Justice Leonen champions human rights

Last Saturday, the Supreme Court released its resolution denying the motions for reconsideration that sought to reverse its initial decision declaring Grace Poe qualified to run as president. This removes all obstacles to Poe’s candidacy.

While respecting the rights of parties in a case to avail of all remedies, I would have advised them not to bother in this case. A reading not just of the main opinion by the majority but also of the concurrences yields the conclusion that the justices have strong positions on the Poe case and they would not be moved.

Certainly, that is the case with Justice Marvic Leonen as reflected in his concurrence.

Those who witnessed Justice Leonen’s impassioned plea during the oral arguments before the Court hearing the Poe cases were surprised that the good justice sided with the majority in granting Poe’s consolidated petitions. His concurring opinion is confirmation of this position.

In his separate opinion. Leonen, much like similarly minded magistrates, said that in implying that Poe’s lack of intent to establish domicile from the actions of her husband the Comelec committed willful misappreciation of the evidence presented.

The Comelec’s posture in effect infers that the wife cannot establish domicile separated from the husband which, to Leonen, is contrary to the state of Philippine law, which requires fundamental equality between men and women.

Like the other justices who concurred with the ponencia, Leonen also found that the Comelec failed to appreciate an overwhelming pieces of evidence presented by Poe such as: First, the husband was both a Filipino and American citizen; second, the husband and the wife uprooted their children, removed them from their schools in the United States, and enrolled them in schools in the Philippines; third, one of their children, a baby, was likewise uprooted and brought to the Philippines to stay here permanently. Fourth, arrangements were made to transfer their household belongings in several container vans from the United States to the Philippines. Fifth, petitioner did not seek further employment abroad. Sixth, petitioner’s husband resigned from his work and moved to the Philippines, among other evidence.

Leonen stated that the evidence on which petitioner reckoned her residency, she did not commit material misrepresentation. Thus, it was not only an error but grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Comelec to trivialize the pieces of evidence presented by Poe in order to justify its conclusion.

Touching on the authority of the Comelec, Leonen said that the poll body may validly take cognizance of petitions involving qualifications only if the petitions were filed after election and only with respect to elective regional, provincial, city, municipal, and barangay officials.

Agreeing with the petitioner’s argument, Leonen said that Poe correctly posited that Section 78 should be read in relation to Section 74’s enumeration of what certificates of candidacy must state. He explained that under Section 74, a person filing a certificate of candidacy declares that the facts stated in the certificate “are true to the best of his [or her] knowledge.” The law does not require “absolute certainty” but allows for mistakes in the certificate of candidacy if made in good faith. This, according to him, is consistent with the “summary character of proceedings relating to certificates of candidacy.”

Leonen categorically stated in his concurring opinion the absence of material misrepresentation with respect to Poe’s conclusion that she was a natural-born Filipino.

Simply stated, her statement was not false. On this issue, he asserted that neither private respondents nor the Commission on Elections was able to disprove any of the material facts supporting the legal conclusion of the petitioner.

Leonen explained that in an action for cancellation of a certificate of candidacy under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code, the person who filed the petition alleging material misrepresentation has the burden of proving such claim. Private respondents who initiated the action before the Commission on Elections failed to establish a prima facie case of material misrepresentation to warrant a shift of burden of evidence to petitioner, for which reason, according to him, the Comelec should have dismissed the petitions.

Using common sense approach, Leonen pointed out that Poe’s admission that she is a foundling merely established that her biological parents were unknown. It did not establish that she falsely misrepresented that she was born of Filipino parents. It did not establish that both her biological parents were foreign citizens. In asserting as they did, private respondents and Comelec will arrive at the unjust and unwarranted presumption that all newborns abandoned by their parents even in rural areas in the Philippines are presumed not to be Filipinos. This approach would then give rise to the unreasonable requirement that those who were abandoned-even because of poverty or shame-must exert extraordinary effort to search for the very same parents who abandoned them and might not have wanted to be identified in order to have a chance to be of public service.

On the issue of Poe’s citizenship, Leonen said that petitioner Poe did not undergo the naturalization process but rather she reacquired her Filipino citizenship through Republic Act No. 9225; in effect she reacquired natural-born citizenship. Hence, to consider petitioner, a foundling, as not natural-born will create a class of citizens who are stateless due to no fault of theirs. This would also mean that we should teach our foundling citizens to never aspire to serve the country in any of the above capacities.

This belief, for Leonen, is not only inconsistent with the text of our Constitution’s citizenship provisions, which required only evidence of citizenship and not of the identities of the parents. It unnecessarily creates a classification of citizens with limited rights based on the circumstances of their births-which is discriminatory.

In Justice Leonen, it was not just Grace Poe that found an advocate but all foundlings and global Filipinos benefited from his positions. In Leonen, who famously said that there is a reason why members of the Supreme Court are not called legalists but justices. Human rights and basic decency also found a champion in Leonen. Since he will be in the Court for many years, that gives me a lot of comfort.

Source: The Standard