MANILA–Senator Grace Poe sat beside her adoptive mother inside the Philippine Supreme Court chamber for support as the hearing began on her petitions challenging a Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision that disqualified her run for presidency.
Poe is an independent candidate vying for the country’s top office in a presidential election that will be held on May 9. Other candidates include Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), Miriam Defensor Santiago of the People’s Reform Party (PRP) and Rodrigo Duterte of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban).
Poe asked the Supreme Court to reverse the decisions of the Comelec canceling her certificate of candidacy (COC) for 2016 elections on the ground that she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen and because she failed to meet the 10-year residency requirement mandated under the 1987 Constitution.
“(My mother) actually asked me if she can accompany me. Even when you’re old, you still need your mother,” Poe told reporters before the proceedings started.
Poe was abandoned when she was just a baby outside a church in the province of Jaro, Iloilo. She was adopted by celebrity couple Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr.
It was the second oral argument for Poe’s mother, actress Susan Roces, who also went to the Supreme Court in February 2004 to support her husband, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., whose citizenship was also put in question after he declared his intention to run for the presidency in the May 2004 elections.
When asked what was it like being in the same shoes as her father, she said “of course, there are similarities because we are both fighting questions on our citizenship to be able to run for president.”
She said she is nervous but confident.
“We respect the legal process. This is tough but this is the process that we have to go through. I hope and pray that they [the Supreme Court] will also grant me the same justice they gave FPJ [her father],” Poe said.
“Whatever the decision, we will have to accept it. On the other hand, we are optimistic and we are truthful in our statements,” she said.
She added that she will continue fighting to stay in the race to help improve the lives of the people.
“Many of you have been neglected. I am doing this to help you have a good life, jobs, decent shelter, protection and dignity,” Poe said.
Poe is considered a top contender in the presidential race.
During Tuesday’s oral arguments, the justices of the Supreme Court questioned Poe’s counsel, Atty. Alexander Poblador why Poe should be considered natural born.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro said natural-born means by blood. She said this is in cases where both parents or either mother or father are Filipino citizens.
Poblador maintained that Poe, although a foundling, is a natural-born citizen based on the generally accepted principle of international law which presumes foundlings to be natural-born citizens of the country where they were found.
Poblador said Poe’s accusers failed to establish a prima facie case that her parents were not Filipinos since the “burden of proof is in the first instance with the party who initiates action.”
“The burden of proof is on the [accusers] because [Poe] is presumed natural-born. Foundlings are Filipinos because their parents are presumed Filipinos. She is a natural-born Filipino,” Poblador said.
During the 90’s, Poe went to the US to study, work and raise a family. She also because a US citizen.
In 2005, she returned to the Philippines after her father died. Poblador said Poe began the process of reestablishing her life in the Philippines.
But the justices questioned why she used a visa free Balikbayan pass which is temporary in nature for Filipinos living abroad if she intends to stay in the Philippines for good.
Poblador said it was only temporary because she later renounced her US citizenship and was eventually issued a Philippine passport.
Poe’s legal counsel added that the senator “acted in good faith” when she stated to the Commission on Elections that she was a natural-born citizen and had been a resident of the Philippines for “10 years and 11 months” by the elections of May 9, 2016.
Contrary to Comelec’s claim, Poblador said there was “no deliberate intent” on the part of Poe to mislead the electorate on her citizenship and residence.
“The petitioner (Poe) submits that on 24 May 2005 she returned to the country for good and physically abandoned her US residence,” Poblador said.
Based on records, Poe began to settle permanently in the Philippines on May 24, 2005. After that, she enrolled her children in local schools in June 2005, purchased a property in the late 2005, constructed her family home in Quezon City in early 2006, and sold their US property in 2006.
Outside the Supreme Court building, Poe’s supporters have blocked Padre Faura St. in downtown, prompting the Manila Police to close the area from traffic.
Firetrucks have been readied in case the crowd shouting “ Grace Poe Tunay na Pilipino (Grace Poe, a true Filipino) got rowdy. But the crowd dispersed peacefully.
Oral arguments in the case will continue next Tuesday.
Lorenz Niel Santos is a Manila-based journalist.