THE legal issues surrounding the disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe from the May 9 presidential race as well as the extinction of premature campaigning are troubles created by Congress. The troubling decisions of the Supreme Court – at least the majority of its members – on these major issues are based on their interpretations of laws crafted by the Congress.
Poe’s problem over her citizenship status is rooted in the vagueness of Republic Act No. 9225, also known as the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003.
RA 9225 provides that natural-born citizens of the Philippines who, after the law took effect, become citizens of a foreign country shall retain their Philippine citizenship upon taking an oath, which is prescribed in the same law.
It was not specifically stated that what the ex-Filipino would reacquire is simply his/her Philippine citizenship or his/her natural-born status. Considering that the reacquisition of Philippine citizenship goes through a process, isn’t that considered reverting to Philippine citizenship by naturalization?
Because RA 9225, crafted during the 12th Congress, lacked that qualification, it was open to interpretations. As the Supreme Court decision indicated, there ought to be a third category for repatriated citizens. The 1987 Constitution provides only for two types of citizens: natural born and naturalized.
I agree with the assertion of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that when she renounced her Filipino citizenship, she has lost it. She could only regain it through a process.
But then, that process of reacquiring Philippine citizenship under existing laws simply requires filing a petition under oath to the Commissioner of Immigration, pay P2,500, and submit an oath of allegiance. The laws do not require a naturalization process for former Filipino citizens in the same manner that other aliens have to go through. Thus, making it easy to renounce Filipino citizenship for convenience and reacquiring it too easily, also when it is convenient to do so, as in the case of Grace Poe.
Poe’s being a foundling compounded the legal issues she had to deal with, as well as her “honest mistake” of declaring in 2013 the length of her residence in the Philippines.
The Supreme Court’s March 8 ruling did not convincingly settle the issue with only seven of 15 justices voting that Poe is a natural-born Filipino, five said she is not, and three believe that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not the appropriate body to determine a candidate’s qualification on the basis of citizenship.
This divisive episode in the election process clearly underscores the need for the next Congress to revisit RA 9225 as well as the Omnibus Election Code that specifies disqualifications for public office.
Another work that awaits the next Congress is to restore the law that prohibits campaigning before the campaign period which the Supreme Court extinguished in a resolution, dated November 25, 2009 on GR No. 181613, also known as the Penera vs Comelec, when it ruled that a candidate is liable for an election offense only for acts done during the campaign period, and not before.
That is the reason why we were bombarded with what used to be considered as electioneering activities before the February 9 start of the 90-day campaign period for national positions. At this time, we see local politicians conducting house-to-house visits and other campaign activities even if the official 45-day campaign period for them starts on March 25 yet.
That’s what the 2009 ruling of the Supreme Court in the Penera vs Comelec provides, based on its interpretation of Section 13 of Republic Act No. 9369, enacted in 2007.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that it was the Congress that clearly defined a “candidate” and set the period during which he could be held liable for election offenses, such as premature campaigning.
“Congress has laid down the law — a candidate is liable for election offenses only upon the start of the campaign period. This Court has no power to ignore the clear and express mandate of the law that ‘any person who files his certificate of candidacy within [the filing]period shall only be considered a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy.’ Neither can this Court turn a blind eye to the express and clear language of the law that “any unlawful act or omission applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the campaign period,” part of the SC decision cited.
Premature campaigning was supposed to level the playing field for moneyed and poor candidates. But with unlimited TV ads shown before the official campaign period, those who have money, regardless of whether that was stolen or clean, are able to campaign so much longer through costly media exposure with a wider audience reach.
Perhaps, Congress should prohibit politicians from appearing in product endorsements, with or without talent fees, or from appearing in infomercials for government agencies. They should also not be allowed to appear in media programs as anchors or talents. These place them at an advantageous position over other lesser-known or less influential candidates.
The present situation also defeats the purpose of requiring candidates to submit to the Comelec their campaign contributions and spending within 30 days after the election. The reporting covers only donations and spending during the 90-day campaign period for candidates in national positions, and 45 days for the local bets. Besides, most candidates and political parties do not report the truth. They get caught only when rival candidates contest their reports with evidence. The Comelec does not have people to follow the money trail of politicians and check the veracity of what they report.
The Comelec is aware, or at least suspicious, when political parties and candidates have been untruthful in declaring the amount of their campaign contributions and spending because of the unrealistic limits set by the law in 1991.
The problem in electing popular personalities like a boxing icon, showbiz personalities, and conflicted businessmen and politicians in Congress is that we get laws with too many flaws and loopholes. At times, they don’t even bother to read to understand the bills they are voting on, if they vote at all, or if they take time to attend public hearings and plenary sessions.
In the end, it is the fault of the voters for electing candidates for legislative positions who do not know how to legislate.