MANILA–Independent Philippines presidential candidate Grace Poe Tuesday attended a Supreme Court hearing in which she appealed a decision by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to cancel her certificate of candidacy (COC) for the 2016 race on the ground that she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen. Comelec also tossed out her candidacy by ruling that Poe had failed to meet the 10-year Philippines residency requirement mandated under the 1987 Constitution.

Grace Poe (c) attending Supreme Court hearing with mother
Grace Poe (c) attending Supreme Court hearing with mother

The following is a recounting of what some justices said about Poe’s petition in court chambers:

“What did she do for her parents to leave her?,” a justice of the Supreme Court asked during the oral arguments on petitions filed by Senator Grace Poe challenging the Commission on Elections’ decision cancelling her certificate of candidacy for president.

Poe’s citizenship status has been put in question, whether she is a naturalized Filipino or a natural-born citizen.

Her critics particularly those pushing for her disqualification said she is not a natural-born citizen because her parents were unknown.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, appearing sympathetic to Poe said her abandonment by her real parents was morally wrong.

“She was a newborn baby and she did not have any moral volition at that point. It is completely the agency and moral decision of the parents to actually leave her behind,” Leonen said adding that with the question on her status, she is being compelled to find the parents who abandoned her in the first place or at least relatives and subject them to DNA testing.

Leonen said ordinary Filipinos, to prove parentage would be required to present their birth certificates while Poe has to undergo DNA testing.

“We are here not as a legalists, we are here as justices. The root world is not legal but it is just-meaning to say we do justice in accordance with law but if we can interpret law so that it can do justice, then so be it,” he said.

“She is now one of the candidates to become president of this country. It is clear to us what should happen in terms of justness. [But] can our laws actually contain that kind of result? Is it clear enough to say that the Constitution of the Republic looks this way on foundlings? That there can be never a foundling found in rural area of the Philippines that ever become President,” Leonen asked.

Tracing the origin on the question of Poe’s qualifications, Leonen said it was a politician who raised the question last year when Poe is consistently leading surveys for top choices for President.

He said the Filipino people should be allowed to vote on the matter.

“Because we are also citizens and because it is possible that our vote may find its way in the way that we decide, whether we like it or not, because we are all human beings; therefore the Constitution ha a check. This court usually defers first to a political organ if it is clear in the Constitution that that political organ is made to decide first. Is that correct,” he asked Poe’s counsel.

Oral arguments in the case will continue next Tuesday.

The Philippines presidential election will be held on May 9. Other candidates in the race 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).

Lorenz Niel Santos is a Manila-based journalist.

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