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Scrutinizing Grace Poe and her set case

By now, everybody must be aware of the petition for quo warranto filed by registered voter Rizalito David against Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares before the Senate Electoral Tribunal. The petition seeks to unseat Poe from the Senate on the ground that she is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines—a requirement of the Constitution.

Poe’s residency was also questioned in the petition.  Last week, however, the SET dropped the issue of residency upon the agreement of the parties.

Actually, residency is a non-issue against Poe in the SET.  The SET case is solely about whether or not Poe should be unseated from the Senate, and it has nothing to do with her qualifications for the presidency by May 2016.  Under the Constitution, a senator must be a resident of the Philippines for at least two years.  As a senator, it appears that Poe meets the residency requirement because she had been a resident of the Philippines for six years and six months at the time she ran for the Senate in May 2013.

Dropping of the residency issue was not a victory for Poe.  To repeat, it was a non-issue to begin with. 

The residency issue may still be raised against Poe in the event that she runs for the presidency in May 2016.  Under the Constitution, a candidate for the presidency must be a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years prior to election day.  From what has been established by Poe’s own documented admissions, she does not meet this residency requirement.

In the event that Poe does run for president in May 2016, the residency issue may be raised against her before the Commission on Elections the moment she files her certificate of candidacy for the presidency.

Right now, Poe’s concern should be focused on the citizenship issue raised against her before the SET.  Despite Poe’s public protestations that she is a Filipino citizen, the documentation relating to her case warrants her disqualification.

Poe claims that she was born on Sept. 3, 1968 in Iloilo City to Ronald Allan Kelly Poe (also known as Fernando Poe Jr. or FPJ), a Filipino citizen, and to Jesusa Sonora Poe (also known as Susan Roces), a Filipino citizen.  That statement is false because Poe was not born to FPJ and Susan Roces.  Poe is a foundling, discovered in a church, and the identity of her biological parents is not known.  She was adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces.

Assuming that Poe was born prior to January 1973, her citizenship is covered by the 1935 Constitution.  Under the 1935 charter, one whose father or mother is a citizen of the Philippines is also a citizen of the Philippines.  Poe’s legal problem is that she is a foundling, and that she was adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces.

Philippine jurisprudence stresses that the adoption of a foundling only confers the status of a legitimate child on the adopted, and that adoption does not confer citizenship on the adopted.  The rationale for this doctrine is that aliens should not be allowed to use adoption as a means of circumventing the strict requirements for naturalization as a Filipino citizen.  Moreover, adoption is a status between the adopter and the adopted, while citizenship is a status between a person and the state.

Under the 1935 Constitution, therefore, Poe is not even a citizen of the Philippines.

Since Poe ran for the Senate in May 2013, her qualifications for this public office is governed by the 1987 Constitution.  The 1987 Constitution defines natural-born Philippine citizenship, and requires every senator to be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

Article IV of the 1987 Constitution confers natural-born citizenship on the sole basis of actual birth, and not on the basis of adoption.  It says, “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”  Since the circumstances of the birth of Poe are a mystery, and considering that the citizenship of any of Poe’s biological parents has not been ascertained, Poe’s claim to Philippine citizenship is at best speculative.  Evidently, Poe does not meet the constitutional definition of natural-born Philippine citizenship.

Documentation so far submitted by Poe to the SET indicates that she had to take an oath to re-acquire Philippine citizenship, which is an act to acquire or perfect her Philippine citizenship.  This fact alone confirms that Poe is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

Republic Act No. 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003, suggests that a former Filipino who became an alien and, thereafter, a Filipino once again, shall retain his or her Philippine citizenship upon taking a prescribed oath.  Precisely because Republic Act No. 9225 amends or modifies the definition of natural-born citizenship found in the 1987 Constitution, that statute is unconstitutional and, therefore, void.

There is likewise nothing in international law which favors Poe.  Although the 1961 International Convention on Statelessness provides that a foundling is presumed to possess the nationality of the state where he or she is found, the Philippines is not a signatory to this convention, and cannot be bound by it. The refusal of Manila to sign this convention for the past 54 years is enough indication that the Philippines does not want to be bound by it.

Other international conventions cited in favor of Poe are inconsequential.  At best, the conventions merely frown on statelessness.  There is nothing in these conventions which deals with the issue of natural-born citizenship.  Besides, when an international convention conflicts with any provision of the 1987 Constitution, the international convention must give way.  The 1987 Constitution itself says so.

Since the petition for quo warranto filed against Poe in the SET is focused on citizenship, it may be filed even beyond the 10-day period stated in the rules of the SET.  The SET itself acknowledges this in its website.

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