I went to the Commission on Elections on Monday, accompanied by my lawyer Manuelito Luna, to file a petition for the disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares as candidate for president in the 2016 elections. The petition is based on her not being a natural-born Filipino and her lack of the required residency of ten years immediately preceding the election. These are two of the constitutional requirements, aside from having to be a registered voter, being able to read and write, and at least forty years of age on election day. A swarm of reporters met me inside the Comelec building, armed with the usual questions. But the most interesting question was, what prompted me to file, which candidate did I want to favor with her disqualification?
My quick answer to that was, the rule of law. The Constitution should be the first to benefit from any positive result of the petition. I personally pray for Grace Poe Llamanzares, I wish her well. But as I have repeatedly said in this space, before anyone seeking any high office becomes the candidate of any group or political party, he should first of all be a candidate of the Constitution. Meaning, he should first comply with all the requirements of the Constitution. No one whose solemn oath, if elected, would be “to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute (the nation’s) laws, do justice to every man and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation,” should launch his campaign on the corpse of the Constitution.
Because she is still young and presumably still idealistic, many had expected Mrs. Llamanzares to insist vehemently on it. But she would have nothing do to with it. This is where she is an utter disappointment. That notwithstanding, my petition is not driven by my own personal disappointment. But this has not prevented others from questioning my motives. Why do I want to hurt Grace Poe? asks one prayerful religious acquaintance. Am I doing it to help Jojo Binay, Miriam Defensor Santiago, or Mar Roxas?
It was not simply a straightforward question. It was accusation, no matter how veiled. And my interlocutor knew me well enough to throw in some details about my personal correspondence with the major players. Isn’t my paternal grandmother a Rojas, whose descendants want me to support Mar? Isn’t Miriam a next-door neighbor who was my running mate against Erap in 1998, and for whose adopted Ilonggo daughter (one of two) I had stood as baptismal sponsor later? Did I not campaign with Binay in 2010, and lent him counsel on international affairs during his first two years as vice president? And what of the rest of the 130 presidential filers? Would not everyone of those who would survive the Comelec pruning process benefit from the disqualification?
Indeed, they would, but that would be purely an unintended consequence. That has nothing to do with my decision to seek the disqualification of Mrs. Llamanzares. I filed my petition not to afflict Grace Poe Llamanzares and to provide aid and comfort to any political party or politician, but for the dignity of our institutions, whatever is left of it. I am on record as saying that if Grace Poe Llamanzares did not have her constitutional disability, and if she has not lied too much under oath, I might have found it possible to speak in her favor, even though for reasons of national security, I could never imagine her as a Filipino Commander-in-Chief, tethered to an American husband and children.
I deeply regret any discomfort or unpleasantness my petition may have caused Mrs. Llamanzares and her local and foreign supporters; but this transcends our personal regard for each other. My personal goodwill for the Poe family needs no superficial demonstration: I did not only run with her adoptive father Fernando Poe Jr. as his senatorial candidate in 2004; I also articulated for him and his party the points nobody else could articulate against the Arroyo administration on the campaign trail, and consequently courted the same political fate as his.
One year after our electoral debacle, I exposed the infamous “Hello Garci” tape that revealed the extensive irregularities committed against us in that election. Some members of the House milked that scandal to their utmost benefit during the hearings, and two young demagogues were catapulted to the Senate, where they remain until now. I had hoped that FPJ’s adopted daughter would show some regard for the majesty of the Constitution and the rule of law, which suffered mortal injury when we lost the 2004 election; but such hope had been dashed by her resolve to run for president, on the basis of manufactured surveys, in gross disregard of the requirements of the Constitution.
The case is simple enough. The Constitution, as stated earlier, provides that no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.
What is a natural-born citizen? A natural-born citizen is one who is a citizen of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his citizenship.
And who are citizens of the country? Under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force when Grace Poe Llamanzares was born on Sept. 3, 1968, the following are Filipino citizens.
1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of its adoption;
2) Those born in the Philippine Islands of foreign parents who, before the adoption of the Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippine islands;
3) Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines;
4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship; and
5) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.
Now, to what category does Grace Poe Llamanzares belong?
None of the above. How did this happen? If she was born in the Philippines, why is she excluded from the enumeration? The answer is simple.
She is excluded from the enumeration because she was born a foundling, of no known parents; she was found abandoned in the premises of the parish church in Jaro, Iloilo City on Sept. 3, 1968 by Edgardo Militar who later put her in the custody of Emiliano Militar. Because her parents were unknown, their nationality was similarly unknown; she was therefore stateless upon birth, even though under international law every child has a right to a nationality.
How she became a Filipino citizen from being stateless upon birth has not been substantially demonstrated or explained. But that must have involved a “process” that allowed her to acquire a Filipino citizenship before she became an American citizen, by naturalization, in 2001. Whatever process that was, it clearly destroyed any chance of her claiming natural-born status.
After living in the United States as a naturalized American citizen for years, she decided to return to the Philippines following the death of FPJ in December 2004. On July 7, 2006, she filed a petition for reacquisition of Philippine citizenship with the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation under RA 9225. Under that law, former natural-born citizens who lost their citizenship after 2003 may seek to reacquire their citizenship.
In her application, Mrs. Llamanzares said she was a natural-born Filipino, born to the spouses Ronald Allan Poe and Jesusa Sonora Poe, a completely false statement. Her petition was granted, but the Commissioner’s signature on the document was signed not by the Commissioner himself, but by a subaltern.
Mrs. Llamanzares renounced her US citizenship in 2010, and this renunciation became effective on Feb. 3, 2012. So she is no longer an American citizen. But since her reacquired citizenship is clearly invalid, she is not also legally a Filipino. She has an inchoate right to Filipino citizenship, but until she goes through the required legal process, she is not yet a citizen, and therefore stateless. She is therefore not qualified to run for President.
As far as her residency is concerned, she declared in her COC for Senator in 2013 that she had been living in the Philippines for six years and six months prior to the May 13, 2013 elections. This is questioned by some. But assuming this statement to be correct, she would have been living in the country for nine (9) years, five (5) months and four days by the time the 2016 presidential elections are held. This would be shy of the required ten years. This makes her ineligible to run for President.