The 5-4 vote by the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) is not the resounding victory that many supporters of Grace Poe had hoped for. In fact, the close vote means that Poe might have an even harder time when the issue of her citizenship is finally brought up to the Supreme Court (SC).
Complainant Rizalito David has promised to appeal the decision before the High Court will accept David’s appeal remains to be seen, especially if the SET senator-members invoke Article VI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that the tribunal “shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications” of its members.
Poe is expectedly elated by the tribunal’s decision. But Poe’s celebration may be short-lived.
The SET ruling only means that Poe will remain as a senator for now. Our sources say that the general sentiment among the five senators who voted to dismiss David’s petition was to uphold the “will of the people” who voted Poe as the number one senator in the 2013 polls.
The SET ruling, however, is not binding on the Comelec or the SC. Just because the SET dismissed the case doesn’t mean the poll body or the High Court will do the same. Nevertheless, it certainly provides a much needed boost to what some political pundits say is a faltering campaign.
Much like her father’s presidential run in 2004, Poe has been saddled with disqualification cases. Whether instigated by her political opponents or not, the legal challenges Poe currently faces appear to have negatively impacted her campaign, causing her survey numbers to slide.
But even if the SET case is finally dismissed, there are four other cases still pending against Poe before the Commission on Elections (Comelec), all seeking to disqualify Poe over her supposed failure to satisfy the citizenship (and residency) requirements for a presidential candidate under the constitution.
To be fair, it is not only the Philippines that imposes the requirement that any person aspiring for the presidency or vice-presidency must be a “natural born citizen.” Being a natural-born citizen is also one of the eligibility requirements established in the United States constitution for election to the office of President or Vice President. But the similarity ends there.
Unlike the Philippines, the US constitution does not define the phrase “natural-born citizen.” This is the reason why there is still an on-going debate in America on the real meaning of “natural born citizen.”
For instance, most American legal scholars agree that the term “natural born citizen” applies not only to those people born to US citizen parents in foreign countries but also those born on United States soil, meaning, in any one of the 50 states (yes, there is no 51st state). The latter is known as the “jus soli” (or ‘right of the soil’) principle of nationality law, or right of anyone born in the territory of a country to nationality or citizenship of that country. Today, there are only 30 countries that grant citizenship based on jus soli.
American lawyers point out, however, that a “natural born citizen” is not to be confused with someone who is “citizen at birth” because it is possible under US law for a person to be a citizen at birth but not natural born. For example, people born in Puerto Rico are citizens at birth but not natural born because the people born in protectorates (i.e. outside US soil) like Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, are granted American citizenship only because of a law passed by Congress.
This jus soli principle is the reason why foundlings born or found in the US are automatically considered natural born citizens.
But this is not the case in the Philippines, where Article IV, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution specifically defines natural born citizens as “those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”
Since we follow the “jus sanguinis” (or right of blood) principle of nationality law, meaning, a person’s citizenship is based on the citizenship of one or both parents, some lawyers say Poe has to prove that one of her biological parents is Filipino. But that puts foundlings like Poe at a disadvantage precisely because their parentage is unknown. This is why there are international laws that treat foundlings as citizens, as Poe’s lawyer argues.
Some legal scholars suggest that the best way to reconcile our constitutional provisions on citizenship with international customary law on foundlings is to recognize Poe as a Filipino citizen at birth but not a natural born citizen since her citizenship is vested only by law and not by the constitution. Well, at least until she is able to prove the Filipino citizenship of one of her biological parents.
Anyway, the final answer rests with the SC. But with the three distinguished SC justices in the SET voting against Poe, it will definitely be an uphill battle when the case reaches the High Court.