IT took a “quo warranto” (“by which warrant”) suit by Kapatiran party member and 2013 senatorial candidate Rizalito David before the Senate Electoral Tribunal last week to compel Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares to finally say something about her being constitutionally disqualified from being a senator or from aspiring for higher office on the ground of lack of citizenship or legal residence.
Having repeatedly taken up the subject in this space before anyone else did, I was beginning to feel she had decided to play dead. Then the suit came, and she spoke.
“I am a Filipino by birth, abode and choice,” she said.
It was a headline-grabbing quote, but it completely missed the point.The issue is not whether Mrs. Llamanzares is a Filipino or not, but rather whether she is a “natural-born Filipino” or not. And the truth is that she is not a natural-born Filipino by birth, which is the only way one could become a natural-born citizen, especially where citizenship is conferred by blood. One cannot be a natural-born citizen by abode or choice. Either way would be absurd.
Not being a natural-born citizen from birth, Mrs. Llamanzares did not become natural-born after that. She is not a natural-born citizen now. After renouncing her allegiance to the Republic to become a citizen of the United States, she has now renounced her US citizenship to reacquire her Philippine citizenship. But not being a former natural-born citizen, her reacquisition of Philippine citizenship appears to be null and void.
This affects her residency status. Not being legally a Filipino, she cannot claim to have lived in the Philippines as a citizen for six years and six months or for any length of time before the senatorial election of May 13, 2013. This is grievous enough. But even more sordid than all this, Mrs. Llamanzares has lied under oath about her personal circumstances. She provides the smoking gun herself.
Why is it necessary for her to be a “natural-born” citizen? Can’t she just be simply a Filipino citizen, without any such qualification? Why? Because this is what Section 3, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution commands. “No person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.”
The meaning of this provision is clear to anyone who understands simple English. There are no two ways of understanding it. It needs no interpretation. The only term that needs some explaining is “natural-born citizen of the Philippines.” It is a legal term, but we do not need a lawyer, a judge, the Comelec, the SET (Senate Electoral Tribual) or the Supreme Court to explain it. Section 2, Article IV of the Constitution does it for us: “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…” There are no two ways of understanding it either.
Under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force and in effect when Mrs. Llamanzares was born, a child must have a Filipino father in order to be a citizen of the Philippines from birth. But nobody knew the infant Grace’s father or mother. As far as the public knows, the newborn was found abandoned inside a church in Jaro, Iloilo on September 3, 1968. She was adopted by the actor Fernando Poe Jr. and his actress wife Jesusa Sonora, popularly known as Susan Roces.
They gave her a good education in Manila and later sent her to pursue her studies in Boston. While abroad, she got married to an American citizen, bore three American children, and became an American citizen herself. They became one happy American family. The fact that Mrs. Llamanzares was a foundling never caused her to suffer discomfort or discrimination anywhere. She was genuinely admired, even envied, for her personal achievements. One of the greatest figures in salvation history was also a foundling—Moses.
But what about her citizenship? Under the Constitution, she could not be a Filipino because nobody knew the nationality of her father. Although her adoptive parents were both Filipinos, the court has ruled in certain cases that adoption does not confer citizenship. So she could not be a Filipino just because FPJ was a Filipino. Some lawyers argue that she was born a Filipino by virtue of Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which provides: “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 that State.”
How I wish that could help! After all, the generally accepted principles of international law become part of the law of our land. But this Convention did not enter into force until 1975, when Mrs. Llamanzares was already seven years old, and the Philippine government, according to a memorandum from the Department of Justice, acceded to it only in 2011, when she was already 43 years old and chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. However, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been unable to confirm the DOJ report, and there is no record of the President having ratified the Convention with the concurrence of the Senate. So it cannot be invoked to cover Mrs. Llamanzares’ case.
There is no doubt or dispute that Grace Poe Llamanzares was not a Filipino from birth. But for her to pursue her studies in the United States she had to become a Filipino citizen in order to be issued a Philippine passport. When and how did this happen? Who facilitated it? This is the first mystery that must be unraveled. What “legal” or “illegal” process allowed the stateless young person to acquire a Philippine passport? The offense, if it entailed an offense, may have proscribed by now, but the truth must be revealed.
Whatever process was employed, it merely conferred upon Mrs. Llamanzares the status of being a Filipino, not that of a natural-born Filipino. That very process deprived her of any claim to being “natural-born,” pursuant to Sec. 2 of Article IV, quoted earlier.
Now, by whatever means she became a Filipino, her citizenship was totally extinguished when she renounced and abjured entirely and absolutely any allegiance and fidelity to the Philippine republic to become a citizen of the United States. In 2006, two years after the sudden death of her adoptive father, she decided to repatriate to the Philippines. She filed a petition “for retention and/or reacquisition of Philippine citizenship under Republic Act 9225.”
Known as the “Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003,” RA 9225 provides that “any provision of the law to the contrary notwithstanding, natural-born citizens by reason of their naturalization as citizens of a foreign country are hereby deemed to have reacquired Philippine citizenship upon taking the (prescribed) oath of allegiance to the Republic.” The operative term is “natural-born citizens” who have become naturalized citizens of a foreign country.
This is reiterated in the implementing rules under Bureau of Immigration Memorandum Circular No. AFF-04-01, which provides, “These rules shall apply to former natural-born citizens of the Philippines, as defined by Philippine law and jurisprudence, who have lost their citizenship by reason of their naturalization as citizens of a foreign country.” A former natural-born citizen of the Philippines, who was born in the Philippines, shall submit the NSO-authenticated copy of his or her birth certificate as proof of his/her former “natural-born” status, the circular says.
Since Mrs. Llamanzares is not a “former natural born citizen” who lost her citizenship through naturalization as a US citizen, she is not covered by the provisions of RA 9225. What proof did she present to prove that she was a former natural-born citizen? Did she submit the mandated NSO-authenticated copy of her birth certificate, or was this requirement waived?
Clearly the oath she took to “reacquire” her citizenship was null and void. Now, having renounced and lost her US citizenship during the second quarter of 2012, according to the Federal Register, the Daily Journal of the US government, and having no valid Philippine citizenship, she now appears to be officially stateless. She needs to go through the normal process of applying to become a Filipino citizen, or get an act of Congress.
But this may be just the tip of the iceberg. For Mrs. Llamanzares has committed serious misrepresentations under oath, which make her liable for perjury and for other crimes. In her 2006 notarized petition for retention and/or reacquisition of Philippine citizenship under RA 9225, she declares:
“I am a natural-born Philippine citizen, born on Sept. 3, 1968 at Iloilo City to Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, a Filipino citizen, and Jesusa Sonora Poe, a Filipino citizen; I became an American national on Oct. 18, 2001, thereby lost my Philippine citizenship. Pursuant thereto, I am a holder of a US passport with Passport No. 017037793, issued on Dec. 19, 2001 in Washington.”
The first part is a complete misrepresentation, which contradicts what she had publicly proclaimed. This obviously misled the immigration authorities who acted favorably on her fraudulent petition. As she herself had publicly admitted, she was born on Sept. 3, 1968 of unknown parents, and not to the Poe couple who were married only on Dec. 25, 1968, three months after her birth. Moreover, Susan Roces never conceived nor gave birth to a single child.
Now, even if Mrs. Llamanzares happened to be a former natural-born citizen, the fact that she became a US citizen in 2001 places her outside the coverage of RA 9225. For the only ones covered by the law, who are allowed to retain their Philippine citizenship after becoming citizens of another state, are natural-born Filipinos who become citizens of a foreign country after—not before—-the law took effect in 2003.
How life indeed loves a jest! (Cyrano de Bergerac.)
In reporting David’s petition, some news iyems erroneously identified the petitioner as my former Senate chief of staff (I sat there from 1992 to 2001), and insinuated that I had something to do with his petition, as an alleged service to Vice President Binay, should Mrs. Llamanzares’s be unseated from the Senate and disqualified from running for higher office. This is high-grade speculation.
Lito David worked for me as an executive assistant and political officer from 1992 to 1996, but he has since risen on his own, and is completely his own man. He has not only supported my position on Mrs. Llamanzares’s grand swindle, but has brought it to the next level. He has my full support, and I wish him success. His success would be the triumph of the Constitution.
I have taken up this issue when nobody else was doing it, not because I wanted any politician to benefit from it, but because a serious wrong has been committed against the Filipino people, and its perpetrators seemed confident they could get away with murder. Binay had nothing to do with it. I campaigned with him in 2010, and helped him in international affairs from 2010 to 2012, but I have never been part of his political machine. If he or Mar Roxas or Bongbong Marcos benefits from what I am doing, that would be an unintended consequence. Otherwise, I am merely trying to do my bit to contribute to the conscience of the nation.