BY raising some questions about the citizenship of Senator Grace Poe last Wednesday, I unintentionally dragged myself into the irrelevancy of Ms Poe wanting to run for President in 2016. I said it does not appear that she is a “natural-born” Filipino, which is a constitutional requirement for anyone running for President, Vice President, or member of Congress. Therefore, she is not only not qualified to run for president or vice president, she is above all not qualified to be sitting in the Senate or in the House of Representatives.
She has not replied to this observation. Yet on the same day my column appeared, Rep. Toby Tiangco of UNA was quoted as saying that if she had come back to the country from the United States in 2006, she would be six months short of the 10-year continuous residency required of presidential candidates before the 2016 elections. She was quick to respond to the UNA statement.
Although she had said in her 2013 certificate of candidacy under oath that she had been residing continuously in the country since 2006, she now says she and her family came back from the United States in 2005. What’s a one-year difference between friends?
Her big political lawyer friends, like Senate President Frank Drilon, have since weighed in to invoke the legal doctrine of “animus revertendi,” which means roughly, a citizen’s intention to return to her original domicile. The use of the Latin term may intimidate non-lawyers, but it has no application here whatsoever.
It would apply if a Filipino working abroad had decided to run for position in his home province, and was told by his adversaries that he had lost his residence and was no longer qualified to run. To that, the court has long replied that because of animus revertendi, he never lost his residence. Now, all that UNA is saying is that Poe’s actual residence here from the time she came home until 2016 is less than 10 years.
Harry Roque, a lawyer-columnist at the Manila Standard, comments that Ms. Poe’s continuous residency should be reckoned not from the day she returned to the Philippines, but from the day she renounced her American citizenship in 2010, before her appointment in the Aquino government, as chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. This would make her actual residence four years short of the required 10 years.
But in popular practice numbers could be easily fudged. What cannot be fudged is whether Grace Poe is a natural-born Filipino or not. The facts are controlling. The senator was born on Sept. 3, 1968 of unknown parents, whose citizenship therefore is also not known. She was abandoned inside the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral in Iloilo City, and was found by a woman named Chayong, who passed her on to another woman from Bacolod, Tessie Valencia, who finally gave her to the Fernando Poe Jr-Susan Roces couple for adoption.
It’s a great story, reminiscent of the story of Moses , who, as a three-month old infant, was found by the Princess Batya, the Paraoh’s daughter, hidden inside a basket floating on the river Nile. He grew up to deliver his people from oppression. He spoke to Yaweh at the burning bush on Mount Horeb, led the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s grip across the Red Sea into the promised land; and received from God’s hands the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments.
We do not wish to impose such a burden on Sen. Grace, but she has the opportunity to make so much of herself. She only has to follow the Constitution and the law.
Under Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which was adopted on August 30, 1961, and went into effect on Dec. 13, 1975, “a foundling found in the territory of a contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born within that territory of parents possessing the nationality of the State.”
Lawyer friends of Sen. Poe have quoted this in her favor, but lawyer Jose A. Oliveros informs us that as of May 30, 2015, the Philippines has not acceded to that Convention, and cannot therefore legally benefit from it. Nevertheless, we could discard all the urban legends that have grown around Grace—that she is the daughter of the late President Marcos in an affair with the former movie actress Rosemarie Sonora, Susan Roces’s sister, and that she was born in Hawaii rather than in Iloilo. We could all assume she was a natural-born Filipino.
But what happened after that? She became an American citizen by naturalization. This was long before the passage of the Philippine Dual Citizenship law, otherwise known as Republic Act 9225, in 2003. This law allows a natural-born Filipino to retain her original citizenship while acquiring a new citizenship, simply by taking a prescribed oath.
This seems to go against Section 5 Article IV of the Constitution, which provides, “Dual allegiance of citizens is inimical to the national interest and shall be dealt with by law.” But the constitutionality of this law has never been questioned in court, and there has been no effort to put flesh and bones to Article IV Sec. 5, either.
Presumably when Grace Poe was granted US citizenship, she had to take the oath of allegiance to the US, in which she swore to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all its enemies, foreign and domestic,” but to renounce and abjure “absolutely and entirely… all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” She lost her Filipino citizenship, and all rights and duties pertaining thereto, in favor of her US citizenship.
After her adoptive father’s death, she came home. In order to become a Filipino citizen all over again, she had to take a new oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, as provided by law. We do not know if this happened before she left the US, or while she was already back in the Philippines. But the very fact that she had to go through a process to reacquire Filipino citizenship proves that she had lost her natural-born status. Sec. 2 Article IV of the Constitution provides: “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”
So, when did she reacquire her Philippine citizenship? And when did she renounce her US citizenship, assuming she has? Granted, Ms. Poe came home with her family in 2005, what passport did she use, Philippine or US? According to the Times report, the last time she used her US passport was on Dec. 27, 2009, four years after she come home. Then she was issued another US passport by the Washington Passport Agency in December 2011, while she was already MTRCB chair. She was issued a Philippine passport on May 16, 2014, a year after she became senator; it expires on May 17, 2019.
This means that when Ms. Poe came home, as she says, in 2005, she was still an American citizen. She may still be, crypto and incognito, unless she has surrendered her US passport and her certificate of naturalization as an American citizen. Unless she has appeared before a US consular officer in the office of the American citizenship services of the US Embassy to voluntarily renounce her citizenship with the corresponding payment of $450 and the subsequent issuance of Certificate of Loss of US Citizenship, she remains from the US perspective a US citizen still.
Sitting in the Senate after having lost one’s natural-born status is sordid enough. But sitting there while remaining the citizen of a foreign power carries with it the foul odor of treason.