The five senators who voted in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) to reject a petition to unseat Senator Grace Poe have been derided in the past few days for what pundits claim was a political decision.
But Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban believes that Senators Tito Sotto, Loren Legarda, Cynthia Villar, Bam Aquino and Pia Cayetano had anchored their decision on sound, legal doctrine.
“I was once a SET member, and if I were still a member, I would vote with the majority, consistent with the Frivaldo decision which I had the honor of writing for the Supreme Court, and with the overarching constitutionally-enshrined social justice principle to give more law to those who have less in life,” said Panganiban in his Inquirer column.
Panganiban said the Frivaldo decision was used by Legarda in rejecting the claim of petitioner Rizalito David that Poe could not presume to be a natural-born citizen because as a foundling, she has to prove that her biological father or mother were natural-born Filipinos.
David’s petition was supported by Senator Nancy Binay and SC Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion, and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro.
Panganiban was referring to the SC decision he penned in 1996 which upheld the election of Sorsogon Gov. Juan Frivaldo in the 1995 elections . Frivaldo’s losing rival Raul Lee claimed that Frivaldo was a naturalized American citizen and ineligible for public office.
Before 1995, Frivaldo had previously ran twice and won both times in Sorsogon’s gobernatorial elections in 1988 and 1992. Frivaldo was unseated in both occasions as the High Court ruled he lost his Philippine Citizenship way back in 1983 when he swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. In his third win, Frivaldo reacquired his Philippine citizenship on the same day he took over Sorsogon’s provincial capitol in June 1995.
In his decision, Panganiban said: “In applying election laws, it would be far better to err in favor of popular sovereignty than to be right in complex but little understood legalisms.”
Panganiban also believed that Frivaldo’s case was more complicated than Poe’s because the governor was not even a Filipino citizen when he ran in the elections while the senator was being confronted with for her lack of natural-born status.