Why Grace Poe?

Senator Grace Poe, the foundling adopted by Philippine action movie royalty, sits on a knife’s edge. On one side lies the Presidency of the Republic of the Philippines. On the other, a black hole to God knows where. She is now fighting for her political life as she faces allegations that, one, she is not a natural born Filipino; and, second, that she has not satisfied the residency requirement to run for public office. The Philippine legal community is abuzz with all sorts of theories and conclusions, and the entire nation has an opinion on it. The matter is also before the electoral tribunal and, thereafter, one could expect it to reach the Supreme Court.

There are those that say the whole matter should be dismissed  as it is nothing more than a nuisance or a form of harassment by the Senator’s detractors. There are also those concerned that the ruling by the electoral tribunal and later by the Supreme Court may prejudice foundlings in the Philippines as they may suddenly find themselves declared stateless, and Lord only knows how many foundlings there are in the Philippines. Imagine the consequences!

Be that as it may, I, for one, believe that this is an issue we as a nation should tackle. No less than the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines makes it an issue. We need to have this discussion for the sake of everyone, not just the good Senator. What about the possible negative consequences of a ruling unfavorable to Poe and foundlings? That is a natural consequence of a legal case. Imagine, if you will, a person filing a case to nullify the title of an individual over a parcel of land located in Boracay. After a full hearing before a court of first instance, an appeals court and, finally, the Supreme Court, the final ruling is that the title is indeed void because the land was forest land and, therefore, cannot be acquired by private persons. The Court then proceeds to nullify all private titles in Boracay. What about the other landowners who were not party to the case? Won’t they be prejudiced by the ruling? Yes. Tough.

I write this as a purely legal issue. The discussion must be had to put an end to speculation. Senator Poe has declared her intention to run for President. The Constitution established certain requirements to qualify for said office. Someone has challenged her qualifications. The challenge has to be resolved. What we must understand is that all these are the natural consequences of the legal process of qualifying as a candidate for President. It is just unfortunate that it is Grace Poe involved and she is a foundling.

And since it is a discussion that must happen, here is my two centavos on the matter: first, on the issue of her citizenship, the first hurdle to be settled is whether or not, being a foundling, she is considered to be a natural born Filipino. Other lawyers have already pointed to the Constitution (who are natural born citizens) and international law (on the treatment of foundlings) as basis to say foundlings are natural born citizens of the state where the child is found. 

My issue with this argument is that the Philippines follows jus sanguinis in determining citizenship. You must be of Filipino blood to be a Filipino. Other countries follow jus soli or the place of birth to determine ones citizenship. So, international law aside, it would seem foundlings need to prove their citizenship by showing that their parents are Filipinos. It may be harsh but that seems to be the law.

Note that the Philippines is not a contracting party to the convention on the recognition of foundlings as natural born citizens of the state where they are found. Should we then blindly apply that principle here? The Philippines is also not a signatory to the international convention recognizing the legality of an instrument duly notarized by a foreign notary such that all documents notarized before a foreign notary must first be authenticated by the appropriate Philippine consular authorities before it is recognized here in the Philippines. If we follow the same argument regarding the convention on foundlings, then the Philippines should recognize documents notarized before foreign notaries without the need for the authentication by a Philippine consul, but we don’t. I, therefore, think that invoking international law is not that easy and the Senator will be pressed to prove her citizenship.

Second, what are the effects of her renunciation of Philippine citizenship in favor of US citizenship and her subsequent reacquisition of Philippine citizenship? There are those that say that since one is born only once, then the reacquisition of her citizenship has the effect of restoring her status as a natural born Filipino, assuming, of course, she hurdles issue number one above.

I beg to disagree. Yes, you are born only once but, under the circumstances, it seems you can acquire citizenship multiple times by renouncing and reacquring the same from time to time. I’m not sure if there is a limit although it may put into question your allegiance and thus disqualify  you from changing or reacquiring citizenship. In any case, the point is that I do not believe that her reacquisition of Philippine citizenship had the effect of restoring her status as a natural born Filipino, instead, it made her a naturalized Filipino. Originally, she was a natural born Filipino. She then became a US citizen before reverting back to Filipino. At this point, is she still “natural born”? I think not. At least I believe this is the true issue that should be resolved. Of course, it will go back to issue number one above if this issue is resolved in her favor.

If it goes against her, then she loses her position as senator and disqualifies her as a candidate for President; hence, the black hole.

The issue on her residency is not as big a problem, I think. Note that residency and citizenship are two separate issues and if she was already residing in the Philippines for ten years even while she was a US citizen, then I think she already fulfilled the residency requirement.

We need to talk about these not just for Senator Poe’s sake but to establish the legal principles to guide everyone in the years to come. That is why.