The ‘Grace Poe’ dilemma

(Part 1 of 2)

The issues surrounding the presidential candidacy of Senator Grace Poe will not seem to die down.  Whether it is purely an honest attempt to search for the truth and comply with constitutional requirements or a political ploy to keep her out of the race, the issues are worth the Supreme Court’s valuable time to adjudicate on what could be a landmark case in Philippine jurisprudence.  Grace Poe has filed her certificate of candidacy for president of the Philippines.  The election is set for May 9, 2016.  Her qualifications for the office has been challenged and the Commission on Elections has barred her from pursuing her candidacy.  Her case is now before the Philippine Supreme Court (SC).  The SC has issued TROs (Temporary Restraining Orders) to stop the COMELEC from implementing their orders.  The oral arguments is set for January 19, 2016.  She appears to be a viable candidate, otherwise, there won’t be too much controversy as to whether or not she is qualified to be the next president of the Philippines.

Perhaps, for the first time in Philippine history, the birth history of a candidate for the highest elected office of the land has opened the gate to numerous issues based on domestic and international law. The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides, among others, that a candidate for president should be a natural-born citizen. This is where the problem lies.  Unlike in the United States where the bases of citizenship by birth are both the ‘jus soli’ principle (right to birthplace) and ‘jus sanguinis’ (right of blood), the Philippines anchors its birth laws solely on ‘jus sanguinis’.  A natural-born citizen of the Philippines, therefore, should have Filipino citizen parent/parents at the time of birth, in order to be considered as such.  It does not matter where the child was born. Grace Poe was registered as a foundling. Under Philippine law, a foundling is defined in the Civil Registration law (R.A. 3753) as “a deserted or abandoned child found, with parents, guardian or  relatives being unknown or a child committed to an institution, with unknown facts of birth and parentage.”  The Philippine Supreme Court, in the past, has had occasion to rule on who is a “foundling” in accordance with the above quoted statute.  While the definition is not in dispute under the facts of the present presidential case, the issue of whether being a “foundling” at birth casts doubt on a candidate’s citizenship and therefore qualification for the office being sought should be considered of utmost importance and novelty.  For Grace Poe to be qualified to run for the presidency, she has to prove that her parents are Filipino citizens when she was born.   This is somewhat impossible but maybe doable due to technological advancements in DNA testing. Electing a president is different from custody battles or inheritance issues where bloodlines are challenged.   It is an issue imbued with a public interest.  Her qualification to run for president of the Philippines is a legitimate issue which should be tackled by the Philippine Supreme Court.

The issue of particular interest in our column is Grace Poe’s travel history to the United States before she filed for her candidacy.  Such fact goes into the issue of compliance with the citizenship requirement as well as proving one’s 10-year residency, another vital requirement in order to be qualified to run for president.  She admittedly came to the United States and became a naturalized American citizen in 2001.  In 2006, she applied for dual citizenship under R. A. 9225 otherwise known as “Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003” to retain her Philippine citizenship.  When is one considered to have changed her oath of allegiance to a country or will this issue even be relevant to one’s becoming the President of the country that she has at one point in time, renounced citizenship to?

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Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby is a licensed attorney in Michigan.  She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law.  She is also a licensed attorney in the Philippines.  She specializes in immigration practice.  Please call 702-403-4704 or email  [email protected] for any questions on this article. 

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