(Victor Avecilla, columnist).
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What seemed like a victory for Poe may be a hollow triumph in the long run. In his dissenting opinion, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who voted to disqualify Poe from the presidential race, revealed that the ruling in favor of Poe does not have the support of a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court. Carpio disclosed that only seven of the 15 justices ruled that Poe is presumed to be a natural-born Filipino citizen, and seven indicates a mere plurality, not a majority.
Several months ago, the Commission on Elections disqualified Poe from the presidential derby on the ground that she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen.
Under the Constitution, the decision of the Comelec may be reversed only by the Supreme Court, and only upon a clear showing that the Comelec committed grave abuse of its discretion when it arrived at its pronouncement. In turn, the decision of the Supreme Court must be supported by a majority of the justices who participated in the deliberations.
This is a very important point. It is well-settled in Constitutional Law that the decision of the Comelec carries with it a presumption of regularity and validity. Accordingly, a party who assails a decision of the Comelec has the burden of proving that the Comelec committed a grave abuse of discretion in ruling that Poe is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines. That is not all. The party concerned must convince a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court to rule against the Comelec. If the party concerned fails to discharge that burden, or fails to get the nod of a majority of the justices, then the presumption that the decision of the Comelec is regular and valid must be upheld by the Supreme Court. There are no ifs or buts about that.
A decision of the Supreme Court which is supported by a majority of the justices is a doctrinal ruling —one which establishes a doctrine, a legal principle that is binding on everybody in the Philippines. Any ruling which is short of the required majority is a mere plurality ruling, and the same is not doctrinal. To state the obvious, it binds nobody.
Therefore, where a decision of the Supreme Court does not establish doctrine, the same cannot be the valid basis for overturning a decision rendered by the Comelec.
The disqualification cases filed against Poe are not original cases, that is, they did not begin in the Supreme Court. That is so because under the law, disqualification cases against candidates for president must be filed with and resolved by the Comelec, before it may be elevated to the Supreme Court. This requirement makes a very big difference. It means that the issues before the Comelec and those in the Supreme Court are not identical.
Why not? There were two issues before the Comelec—whether or not Poe is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and whether or not Poe satisfies the 10-year residency requirement imposed on candidates for president. The Comelec resolved these two issues against Poe. Thereafter, the legal dispute was elevated to the Supreme Court.
Since the Comelec already resolved those two issues against Poe, the sole issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not the Comelec committed a grave abuse of discretion in ruling that Poe is disqualified from running for president because she is not a natural-born citizen, and because she failed to comply with the 10-year residency requirement. Simply stated, the issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not the Comelec acted whimsically, capriciously, and arbitrarily—which are the badges of grave abuse of discretion—when it decided the disqualification cases filed against Poe.
As stated earlier, to reverse the decision of the Comelec, a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court must categorically rule that the Comelec acted with grave abuse of its discretion.
What, therefore, constitutes a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court? Seven justices voted that Poe is presumed to be a natural-born Filipino citizen. Five disagreed. Three voted that the issue on citizenship need not be passed upon.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno insists that since the three justices refused to rule on the issue of citizenship, the basis for computing the majority should be 12, and that seven out of 12 constitutes a majority.
Justice Carpio disagrees. He pointed out that the three justices cannot be taken out of the equation because they actually voted. This means that only seven out of 15 justices sided with Poe, and this is one vote shy of a majority.
The math supports Justice Carpio. Logic is also on his side. Although the three justices did not side with either Poe or those who filed the disqualification cases, the undeniable fact is that the three justices voted, and they opined that the issue on citizenship need not be passed upon. How then can the three justices be eliminated from the equation for purposes of ascertaining a majority?
Many Filipinos are already upset that the seven justices based their votes on grounds which find no support in either the letter or the spirit of the Constitution. To insist that seven out of 15 is a majority is to add insult to injury.
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