By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The Grace Poe case (On the question of citizenship)
posted 3-Apr-2016  ·  
5,780 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The Supreme Court reversed the cancellation of Grace Poe’s Certificate of Candidacy by COMELEC mainly for the reason that the poll body has no authority to decide contests relating to the qualification of the President or Vice-President. It said that COMELEC cannot itself, in the same cancellation case, decide the qualification or lack thereof of the candidate. According to the SC, the COMELEC does not even have 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.

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Citizenship is a treasured right conferred on those whom the state believes are deserving of the privilege. It is a “precious heritage, as well as an inestimable acquisition,” that cannot be taken lightly by anyone - either by those who enjoy it or by those who dispute it. The qualifications of Grace Poe as a presidential candidate to hold the highest office of the land was challenged on the issue of citizenship. It has been argued that blood relationship is determinative of natural-born status (jus sanguinis) and considering that foundlings have unknown parents, it will be impossible to determine their citizenship. Grace Poe cannot reacquire Filipino citizenship under R.A. No. 9225 (the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003) as the basis therefor, i.e., Filipino citizenship of her parents to begin with has not been established. Even assuming that she was a natural-born Filipino, she is deemed to have lost that status when she became a naturalized American citizen. The reason is that former natural-born citizens who are repatriated under the said R.A. No. 9225 reacquire only their Philippine citizenship and will not revert to their original status as natural-born citizens.

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In this regard, the Highest Court held that there is more than sufficient evidence that Grace Poe has Filipino parents and is therefore a natural-born Filipino. It cited census statistics for Iloilo Province for 1960 and 1970. In 1960, 99.62% of the population were Filipinos; 99.55% in 1970. Also presented in evidence were records from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showing that from 1965 to 1975, the statistical probability was 99.83% that any child born in the Philippines in that decade is natural-born Filipino. It was higher from 2010 to 2014 - 99.93% on a yearly average. Thus, the SC concluded that this was not a situation where a foundling has a 50% chance of being a Filipino and a 50% chance of being a foreigner. The chances that Grace Poe’s parents would be Filipinos is 99.9% or almost a hundred percent. Also presented were other statistical figures which, the Court noted, COMELEC did not dispute. Notably, COMELEC Commissioner Arthur Lim admitted, during the oral arguments, that at the time Grace Poe was found in 1968, the majority of the population in Iloilo was Filipino. The Court also pointed out that statistics from the PSA or its predecessor agencies are admissible evidence, the SC sometimes even taking judicial notice of the figures.

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Other circumstantial evidence exist of the nationality of Grace Poe’s parents, such as the fact that she was abandoned as an infant in a Roman Catholic Church in Iloilo City. She also has typical Filipino features: height, flat nasal bridge, straight black hair, almond shaped eyes and an oval face. There is a disputable presumption that things have happened according to the ordinary course of nature and the ordinary habits of life. All of the foregoing evidence, that a person with typical Filipino features is abandoned in a Catholic Church in a municipality where the population of the Philippines is overwhelmingly Filipinos such that there would be more than a 99% chance that a child born in the province would be a Filipino, would indicate more than ample probability if not statistical certainty, that Grace Poe’s parents are Filipinos. That probability and the evidence on which it is based are admissible under our rules on evidence. To assume otherwise is to accept the absurd, if not the virtually impossible, as the norm.

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The Highest Court recalled a basic rule in our legal system that, “… the burden of proof was on private respondents to show that petitioner is not a Filipino citizen. The private respondents should have shown that both of petitioner's parents were aliens. Her admission that she is a foundling did not shift the burden to her because such status did not exclude the possibility that her parents were Filipinos, especially as in this case where there is a high probability, if not certainty, that her parents are Filipinos.” Indeed, it is a truism that in civil cases, the burden  of  proof rests  upon the party who, as determined by the pleadings or  the nature of the case, asserts the affirmative of an issue. This is so because the rule is that he who asserts, and not he who denies, must prove. And the party who asserts the affirmative would lose as to a particular issue or the entire case, if no evidence were given on either side. Students of argumentation and debate are also familiar with this rule.

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The poignant words of the Solicitor General in this regard are worth repeating: “To deny full Filipino citizenship to all foundlings and render them stateless just because there may be a theoretical chance that one among the thousands of these foundlings might be the child of not just one, but two, foreigners is downright discriminatory, irrational, and unjust. It just doesn't make any sense. Given the statistical certainty - 99.9% - that any child born in the Philippines would be a natural born citizen, a decision denying foundlings such status is effectively a denial of their birthright. There is no reason why this Honorable Court should use an improbable hypothetical to sacrifice the fundamental political rights of an entire class of human beings”.

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