By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
THE GRACE POE CASE (On the question of Residence)
posted 17-Apr-2016  ·  
5,290 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The Constitution requires presidential candidates to have ten (10) years' residence in the Philippines before the day of the elections - 9 May 2016 for the forthcoming elections. It is not disputed that when Grace Poe ran for senator in the 2013 Elections she filed with the COMELEC her Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for Senator wherein she answered "6 years and 6 months" to the question "Period of residence in the Philippines before May 13, 2013." She obtained the highest number of votes and was proclaimed Senator on 16 May 2013. On 15 October 2015, she also filed her COC for the Presidency for the May 2016 Elections. In her COC, she declared that she is a natural-born citizen and that her residence in the Philippines up to the day before 9 May 2016 would be ten (10) years and eleven (11) months counted from 24 May 2005. She attached to her COC an "Affidavit Affirming Renunciation of U.S.A. Citizenship" subscribed and sworn to before a notary public in Quezon City on 14 October 2015. Grace Poe's filing of her COC for President in the upcoming elections triggered the filing of three separate petitions before the COMELEC, essentially questioning her claimed status as a natural born Filipino citizen and her residence in the Philippines.

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The questions referring to Grace Poe’s residency state that Grace Poe acquired her domicile in Quezon City only from the time she renounced her American citizenship which was sometime in 2010 or 2011. Allegedly, Grace Poe's lack of intention to abandon her U.S. domicile is shown by the fact that her husband stayed at the U.S., coupled with her frequent trips there. Too, Grace Poe admitted in her COC for Senator that she had only been a resident of the Philippines for at least six (6) years and six (6) months prior to the 13 May 2013 elections. Moreover, she allegedly made a false entry in her COC when she stated that she is a legal resident of the Philippines for ten (10) years and eleven (11) months by 9 May 2016, as the reckoning period for computing her 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. It was asserted that petitioner'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.

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In a Resolution promulgated on 11 December 2015, the COMELEC First Division ruled that Grace Poe is not a natural-born citizen, that she failed to complete the 10 year residency requirement, and that she committed material misrepresentation in her COC when she declared therein that she has been a resident of the Philippines for a period of 10 years and 11 months as of the day of the elections on 9 May 2016. The COMELEC concluded that she is not qualified for the elective position of President of the Republic of the Philippines.

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After her motion for reconsideration was denied by the COMELEC en banc, Grace Poe elevated the matter to the Supreme Court via petitions for certiorari. In its Decision promulgated on March 8, 2016, the SC held that the COMELEC virtually ignored a good number of evidenced dates all of which can evince animus manendi (intention of remaining)  in the Philippines and animus non revertedi (intention of not returning) to the U.S. The veracity of the events of coming and staying home was dismissed by the COMELEC as inconsequential, the focus having been fixed at the petitioner's "sworn declaration in her COC for Senator" which the COMELEC said "amounts to a declaration and therefore an admission that her residence in the Philippines only commence sometime in November 2006"; such that "based on this declaration, [petitioner] fails to meet the residency requirement for President." According to the Highest Court, this conclusion ignores the standing jurisprudence that it is the fact of residence, not the statement of the person that determines residence for purposes of compliance with the constitutional requirement of residency for election as President. It ignores, above all else, what the court considers as a primary reason why petitioner cannot be bound by her declaration in her COC for Senator which declaration was not even considered by the SET (Senate Electoral Tribunal) as an issue against her eligibility for Senator. When petitioner made the declaration in her COC for Senator that she has been a resident for a period of six (6) years and six (6) months counted up to the 13 May 2013 Elections, she naturally had as reference the residency requirements for election as Senator which was satisfied by her declared years of residence. It was uncontested during the oral arguments that at the time the declaration for Senator was made, petitioner did not have as yet any intention to vie for the Presidency in 2016 and that the general public was never made aware by petitioner, by word or action, that she would run for President in 2016. Presidential candidacy has a length-of-residence different from that of a senatorial candidacy. There are facts of residence other than that which was mentioned in the COC for Senator.  The COMELEC ought to have looked at the evidence presented and see if petitioner was telling the truth that she was in the Philippines from 24 May 2005. Had the COMELEC done its duty, it would have seen that the 2012 COC and the 2015 COC both correctly stated the pertinent period of residency.

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The SC further stated that the COMELEC, by its own admission, disregarded the evidence that petitioner actually and physically returned here on 24 May 2005 not because it was false, but only because COMELEC took the position that domicile could be established only from petitioner's repatriation under R.A. No. 9225 in July 2006. However, it does not take away the fact that in reality, petitioner had returned from the U.S. and was here to stay permanently, on 24 May 2005. When she claimed to have been a resident for ten (10) years and eleven (11) months, she could do so in good faith. As explained by Grace Poe in her verified pleadings, she misunderstood the date required in the 2013 COC as the period of residence as of the day she submitted that COC in 2012. She said that she reckoned residency from April-May 2006 which was the period when the U.S. house was sold and her husband returned to the Philippines. In that regard, she was advised by her lawyers in 2015 that residence could be counted from 25 May 2005.

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That petitioner could have reckoned residence from a date earlier than the sale of her U.S. house and the return of her husband is plausible given the evidence that she had returned a year before. There is precedent after all where a candidate's mistake as to period of residence made in a COC was overcome by evidence, as in the case of Imelda Romualdez-Marcos v. COMELEC'. Thus, the SC concluded that the procedure and the conclusions from which the questioned COMELEC Resolutions emanated are tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. The petitioner is a QUALIFIED CANDIDATE for President in the 9 May 2016 National Elections.

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