Philippine senator Grace Poe's fate hangs in balance

Philippine senator Grace Poe's fate hangs in balance
PHOTO: PDI/ANN

"Anything can happen" at the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) preliminary conference Friday as the panel starts to hear the disqualification case against Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday.

Sotto, who sits on the nine-member tribunal, said the panel will hear the presentations of the lawyers of Rizalito David, who last month filed a case questioning Poe's right to serve in the Senate when she is allegedly not a native-born Filipino, and of Poe, whose topping the voter preference polls for President in next year's national elections brought on the case.

In a phone interview, Sotto said anything, even the "remote possibility" that the tribunal would put the case to a vote, could happen at the hearing.

He said a vote would be called only if the legal arguments at the presentation were "glaring."

Reacting to the Inquirer report on Wednesday that he would ask the SET chair, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, not to accept David's case, Sotto said he intended to listen to Friday's presentation.

An Inquirer source said Poe's camp wanted the immediate dismissal of David's case for fear it would drag on up to the start of the election campaign season in February next year.

Sotto said the next hearing of the tribunal was on Sept. 20 or 21, or less than a month before the Oct. 16 deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy.

Behind closed doors

Friday's SET preliminary conference will be held behind closed doors at the Supreme Court.

An advisory sent by the SET through Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the hearing would be closed to the public and to the press.

Under SET rules, the preliminary conference is held for "the simplification of issues; the possibility of obtaining stipulation or admission of facts and of documents to avoid unnecessary proof; the limitation of the number of witnesses and the nature of their testimonies; and such other matters as may aid in the prompt disposition" of the case.

The SET scheduled oral arguments on the case for Sept. 21 at the Supreme Court's main session hall.

The SET advisory said the oral arguments would be open to the public, subject to limitations of seating.

The Supreme Court information office will livestream the proceedings.

Who's behind case?

Poe claims she has not decided whether to run, but the surveys indicate that if she runs for President, she will beat Vice President Jejomar Binay, the former leading candidate in the polls who has been talking about running for President since his election in 2010.

As Poe surged in the surveys in June, Binay's camp questioned her citizenship-she is an adopted daughter of the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) and actress Susan Roces and is a former US citizen-and claimed that she did not meet the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates.

Binay, a friend of FPJ, stopped his camp from pressing the challenge. But David, who lost a run for the Senate in 2013, came out of nowhere last month and raised the same questions about Poe's citizenship and residency before the SET and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The Vice President, however, and Malacañang, whose presidential candidate, outgoing Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, is trailing Binay and Poe in the polls, have denied having anything to do with David's action.

Poe has submitted a 107-page reply to David's challenge and asked the SET to throw out the case, asserting that she is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

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