Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno formalized in writing her position she verbalized in the oral arguments of the Poe petitions by concurring with the ponencia written by Justice Jose Perez. She starts her opinion with words that will be recognized as classic: “It is important for every Member of this Court to be and to remain professionally indifferent to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Whether it turns out to be for a candidate who best represents one’s personal aspirations for the country or who raises one’s fears, is a future event we must be blind to while we sit as magistrates. We are not the electorate, and at this particular juncture of history, our only role is to adjudicate as our unfettered conscience dictates. We have no master but the law, no drumbeater but reason, and in our hearts must lie only the love for truth and for justice. This is what the Constitution requires of us.”
In this respect, as a beacon of practical wisdom, the primacy of the rule of law, and the commitment to compassionate justice, Chief Justice Sereno’s concurring opinion does not disappoint. While voting to grant the consolidated petitions filed by presidential candidate Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares (Poe), the Chief Justice, asserted what the challenged Comelec rulings would have accomplished had they been affirmed: “the illegitimate elimination of an electoral choice, a choice who appears to be one of the frontrunners in all the relevant surveys.”
In concurring with the majority, the Chief Justice stressed that under Section 78, it is not enough that a person lacks the relevant qualification; she must have also made a false representation of the lack of qualification in the certificate of candidacy; that is, the denial of due course to, or the cancellation of the certificate of candidacy, is not based on the lack of qualifications but on a finding that the candidate made a material representation that is false, which relates to the qualifications required of the public office the candidate is running for. In short, a claim of good faith is a valid defense.
On the residency, the Chief Justice pointed out that petitioner Poe has shown by an abundance of substantial evidence that her residence in the Philippines commenced on 24 May 2005 and that the statement she made in the 2012 Certificate of Candidacy was due to honest mistake. Unfortunately for private respondents, they failed to meet petitioner’s evidence head on, resulting in their failure to discharge their burden of proving material misrepresentation with respect to residency.
As to citizenship, Sereno opined that presumptions operated profoundly in Poe’s favor to the effect that a foundling is a natural-born citizen. To her, the Comelec committed grave abuse when it went beyond an examination of the patent falsity of the representations in the CoC; maintaining that Section 78 proceeding must deal solely with “patent defects in the certificates” and not the question of eligibility or ineligibility. In her view, Poe simply presented a preponderance of evidence to prove her declaration in her 2016 certificate of candidacy for president that as of May 2005, she had definitely abandoned her residence in the US and intended to reside permanently in the country.
Unfortunately, the Comelec, according to the Chief Justice, disregarded these pieces of evidence to find that Poe failed to overcome the probative weight of the alleged admission against interest in her CoC.
Chief Justice Sereno asserts that the surrounding circumstances in this case do not exclude the possibility that Poe made an honest mistake, both in reckoning her period of residence in the Philippines as well as determining the proper end period of such residence at the time. She reminded the Court of the basic principle that good faith is always presumed, and in the face of tangible evidence presented to prove the truth of the matter, which is independent of the circumstances that caused petitioner to make that fateful statement of “six years and six months,” it would be difficult to dismiss her contention that such is the result of an honest mistake.
On the question that Poe was merely a balikbayan, Sereno had this to say: the Balikbayan Program, as conceptualized from the very beginning, envisioned a system not just of welcoming overseas Filipinos (Filipinos and/or their families and descendants who have become permanent residents or naturalized citizens of other countries) as short-term visitors of the country, but more importantly, one that will encourage them to come home and once again become permanent residents of the Philippines. Thus, for her, the fact that an alien holds a non-immigrant visa is thus not controlling. What is crucial in determining whether an alien may lawfully adopt a domicile in the country is the restriction placed by Congress on a specific type of non-immigrant visa. So long as the intended stay of a nonimmigrant does not violate any of the legal restriction, sufficient animus manendi may be appreciated and domicile may be established.
Finally, Chief Justice Sereno concluded her discussion by saying that foundlings are provided legal protection by the state through statutes, rules, issuances and judicial decisions allowing their adoption. Specifically, enactments and issuances on adoption are significant, because they effectively recognize foundlings as citizens of the Philippines.
All told, Sereno stood by her stance that Poe did not lose her natural-born status when she reacquired Philippine citizenship under R.A. 9225 or the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003.
In a brilliant section of her concurrence, the Chief Justice listed all the positions in governments that require natural-born citizenship. She pointed out the repercussions of a Supreme Court adverse ruling on foundlings currently holding these positions are too compelling to ignore: “A declaration that individuals of unknown parentage are not Filipinos, or at best naturalized citizens, may lead to their removal from government posts; a demand to return all emoluments and benefits granted in connection with their offices; and even the end of pension benefits presently being enjoyed by affected retirees. The proposal for Congress to remedy the unjust situation that would result from an affirmance by this Court of unjust Comelec rulings is too odious a solution to even consider. It is not the function of Congress to correct any injustice that would result from this Court’s proposed unhappy ruling on foundlings. Rather, it is this Court’s first and foremost duty to render justice to them, as the Constitutions requires.”
Near the end of her opinion, Chief Justice Sereno reminds us: “The duty of the Court to interpret the Constitution is impressed with the equally vital obligation to ensure that the fundamental law serves the ends of justice and promotes the common good. After all, the Constitution is meant to be the legal embodiment of these values, and to be the people’s instrument for the protection of existing natural rights and basic human liberties “
Definitely, most certainly, the Poe decision that is expected to be affirmed today by the Supreme Court with the release of the resolution and opinions on the various motions for consideration filed by Poe’s detractors, fulfills this solemn duty to do justice and uphold the rule of law.
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