My three previous columns on Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares have drawn a lot of reaction from various sources around the world, but not a line from Ms. Poe herself on her constitutional right to remain in the Senate, and to aspire for higher office in 2016. This is a purely constitutional issue, not the least personal nor political, but even the normally acute and active constitutional analysts seem to have grown cold feet.
In this highly corrupt and morally indifferent environment, the more cynical do not mind saying, “let her run,” as though the Constitution did not count at all, and as though Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine no longer existed, and there were enough intelligent voters to bar the unqualified from getting elected. Some opportunistic politicians who would like to benefit from FPJ’s cinematic following, even suggest Poe “would make a good president,” despite her constitutional impediment.
To repeat what I said at the outset, I do not know Ms. Poe, and have nothing against her. I campaigned vigorously for her late adoptive father (Fernando Poe Jr.) when he ran for president in 2004, and I sought to be returned to the Senate after serving two consecutive terms. But she was a US citizen living in the US then, and I never saw her on the campaign trail. She came home after FPJ died in December 2004, but gave no intimation of her interest in the affairs of the nation. Since then I have been impressed by some of her political sound bites, but none of these give her the right to sit in the Senate or to aspire for the highest or second highest national office, under the Constitution.
Although nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be shown wrong in my thesis, no one has come forward to refute my position. To the contrary, a naturalized American citizen of Filipino parentage living in Virginia, where Ms. Poe reportedly used to live, has written to provide data in support of my position. This is the reason for writing yet another piece on Ms. Poe at a time when more people are more anxious about other things. We shall consider this reader’s input in a while.
Under the Constitution, no person shall be elected president or vice president or senator or member of the House of Representatives unless he/she be a “natural-born” Filipino citizen, among other things. This means that if Grace Poe is a natural-born Filipino, she is qualified to remain in the Senate and to set her eyes on the presidency or vice presidency, whatever are her other qualifications. But if she is not, then she has no right to sit there or to entertain any higher ambitions.
What are natural-born citizens? Natural-born citizens, according to Article IV, Sec. 2 of the Constitution, are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship. Those born before January 17, 1973, of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority are deemed natural –born citizens.
The 1935 Constitution, which was in force when Ms. Poe was born on Sept. 3, 1968, does not define “natural born” in its article on citizenship. But it provides that Filipino citizens are those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines, and those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines, and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship.
Contrary to her claim, on the basis of which she ran and won as PNoy’s senatorial candidate in 2013, Grace Poe is not a natural-born Filipino, either under the 1935 Constitution or the present Constitution. Not by a thousand miles. As a foundling who was admittedly abandoned upon birth by her biological mother inside the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral in Iloilo City, nobody knew her parents or the nationality of the same. No one could say her father was Filipino so that she could be a Filipino under the 1935 Constitution, or that her mother was a Filipino so that she would be qualified under the 1987 Constitution.
But whether, in fact, she could be presumed to be Filipino, she is certainly not natural-born. Assuming the court allowed her to adopt the citizenship of her adoptive parents, she had “to perform a legal act to acquire her original Philippine citizenship or to perfect it”, and this precisely destroyed her claim to being natural-born. Assuming, arguendo, that she was, in fact, natural born, she threw all that status and distinction away when she took her oath of allegiance to the United States and renounced and abjured absolutely and entirely all fidelity and allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, or to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which she had heretofore been a subject or citizen.
There was no dual Filipino-American citizenship at the time. The dual citizenship law came into effect only in 2003, with the passage of RA 9225. This allows “natural-born citizens of the Philippines” to retain their Filipino citizenship while becoming citizens of a foreign country simply by taking the following oath: “I_____________ solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the Republic of the Phlippines and obey the laws and legal orders promulgated by the duly constituted authorities of the Philippines; and I hereby declare that I recognize and accept the supreme authority of the Philippines and will maintain true faith and allegiance thereto; that I impose this obligation upon myself voluntarily without reservation or purpose of evasion. So help me God.”
This oath, however, was immediately reduced to a mere scrap of paper as soon as the Filipino citizen renounced and abjured absolutely and totally his fidelity and allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines in order to become an American citizen. Thus the dual citizenship is at best legal fiction. Yet neither under the provisions of the 1935 Constitution nor under those of the 1987 Constitution could Ms. Poe seek refuge in that legal fiction. She was never a natural born Filipino nor a dual Filipino American citizen. She was American only when she was American, and she is Filipino only now, after she has renounced her US citizenship.
She came home in 2005, according to her latest statement—in 2006, according to an earlier sworn statement. She obviously came as an American citizen using her American passport, which she used once again on December 27, 2009. She got a Philippine passport on May 16, 2014, one year after she was electronically elected as senator.
In 2010, Aquino named her chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board while she was still an American citizen. This appointment was in clear derogation of the sovereignty of the Philippines and a clear violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Now, according to the Quarterly Publication of Individuals who have chosen to Expatriate, as required by Section 6039G of the US Internal Revenue Code, during the quarter ending June 30, 2012, as reported in the Federal Register, the Daily Journal of the United States Government, Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares renounced her US citizenship only during that quarter. The exact date is still unknown, but it happened during that quarter.
This was two years after she had accepted an appointment and starting getting paid as MTRCB chair, and one year before she ran for the Senate. Our laws prohibit naming a foreigner to a position reserved only for a Filipino citizen. And the Constitution requires that no person shall be a senator unless he/she is, among other things, “a natural-born Filipino citizen,” and “a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.”
On both counts, Ms. Poe is in grave violation of the Constitution and the law. She is not a natural-born Filipino, and she did not have the two-year residency to be qualified to run for senator. Although she claims to have arrived in 2005 or 2006, she remained an American citizen until she renounced her US citizenship during the first quarter of 2012. And while still an American citizen she accepted a government job as MTRCB chair and got paid for it, contrary to law, which reserves such position only to Filipino citizens.
No matter how you feel about it, Sen. Grace Poe has a lot to answer for. If she does not voluntarily renounce her present position, the Senate has a duty to demand it of her.