Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Grace Poe’s Unnatural Citizenship

"Public office is a public trust..." —Art. XI, Sec. 1 of the 1987 Constitution

Writing for the majority in the case of Labo v. COMELEC, Justice Isagani A. Cruz said: “Philippine citizenship is not a cheap commodity that can be easily recovered after its renunciation. It may be restored only after the returning renegade makes a formal act of re-dedication to the country he has abjured and he solemnly affirms once again his total exclusive loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines.”

Is Grace Poe a worthy returning renegade to seize the highest office of the land?


It is true that Senator Grace Poe, one of the possible frontrunners for the 2016 presidential elections, did reassume her status as a Filipino citizen by repatriation in 2006. But what most people don’t know is that after her 2006 repatriation, she deliberately played it safe and held dual citizenship until 2010, or four years thereafter. (Grace Poe, then, was both a Filipino and a U.S. citizen.) This she did when President Benigno Aquino III appointed her as chairperson of MTRCB. Under RA 9225 (otherwise known as the “Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act”) potential appointive and elective officials are not only required to take their oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines but must also expressly renounce their foreign citizenship. The rule is, to qualify for public office, they must only have one citizenship and that is Philippine citizenship, no less. And so Grace Poe brandished the coup de grace only in 2010 by executing an affidavit explicitly renouncing her allegiance to the United States of America which in effect forfeited her naturalized American citizenship too.

Natural-born citizens and repatriation

In a long line of cases decided by the Supreme Court, repatriation has been defined as the reacquisition of lost citizenship and not the acquisition of a new citizenship, one who is repatriated regains the level of his original citizenship. In the case of Grace Poe, if indeed she is a natural-born Filipino before her naturalization in the U.S., case law on the subject says that she is deemed never to have lost her “natural born” citizenship.

The rules under the Constitution are fairly simple: “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire of perfect their citizenship…” Clearly, we follow the principle of jus sanguinis (or the right of blood) wherein a person follows the citizenship of either Filipino blood parent. But what happens when a child is born in a country that adheres to jus sanguinis but whose parents are completely unknown? Grace Poe perfectly fits the bill. (Note that while she was adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces, adoption does not confer citizenship on her.)

This is a gray area in constitutional law and I have yet to do my research on whether a ‘foundling’ can be considered a natural born citizen. In fact, even the renowned former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, in his regular column with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had to apply principles of international law to justify his thesis that Poe is a natural-born Filipino. But customary international law, while recognized as “part of the law of the land” by virtue of the doctrine of incorporation, does not, however, stand on the same level as the Constitution. In our jurisdiction, the Constitution is primus inter omnes, the supreme law of the land from which all other laws must bow.

Misplaced legal presumptions

Most legal experts and luminaries, echoing in part CJ Panganiban’s view, have added arguments holding that by default, Grace Poe is natural born citizen and thus qualified to run for president.

Relying heavily on “legal presumptions,” weight is given to the fact that she was a former MTRCB chair, and presently a senator and that no one pointed an accusing finger questioning her citizenship. Therefore, unless proven otherwise, Poe enjoys the legal presumption in her favor. “Unless proven otherwise” is of course directed to VP Binay, also an aspirant for the 2016 presidential elections. Under this view, the burden of proving that Poe is disqualified to run for the presidency lies on the shoulders of the person assailing Poe’s citizenship. But for one, this is a dangerous precedent when what is at stake is the highest position of the land. Needless to state that in the hierarchy of constitutional departments, the presidency is no ordinary public office. Because such office is infused with public interest of the highest kind, it would be foolhardy to rely mainly on “presumptions” on matters concerning qualifications—especially issues concerning indelible loyalty to the Republic.

Certainly, it would be illuminating if our so-called legal luminaries could have at least reconsidered their position based on a 1967 Supreme Court decision on the subject. Any law student worth his salt would have read the case of Paa v. Chan where the Court said: “It is incumbent upon a person who claims Philippine citizenship to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that he is really a Filipino. No presumption can be indulged in favor of the claimant of Philippine citizenship, and any doubt regarding citizenship must be resolved in favor of the State.” Need I say more?

At first blush, I would have also given her the benefit of legal presumption under customary international law had she remained loyal to her motherland whatever the cost. (Here, I would have to praise Filipino exiles and “steak commandos” in the US during the martial law years.) But Poe’s former allegiance, her being a naturalized U.S. citizen, and a deliberate holder of dual citizenship for four years, changed everything.

Convenience or conviction?

Was it for convenience or conviction that Senator Grace Poe renounced her American citizenship in 2010? As they say, your guess is as good as mine. Assuming she wins the 2016 presidential elections, are we ready to accept a president, a commander-in-chief, who is a former alien, a naturalized citizen of America? It is my view that there is a real distinction between a “natural born” and a “repatriated citizen” when it comes to textually committed constitutional qualifications for all those who want to be president, vice president, senator or district representative. Our forefathers, the framers of our past and present constitutions could not have thought otherwise. This standpoint, to my end, is concretized in these words of President Manuel L. Quezon, “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” Or a former naturalized American? I also could not have thought and preferred otherwise. Indeed, in life, sometimes what is constitutional can be more dangerous than what is unconstitutional.

No comments: