GENERAL SANTOS CITY, December 4, 2015 – Sen. Grace Poe cannot do simple addition. And, she and her legal counsel interpret the Constitution and international laws to suit her defense.
In her Certificate of Candidacy (COC), Poe swore that (1) she is a natural-born Filipino citizen and (2) her period of residency in the Philippines up to the day before May 9, 2016 would be 10 years and 11 months. Are these true or false? If false, “are they deliberate attempts to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact that would render respondent ineligible for the office that she seeks to be elected…?
The Second Division of the Commission on Election stated that the resolution of these issues was based “on the Constitution, law and jurisprudence, and viewing it solely from the legal perspective, shorn of emotionall and other extraneous consideration.
The issue of residency is a matter of simple arithmetic. In her COC when she ran for the Senate, she declared under oath her residency in the Philippines would be six years and six months by May 13, 2013, the election day. Add to that three years; her residency by May 9, 2015 would only be nine years and six months.
She said that her statement in her 2013 COC was an honest mistake. The Comelec Second Division, rejected her explanation. By law, she regained her Filipino citizenship on July 18, 2006. Reckoned from that date, her residency by May 9, 2016 would be nine years and ten months — still short of the 10-year residency the Constitution requires of presidential candidates.
Poe said she had presented documentary evidence to prove that she had been a resident of the Philippines since May 2005; in fact, she has been living in the country since her foster father died in December 2004. On what date did she base the 10 years, 11 months she declared in her 2015 COC? If on May 2005, it should have been exactly 10 years; if on December 2004, 11 years and months.
The Comelec Second Division cited three pieces of jurisprudence to prove that Poe lost her domicile of origin (the Philippines) when she was a naturalized as American citizen in 2001. Until she re-acquired her Philippine citizenship on July 18, 2006, she was not a Filipino citizen during her visits and stay in the Philippines. Her residency can only be reckoned starting July 18, 2006.
Based on either her 2013 COC or counted from July 18, 2006, Poe has failed to meet the 10-year residency requirement. In claiming residency of 10 years and 11 months in her 2015 COC, she deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform, and hide a material fact.
On the issue of citizenship, the Comelec Second Division quoted and cited provisions from the Constitution and jurisprudence to show that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino citizen (pp 22-25, Decision). To refute this:
First: Poe and her counsel contended that the framers of the 1935 had the intention to declare foundlings as natural-born Filipino citizen — citing from the convention records the amendment introduced by Delegate Rafols. But the Comelec Second Division also cited from records that Rafols’ amendment was voted down by the delegates. Rafols’ intention could not be considered the framers’ intention. (pp 25-27, Decision)
Second: Poe and her counsel invoked five customary international laws spanning 59 years – the 1930 The Hague Convention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — contending that under the “generally accepted principles” of these laws “a child born in the Philippines in 1968 of unknown parents is a natural-born Filipino” (p. 27, Decision).
The Comelec Second Division said: “Even if we were to take this declaration at face value , and concede it to be true, it would not result in a finding that the respondent is a natural-born Filipino citizen. It simply cannot be the case for the very simple reason that such ‘customary law’ will be in contravention of the Constitution.” It would not result in a finding that the respondent is a natural-born Filipino citizen. It simply cannot be the case for the simple reason that such ‘customary law’ will be in contravention of the Constitution.” (pp. 27-30, Decision).
But the Comelec Second Division countered by quoting relevant provisions from the five international laws invoked to show they only espoused the foundlings’ right to citizenship in the country where they are born and the citizenship can be acquired according to the laws of the country concerned — not declaring them “natural-born citizens”..
However, the issue of citizenship was inconclusive. While based on the Constitution and relevant international laws — contrary to the interpretation of Poe and her counsel — the Comelec Second Division ruled that “Respondent is not a natural-born Filipino citizen” (p. 22 of the “Decision”), it clarified: “We are not prepared to rule that on the citizenship issue she deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform or hide a material fact from the electorate.” (p. 33, Decision)
The Decision has been sensationalized in the media as the disqualification of Poe, the leading presidential candidate. But Elamparo’s petition was “Petition to Deny Due Course or to Cancel Certificate of Candidacy” of Poe, not to disqualify her. This was granted; Poe’s COC was ordered “Cancelled” (p. 34, Decision).
Poe’s COC must have been ordered “Cancelled” due to her false declaration of her residency with deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform and hide a material fact.
What boggles the mind is this: Why did she declare a residency of six years and six months in her 2013 COC? While that more than satisfied the two-year residency required of senators, it meant her residency started in November 2005. Yet, she claimed that she had been a resident since December 2004. She should have declared in her 2013 COC a residency of seven years and five months.
The Comelec Second Division should not be faulted for deeming as false the 10 years and 11 months residency in her 2015 COC and concluding that she deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform and hide a material fact which would have made her ineligible for the presidency.
Can Poe convince the Comelec en banc to start reckoning her residency from December 2004 or May 2005? If she can, her explanation that she erred “honestly” in her 2013 COC might be accepted. The cancellation of her COC for president will be reconsidered.
Note that the petition was not to disqualify Poe as a presidential candidate. Under Paragraph 7, Section 4, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, only the Supreme Court en banc sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal can rule on the disqualification of the President and Vice President after their election.
Should the Comelec en banc sustain the decision of the Second Division, she can elevate her case to the Supreme Court on grounds of abuse of discretion by the Comelec in cancelling her COC for president — not disqualification, although with the cancellation of her COC she is as good as disqualified from running.
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