MANILA–The Philippines’ Supreme Court has allowed Senator Grace Poe to run for president by reversing an earlier disqualification by the country’s national polling body.

Nine justices of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno voted in favor of Poe, while six justices voted for her disqualification. Poe’s legal challengers can still appeal the court’s ruling.

The controversial case had threatened to derail the candidacy of neophyte lawmaker for the highest post in the land. The Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comlec) originally blocked Poe from running in December, ruling that she wasn’t a natural-born Filipino as required by law because she was abandoned as a baby by her unknown parents at a Roman Catholic church in the Philippines.

Poe, who renounced her Philippine citizenship for about five years to live with her family in the US, also lacked the required 10-year Philippine residency ahead of the May 9 vote, the commission said. That prompted Poe to bring her case before the Supreme Court.

Grace Poe after her legal victory

The court’s favorable decision for Poe came after five oral arguments in the case. The proceedings began on Jan. 19 and ended last month with all parties: Comelec and those seeking her disqualification — former senator Francisco Tatad, former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez, lawyer Estrella Elamparo and De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras –making their arguments.

Government lawyer Solicitor General Florin Hilbay also spoke during the proceedings as a “tribune of the people” where he said Poe should be regarded as a natural-born Filipino and having met the 10-year residency requirement to run for president.

However, the country’s top court has yet to issue details of the decision. Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said “as you may understand upon a voting the Court will finalize who will write for the court. That matter has not been decided, once the ponente has been decided, the text of the decision will follow.”

The ponente is the one who writes the majority decision.

The original ponente, according to court insiders was Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo. But his draft ponencia was for Poe’s disqualification. Since del Castillo’s draft ponencia was outvoted by the nine justices, a new ponente has to be assigned.

Aside from the main decision, Te said there will be four concurring opinions and five dissenting opinions.

“Please note that since the Court has only authorized the release of the vote, it may not be safe to report which grounds the Court ruled upon and used as basis for the vote, i.e., between citizenship and residence. Thus, it may be best to simply say, the SC grants Senator Poe’s petitions, 9-6, allowing her to run for the presidency,” Te said.

Under Article VII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, two of the basic qualifications to run for president are being a natural born-Filipino citizen and meeting a 10-year residency requirement in the Philippines.

The two basic requirements are important because according to Dean Valdez, a foreigner cannot serve as the leader of the Philippines.

Comelec ruled that there was a deliberate attempt on the part of Poe to “mislead, misinform or hide a fact” from the electorate when she stated in her certificate of candidacy that she will be a resident of the Philippines for 10 years and 11 months up until the day before the May 9, 2016 elections.

Likewise, the polling body ruled that Poe cannot claim to be a natural-born Filipino under the 1935 or the 1987 constitutions because she “could not definitively show her direct blood relationship with a Filipino parent since her biological parents are unknown.”

For her part, Poe said she fulfilled the constitutional requirements for those running for the presidency adding that Comelec denied her right to due process when it disregarded the “overwhelming evidence” proving that although she is a foundling, she is a natural-born Filipino citizen.

Poe said she is also a resident of the country since May 24, 2005.

Poe’s camp also took Comlec to task for maintaining that she, and not her accusers, should bear the burden of proving her natural-born citizenship.

Based on records, Poe said she 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.

Boost to Poe’s candidacy

Poe thanked the Supreme Court for what she said was upholding the rule of law.

In a statement, she said “this favorable ruling from the Supreme Court will allow [her party] to focus on the electoral campaign and in explaining to the public the platforms of “gobyernong may puso” [government with a heart] which are anchored on rapid and inclusive growth, poverty alleviation, transparency and global competitiveness.”

Poe said the decision of the Supreme Court coincides with the International Women’s Day.

“Siguro talagang ginusto ng Diyos na ang balitang ito ay makarating sa atin ngayong araw na ito [Perhaps God wants us to receive this news on this day]…Ito po ay hindi lamang tagumpay ko, kundi tagumpay ng ating mga kababayan; at higit sa lahat tagumpay ng mga inaapi; tagumpay ng mga nahihirapan sa sistema at tagumpay ng mga kababaihan [This is not only my victory but victory of our countrymen and most importantly a victory of the oppressed and the women],” Poe said.

Poe said she was being pooh-poohed by some critics because she was an orphan, a woman and a teacher.

“What right do I have to run for president? A woman is not boastful. We never give up on a fight especially if we are fighting for our loved ones,” Poe said.

“It takes compassion to address the many challenges that confront women today, including poverty and the impacts of migration on their families,” she said.

The high court’s decision is expected to further boost Poe’s candidacy, widening her lead over her closest rivals Vice President Jejomar Binay and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

The most recent national survey showed that Poe, Binay and Duterte are statistically tied for first place, according to The Standard Poll conducted by Laylo Research Strategies.

Anti-Poe petitioners

The Supreme Court’s decision is not yet final. The losing parties can still file an appeal.

Sought for comment, Tatad’s lawyer Manuelito Luna said they would file a motion for reconsideration to reverse the SC decision once they receive a copy of the ruling.

“It’s a razor-thin decision. Definitely, we will file a motion for reconsideration. We will do that as soon as possible after we received a copy of the SC decision. That is our final remedy in the face of this decision,” Luna said.

At the same time, Luna slammed the decision saying “it’s a dangerous result, a perfect recipe for chaos.”

“We have reservation on the legal reasoning and the basis of their decision. We will be looking at the reasoning behind the decision,” he said.

Luna added that despite this development, his client is confident of getting a reversal of the decision.

“We feel we have a chance to have a reversal,” he further said.

Valdez on the other hand said “where are the judicial precedents, legislative intent and the constitution? There may be possible betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution.

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