Citizenship issue against Poe raises many other concerns

It looks like the citizenship issue against incumbent Senator and possible presidential or vice presidential contender Grace Poe raises many other equally interesting concerns.

Under the 1987 Constitution, one cannot be elected president, vice president, or a member of Congress unless one is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.   Therefore, if Poe’s critics are correct – that Poe is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines – then Poe is not only disqualified from the presidential and vice presidential polls in May 2016; she will also be disqualified from remaining as senator. 

Assuming for the sake of argument that Poe is disqualified from remaining in the Senate, she may still keep her seat unless she is ousted from it by way of an appropriate legal proceeding.   This is where ex-Senator Gordon enters the picture.   Gordon, who placed 13th in the May 2013 senatorial race, may opt to file a disqualification case against Poe.   Should Gordon succeed in getting Poe unseated, he enters the winning circle of twelve, and shall serve the unexpired portion of Poe’s term, which is about four years reckoned from today.

Under the Constitution, the disqualification case will have to be lodged with the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), which has both a partisan and a judicial composition.   How the SET will vote on the Poe case is anybody’s guess, and it may take the SET either a few months or an eternity to resolve it.

 In theory, the disqualification suit against Poe (as senator) may be filed anytime with the SET on the premise that natural-born Filipino citizenship is a continuing requirement for membership in the Senate.   This means that a sitting senator must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines every day of the six years of his or her term.   

    If Gordon wins the case against Poe and manages to become a senator, it is possible that he may be disqualified from re-election as senator in May 2019.   This is because Gordon’s victory in the SET will mean a second consecutive term for Gordon in the Senate, and the Constitution prohibits a senator from holding office for more than two consecutive terms – consecutive because one theory has it that Poe never served as senator to begin with.   Of course, the other theory is that Poe was a  de facto  senator and as such, her two-year stay in the Senate is enough to constitute an interruption of Gordon’s first term as senator. 

On the other hand, Gordon may not want to look like a sore loser by filing a disqualification case against Poe.   With the senatorial elections just a year away, Gordon may find it more practical to run for a full six-year term in May 2016 than settle for a four-year term as a senator who was not elected by the people but installed by the SET.   Moreover, suing Poe this early may prompt anti-Binay forces to gang up on Gordon on the assumption that one who is anti-Poe is probably pro-Binay.

By the way, the Gordon option has a precedent.   In November 1967, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. placed second (out of eight possible winners) in the senatorial race.   On election day, Aquino was a few days shy of 35, the minimum age for senators (he turned 35 by the time he was proclaimed a winner).   Emilio Espinosa, Jr. of Masbate, who placed ninth in the senatorial race, filed a disqualification suit against Aquino before the SET, which eventually ruled in favor of Aquino.         

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Many people assume that as far as the law is concerned, an adopted child automatically obtains the citizenship of the adopting parents because the Family Code states that an adopted child is deemed to be a legitimate child of the adopting parents.   Surprisingly, however, the Constitution and the Family Code do not say anything about how citizenship should be reckoned for children adopted by Filipino parents.   

  Article IV of the Constitution governs citizenship.   Its language puts great emphasis on birth, and this emphasis seems to suggest that, unless his or her citizenship at birth is clearly ascertainable, an adopted child cannot be a natural-born citizen because his or her birth, and not his or her adoption, is the fact which determines citizenship.   This remark is not intended to discriminate against adopted children; rather, it is to highlight ambiguity in the law.       

  One sure thing about adoption in the Philippines is that an adoption is valid only if it is in accord with the substance embodied in and the procedure specified by Philippine law.   Undocumented adoptions have no legal force and effect. 

Since Senator Poe is an adopted child, her critics will definitely use this issue against her – but the sword cuts both ways.   If Vice President Binay is also an adopted child, as he recently claimed, then his enemies will also raise this issue against him. 

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It was reported in the news media that Poe elected Philippine citizenship prior to her assumption of the chairmanship of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.   What is the possible consequence of that move?   

Article IV of the Constitution states that as a rule, an individual who elects Philippine citizenship over another nationality is not a natural-born citizen unless he or she was born before January 17, 1973 (the date the 1973 Constitution took effect) to a Filipino mother, and the individual elected Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority.   Because this provision uses the term “born,” it applies only if the citizenship of the biological mother of the individual is ascertainable.   

Thus, whether or not Poe elected Philippine citizenship at one time or another will be important only if the citizenship of her biological mother is ascertainable.   This observation is made on the assumption that Poe was born before January 17, 1973, proof of which may be difficult to obtain because Poe is supposed to be a foundling.

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