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08:51 PM May 26th, 2013

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When I finished my Mass at Ateneo Law School last Saturday I found a friend waiting for me to ask what the chances were of Grace Poe becoming vice president or president. (My friend usually has legal questions for me after Mass, which makes me wonder if he listens to my homilies at all!) Surprised, I asked him what the problem was. Then he told me about an item in a daily paper (not the Inquirer) claiming that Grace Poe was an adopted child.

I always thought that this was a commonly known fact. But then my friend told me that the article claimed that Poe’s real parents were unknown.

I will not get into the question of the senator-elect’s  parentage. Considering her popularity and the fact that nobody challenged her qualification, I will assume that she had at least a Filipino father or mother, either of which is enough to make her a natural-born Filipino citizen.

But let me just ask the hypothetical problem behind my Saturday Mass-goer friend’s question:  In the Philippines, what is the citizenship of a child whose parents are completely unknown? In all my more than 40 years of teaching constitutional law, nobody has asked me that question. But I have always known that adoption of a child does not confer citizenship.

I specify “in the Philippines” because here we do not follow the principle of  jus  soli, that is, a person is a citizen of his place of birth. The question is important for all those who want to be president, vice president, senator or district representative or party-list representative. We follow the principle of  jus  sanguinis, that is, a person follows the citizenship of either Filipino blood parent. Our Constitution says that anybody who wishes to be president, vice president, senator or district representative must be a natural-born Filipino citizen. The Constitution defines natural-born Filipino citizens as those “who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.” For the purpose of determining citizenship, therefore, the identity of the blood parents is important.

The only exception from this definition is the case of one who was born of a Filipino mother and an alien father under the 1935 Constitution but reached majority age under the 1973 Constitution. Such a person, upon reaching majority, may elect Philippine citizenship and he is deemed to be a natural-born Filipino citizen.

Moreover, a natural-born Filipino who has lost his Filipino citizenship by acquiring foreign citizenship can regain his or her natural-born citizenship by following the requirements of the Dual Citizenship Law. Jurisprudence says that such a person is deemed never to have lost his or her natural-born citizenship.

But to go back to my friend’s question, what can happen if one born of unknown parents should run for president or for reelection as senator? My friend who brought up the question is a partner in a multi-staffed and highly reputable law firm. The next time I see him after Mass I will ask him what answer to the question his staff has found.

* * *

Another citizenship question that has been brought to my attention (only for fun, not for a fee!) arises from the application of the Dual Citizenship Law. As I mentioned above, under the Dual Citizenship Law a natural-born Filipino citizen who loses his or her Filipino citizenship by naturalization in another country may regain his or her original citizenship by taking the oath required by the new law.

The grounds for loss of citizenship have been in the books for a long time, but there has been one significant change favorable to women. Under the old law, a Filipino woman who marries a foreign husband loses her Filipino citizenship if by the law of the husband she acquires his citizenship. This was changed by the new Constitution.  Under the 1987 Constitution the rule now is: “Citizens of the Philippines who marry aliens shall retain their citizenship, unless by their act or omission they are deemed, under the law, to have renounced it.” Thus, a woman, by the mere fact that she falls in love with and marries an alien, does not lose her Filipino citizenship.

But may one who has regained Filipino citizenship under the Dual Citizenship Law run for public office? Yes, but there is a hitch: “Those seeking elective public office in the Philippines … [must] at the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy, make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship …”  The form for filing a certificate of candidacy by itself contains an oath of allegiance to the Philippines; but it does not contain a renunciation of foreign citizenship. Such renunciation has to be specifically added.

But a question I would ask is whether this additional oath requirement can be imposed on national candidates. The qualifications of national candidates have been fixed by the Constitution and the list is exclusive.

The latest on this, from a sharply divided Supreme Court, is that, even if one has renounced foreign citizenship, if he continues to use a foreign passport, he equivalently withdraws his renunciation.

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