next month.

Court rules require that the TROs be confirmed by the full SC when justices resume session on Jan. 12, 2016.

Poe and her lawyers also said they hope the justices would not succumb to political pressures.
“The Supreme Court is the most revered institution, we hope there will be no back channeling,” one of her lawyers Dino Tamano said.

Poe herself said she has full faith in the Supreme Court and the justices.

“I’d like to make clear that one of the lawyers who filed the Comelec case had moved that my name be stricken off the list of candidates immediately if we failed to get the TROs,” she said in Filipino, referring to the petition of Tatad’s camp to have her named removed at once from the official list of candidates.

“It’s clear that their move is not for the country. If you file a case in court, you normally would like to be enlightened by listening to court deliberations,” she said.

When asked if she is worried about the possibility that the Comelec might be used against her, Poe said anyone found involved in election fraud would face the consequences anyway.

“I am not afraid of them. My father had the same experience in 2004… So if they will cheat in the coming elections, they will have to answer to the people,” Poe stressed.

She also reiterated her trust in her running mate Sen. Francis Escudero, who is being accused by some of her supporters of supposedly abandoning her.

“There is no reason to doubt (his sincerity). While I welcome the concern of some of our countrymen, I am giving them assurances that everything is okay,” she said in Filipino.

“He has been with us since 2004. He has not abandoned us. You be the judge, I think he is among those who support us, who defend us,” she added.

Malacañang, for its part, said it is confident the SC can render an independent decision on the disqualification cases against Poe even as it maintained it did not have anything to do with moves to have her disqualified from the presidential race.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the SC, being the final arbiter of such cases, would be able to come up with a fair and reasonable ruling.
In an earlier interview, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said there was no basis to accuse the administration of having a hand in the cases against Poe because President Aquino would not have anything to gain from it despite his endorsement of then interior secretary Manuel Roxas II as standard bearer of the administration and the ruling Liberal Party.

The camps of Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay have denied involvement in the filing of disqualification cases against the senator.

Meanwhile, more supporters of Poe lauded the SC’s issuance of the TROs.

“A triumph for truth, justice, democracy and human rights,” a statement from the Pangasinan-based Ang Grasya ng Masang Pilipino Movement (AGMPM) read.

“The Supreme Court upholding the cause of Senator Poe and the cause of the sovereign people is consistent with the democratic precept that favors inclusion rather than exclusion,” AGMPM said.

“The Supreme Court’s timely and prompt decision to issue the TROs all but favor the right of the people to elect the servant leaders of their choice, and that doubts and resorts to technicalities as done by the Comelec en banc cannot serve to defeat the exercise of popular sovereignty of citizens,” it added.

In Los Angeles, Filipino-American leaders of the Grace Poe for President Movement also hailed the Supreme Court’s timely issuance of the two TROs.

“With the issuance of the TROs against the Comelec, the SC has proven itself as the ‘great defender’ of the oppressed, powerless innocent like the foundling Grace Poe,” the group said in a statement.

“Chief Justice Sereno’s prompt decision to issue the TROs has put a stop to the politics of exclusion and election by elimination being perpetrated by the conspirators who are out to preserve the status quo via a legal coup d e’tat,” Jun Caringal, one of the group’s leaders said.

“The SC is institutionally lifted up with this decision, especially when it fights back for the powerless, serves as the people’s defender and acts as the great equalizer,” Caringal pointed out.

In Pangasinan, the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) and the Abono party-list also praised the SC for its move.

“The TROs are gifts of hope to the agriculture sector that has pinned its hope on Poe as someone who would push and implement agriculture development in the country, and someone who would ensure that the farmers’ interests are prioritized and protected by stopping smuggling of agricultural products into the country,” Rosendo So, Sinag president and Abono party-list chair, said.

“We are optimistic that the Supreme Court would be fair and considerate when it issues the final decision on the cases against our prospective president,” they added in their statement.

They said they were reaffirming their support for Poe “as we have seen her consistent efforts to give priority to the concerns of the agriculture sector and the interest of Filipino farmers since she was elected senator