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Natural-born citizenship, discrimination and foundlings

The legal arguments relating to the citizenship issue currently confronting Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares has triggered numerous comments which do not have any sound legal foundation.

One comment has it that a foundling should not be disqualified from running for public office because it isn’t one’s fault that one is a foundling.   Another posits that disqualifying a foundling from elective public office amounts to discrimination, which, in turn, makes the foundling a second-class citizen in his or her own country.   Others insist on reading something in international agreements which isn’t there to begin with.

As pointed out by Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a foundling cannot have the status of a natural-born citizen of the Philippines because the 1987 Constitution reckons natural-born citizenship from one’s birth. By definition, a foundling is one who is abandoned at infancy and whose biological parents are unknown.   If the infant’s biological parents are known from the start, then the infant is not a foundling.   Since the circumstances surrounding the birth of a foundling are likewise unknown, the foundling’s citizenship cannot be reckoned on the basis of his or her birth.   To do so will be purely speculative. It may also amount to a felony because the Revised Penal Code penalizes the simulation of births.

Philippine jurisprudence holds that adoption does not confer upon the adopted the citizenship of the adopting parent or parents.   To allow otherwise is to make it easy for unscrupulous aliens to circumvent Philippine laws on citizenship by using adoption as a vehicle for obtaining Philippine citizenship.   Adoption only confers upon the adopted the status of a legitimate child of the adopting parent or parents.

If international covenants are to apply to the Philippine situation, and not all of them are applicable, the foundling may be considered a Filipino citizen, but not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, because, as mentioned earlier, the 1987 Constitution reckons natural-born citizenship on the basis of one’s birth. International agreements, no matter how well-meaning, cannot modify or amend the Constitution. 

For the same reason, international agreements cannot dictate that a foundling in the Philippines must be considered, or at least presumed as natural-born citizens of the Philippines.   To allow that is to permit international agreements to amend or modify the 1987 Constitution.   That is not permissible, and the Constitution itself says so.            

A foundling who is considered a Filipino citizen may run for public office, except those which the 1987 Constitution reserves exclusively for natural-born citizens.   This may seem like discrimination against foundlings, but it is what the fundamental law of the land mandates.   Thus, when the state enforces the Constitution’s definition of who a natural-born citizen of the Philippines is and who is not, it is unfair to conclude that the state is discriminating against foundlings, or that foundlings are treated as second-class citizens in the country.

No person can be compelled to run for public office.   Therefore, if one wants to run for public office, it is assumed that he or she does so voluntarily.   It is also assumed that he or she is willing to comply with the laws governing the election.   One such law is the 1987 Constitution—the supreme law of the land.   In other words, if one wants to join a competition, one must abide by its rules.        

Supporters of Senator Poe’s bid for the presidency argue that the delegates to the 1934 Constitutional Convention which drafted the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines intended to treat foundlings as natural-born citizens of the Philippines, but they did not find it necessary to put this precept in the text of the charter.   Thus they argue that Poe must be considered a natural-born citizen of the Philippines. 

That argument is specious. First, if it were really the intention of the delegates to treat foundlings as natural-born citizens, then their intention should have been written in the text of the 1935 Constitution.   What they argued in words, should have been reduced to writing.   Second, when the 1935 Constitution was ratified by the Filipino people, there was no such provision in the text which favored foundlings as natural-born citizens.   How can something which was not in the text of the 1935 Constitution be binding on the people who did not see it in the charter?   Jurisprudence dictates that in the interpretation of the Constitution, the construction given by the delegates who drafted the charter cannot prevail over the construction given by the people who ratified it.   After all, the Constitution draws its force and effect from the people who ratified it, and not from the delegates who drafted it.

At any rate, since Poe is running for a public office governed by the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, she must abide by its provisions, including its definition of a natural-born citizen of the Philippines— which she is not.   Poe cannot invoke the 1935 Constitution to justify her bid for an office governed by the 1987 Constitution. 

Poe supporters insist that in the disqualification case currently pending against her before the Senate Electoral Tribunal, petitioner Rizalito David has the burden of proving that Poe is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.   Actually, that burden was discharged by Poe because of her own admission that she is a foundling.   As pointed out above, since a foundling cannot be considered a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, Poe has the burden of proving that the provisions of the 1987 Constitution do not apply to her.          

There is no presumption that one is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.   One who wants to serve the people in a public office reserved for natural-born citizens must convince the electorate that he or she meets the citizenship requirements therefor.   If there is such a presumption, then why does the Commission on Elections require candidates for national office to submit documents to prove their qualifications for the public office they seek?

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