By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The Grace Poe case
posted 22-Mar-2016  ·  
4,906 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Article VII, Sec.2 of the Constitution provides, among other things, that no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election. For several anxious months now, the candidacy of Mary Grace Natividad Sonora Poe-Llamanzares (Grace Poe) for president hung in the balance due to questions raised concerning her citizenship and residency. Grace Poe is a foundling, having been found on September 3, 1968 as a newborn infant abandoned in the Parish Church of Jaro, Iloilo. After her marriage in July 1991 to Teodoro Llamanzares, a citizen of both the Philippines and the U.S, the couple flew back to the U.S. two days after the wedding ceremony where Grace Poe eventually became a naturalized American citizen in 2001.  She came back to the Philippines to support her father's (FPJ’s) candidacy for President in the May 2004 elections but went back to the U.S. after the elections. She and her husband decided to move and reside permanently in the Philippines sometime in the first quarter of 2005. She reacquired her Filipino citizenship under R.A. No. 9225 which provides that natural-born citizens by reason of naturalization as citizens of a foreign country are deemed to have re-acquired Philippine citizenship upon taking an oath of allegiance to the Philippines. She later ran for and was elected Senator in the May 2013 Elections.

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When Grace Poe filed her Certificate of Candidacy for President last year, several petitions were filed at the COMELEC to deny due course or cancel her COC. The bones of contention were, essentially, that: First, on citizenship, Grace Poe cannot be considered as a natural-born Filipino since blood relationship is determinative of natural-born status (jus sanguinis) and foundlings have unknown parents. Hence, Grace Poe is not qualified to apply for reacquisition of Filipino citizenship under R.A. No. 9225 for she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen to begin with. Even assuming that she was a natural-born Filipino, she is deemed to have lost that status when she became a naturalized American citizen. Furthermore, former natural-born citizens who are repatriated under the said Act reacquires only their Philippine citizenship and will not revert to their original status as natural-born citizens; and, Second, on residency, the reckoning period for computing petitioner's residency in the Philippines should be from 18 July 2006, the date when her petition to reacquire Philippine citizenship was approved by the Bureau of Immigration. Allegedly, Grace Poe’s physical presence in the country before 18 July 2006 could not be valid evidence of reacquisition of her Philippine domicile since she was then living here as an American citizen and as such, she was governed by the Philippine immigration laws.

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In a Resolution promulgated on 11 December 2015, the COMELEC ruled that petitioner is not a natural-born citizen and that she failed to complete the ten (10) year residency requirement. COMELEC consequently cancelled her COC. This prompted Grace Poe to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. The Highest Court recently released its Decision annulling the questioned resolution of the COMELEC. Central to its Supreme Court’s Decision is COMELEC Resolution No. 9523 dated 25 September 2012 -- COMELEC’s authority to deny due course or cancel COCs. This 2012 Resolution amended COMELEC Rule 25 dated 15 February 1993. The old version states: “Grounds for disqualification. - Any candidate who does not possess all the qualifications of a candidate as provided for by the Constitution or by existing law or who commits any act declared by law to be grounds for disqualification may be disqualified from continuing as a candidate.” The 2012 rendition changed this to: “Grounds. - Any candidate who, in action or protest in which he is a party, is declared by final decision of a competent court, guilty of, or found by the Commission to be suffering from any disqualification provided by law or the Constitution. xxx”  Such that, as presently required, to disqualify a candidate there must be a declaration by a final judgment of a competent court that the candidate sought to be disqualified is guilty of or found to be suffering from any disqualification provided by law or the Constitution.

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The SC pointed out that the amendment done in 2012 is an acceptance of the reality of the absence of any law setting forth an authorized proceeding for determining before election the qualifications of candidates. Be that as it may, the lack of provision for declaring the ineligibility of candidates cannot be supplied by a mere rule. Such an act is something which the COMELEC, in the exercise of its rule-making power under Art. IX, A, §6 of the Constitution, cannot do. By constitutional mandate, no less, it is the Supreme Court, sitting en banc, which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice-President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose (Article VII, Section 4, Constitution). In fact, the Constitution withholds from the COMELEC even the power to decide cases involving the right to vote, which essentially involves an inquiry into qualifications based on age, residence and citizenship of voters. Hence, the issue before the COMELEC is only whether or not Grace Poe’s COC should be denied due course or cancelled. COMELEC should refrain from going into the issue of the qualifications of the candidate for the position, if, as in this case, such issue is yet undecided or undetermined by the proper authority. The facts of qualification must beforehand be established in a prior proceeding before an authority properly vested with jurisdiction. COMELEC cannot itself, in the same cancellation case, decide the qualification or lack thereof of the candidate.

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The Supreme Court also explained why Grace Poe is a natural-born Filipino citizen and that she has complied with the 10-year residency requirement. These, together with other reasons cited by the Highest Court for sustaining the candidacy of Grace Poe will be discussed in this space in succeeding issues of this paper. 

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