De Lima: Cases vs. Poe need quick resolution to avoid confusion

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Former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, a Liberal Party senatorial candidate, urged the concerned government bodies on Sunday (December 6) to resolve quickly the pending cases seeking the disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe from the 2016 presidential race.

De Lima, who also used to be an election lawyer, said the issue, if not resolved with finality, could confuse voters, pointing out that there were less than 15 days left until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) would release a final list of candidates.

De Lima made the statement in a news conference held in Cebu City, according to a statement issued on Sunday.

"I know this case is far from over, and of course it will reach the Supreme Court," she said. "Given the number of days left until the release of the official list of candidates to be printed on the ballot, it is necessary to rule on her eligibility with finality. If she is disqualified only after the ballots are already printed with her name still on it, this will definitely cause confusion among voters who will end up wasting their votes by choosing a disqualified candidate just because her name is still on the ballot."

The different rulings on Poe's citizenship and residency should be reconciled, she said.

Earlier in the week, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) upheld its ruling declaring Poe as a natural-born Filipino. On the other hand, the Second Division of the Comelec ruled to disqualify her on the grounds of lack of citizenship and residency.

“The SET, the Comelec, and the Supreme Court must synchronize their time frames for resolving these cases," she said. "The ultimate consideration here is the fact that the Supreme Court is still the court of last resort and final arbiter of all these issues. I think with the SET there is no longer any problem as the final decision is expected to be elevated to the court anytime now."

The problems, she said, is that the Comelec still to decide en banc an appeal that Poe is expected to file.

"And therefore there is yet no final decision from the Comelec that can be appealed to the Supreme Court. This will take time," she said. "The question is, will the Comelec suspend the printing of the ballots until the question of Poe’s disqualification is resolved with finality by the Supreme Court? Or will the Supreme Court be pressured into deciding the cases just to meet a Comelec deadline?”

Aquino also confused

On Friday (December 4), President Benigno Aquino III himself told Manila-based reporters at a news conference in Rome that the Comelec decision was "confusing."

In a statement issued by the Presidential Communications Operation Office (PCOO), Aquino said he had read the 34-page resolution three times and even consulted several lawyers.

Citing an item in the document, he pointed out that Poe was granted her petition to reacquire her Filipino citizenship in 2006, through an order issued by then Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez Jr.

That would seem to have resolved the issue, until recently when her being a foundling was again brought up by her political opponents.

"Since Senator Poe is a foundling at hindi pa na-establish kung sino 'yung parents niya, how do you establish na Filipino 'yung parents niya? Parang hindi pa proven 'yon," Aquino said.

"So, tatanungin ninyo: Tama ba 'yung appreciation ng BID [Bureau of Immigration and Deportation] noon? Mali ba 'yung appreciation? 'Yung mga ganitong tanong ang napapaalala."

[Since Senator Poe is a foundling and it hasn't been established who her parents are, how do you establish that her parents are Filipinos. So it seems that hasn't been proven. So you ask now: Was the BID right in the appreciation of the issue? Or did it err in its appreciation.These are the sort of questions that are worrying."]

Aquino added that he surprised to learn that Poe was still using an American passport at a time when she was supposed to have renounced it after taking an oath as a public official.

In 2010, Aquino appointed Poe as chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

In 2013, she was elected as senator under the the administration party.

"Hindi ako SET, hindi ako Comelec. Pareho silang independent bodies. Hindi rin ako Supreme Court. Pero parang nakikita ko 'yung logic 'nung sinasabi rito," he said.

[Translation: "I'm not SET, I'm not Comelec. They're both independent bodies. Neither am I the Supreme Court. But I seem to see the logic of what's being said here."]

Still, Poe could take other avenues to help correct her situation "all the way to the Supreme Court."

The Chief Executive appointed Senator Poe as chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board in 2010. Three years later, she was elected as member of the Senate under the administration party.

No administration influence in Comelec ruling

In the same news conference, Aquino defended his anointed successor, Manuel "Mar" Roxas III, against accusations that he and the Liberal Party had a hand in Comelec ruling.

He said that, according to his party mates, it was Rep. Toby Tiangco, spokesman of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), who first questioned Senator Poe's qualifications.

UNA is supporting Vice President Jejomar Binay in his bid for the presidency.

"Ipaalala ko lang: Ang tagal naming nililigawan si Grace and, for that matter, Senator [Francis] Escudero to be part of an administration ticket," Aquino said.

[Translation: "Let me just remind you: We wooed Grace for a long time and, for that matter, Senator Francis Escudero to be part of an administration ticket."]

At first, he thought Poe would be god as the running mate of Roxas. But it did not occur to him that citizenship and residency issues would hound Poe.

At that time, Aquino said, they never discussed the issue in detail.

But Poe assured him that she had lawyers who could handle the matter.

"She kept telling me that she had a panel of lawyers who had studied the matter and they were ready to answer any and all questions and I took it at face value," Aquino said.

The LP eventually settled for Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, as the vice presidential bet.

"I really like Leni Robredo as a candidate," he said. "I like the things that she's been saying. She is of the same fold without an iota of divergence, in a sense."