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03:47 AM July 8th, 2013

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The bases access issue. We do have a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. And yes, we also have a Visiting Forces Agreement with that country. The preamble to the agreement notes that “from time to time elements of the United States armed forces may visit the Republic of the Philippines….”

Article I of the agreement says: “As used in this Agreement, ‘United States personnel’ means United States military and civilian personnel temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.”

From time to time the agreement has been put to use and US forces have been allowed to visit for limited periods mainly to take part in joint military exercises with Philippine forces. The understanding has been that these visits would be sporadic and therefore clearly temporary in nature.

Now the government has been circulating the idea of giving to US military forces (and even to Japanese military forces!) access to Philippine military bases. How exactly this will be done is still a secret. Is what is being planned something different from past visits of US forces, which were merely in the nature of “activities approved by the Philippine government” as stated in Article I of the Visiting Forces Agreement? But, why the trial balloon?

At this stage it seems to me that as far as the planned US access to our bases is concerned, we are in a position similar to where we are with respect to the planned peace agreement with the Bangsamoro forces in Mindanao. We are in the dark. For Mindanao, we have a framework agreement but its substance is still in the process of being worked out. For the access-to-bases issue, all we have is a trial balloon. In effect, we now are confronted with two separate ghosts, the “framework” ghost and the “US access” ghost.

How does one fight off a ghost or fight on the side of a ghost?

Reyes vs Velasco. No, that is not the title of the Supreme Court decision, but it could have been. The contenders for a congressional seat in Marinduque were Regina Reyes and Lord Allan Velasco.

I am not claiming that the decision of the Court against Reyes was wrong. All I want to say is that the decision missed an opportunity for the Court to teach lawyers clearer lessons on some contentious issues in election law. This might yet happen in the future. But for now let me take up four points which need elaboration.

First, how does a Filipino woman lose and later reacquire citizenship? Our Constitution says, “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.” But what acts or omissions may be deemed renunciation of citizenship?

Second, what is the final word on the meaning in political law of the domicile of a married woman? I recall the case of Marcos-Romualdez vs Comelec. The Court said: “Without as much belaboring the point, the term residence may mean one thing in civil law (or under the Civil Code) and quite another thing in political law. What stands clear is that insofar as the Civil Code is concerned—affecting the rights and obligations of husband and wife—the term residence should only be interpreted to mean ‘actual residence.’ The inescapable conclusion derived from this unambiguous civil law delineation, therefore, is that when the petitioner married the former president in 1954, she kept her domicile of origin and merely gained a new home, not a domicilium necessarium.” Justice Flerida Ruth Romero approached the subject as an aspect of the struggle of women for equality with men.

Third, there remain blurred issues arising from Republic Act No. 9225, the Dual Citizenship Law, in relation to election law. Section 5(2) says: “Those seeking elective public office in the Philippines shall meet the qualification for holding such public office as required by the Constitution and existing laws and, at the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy, make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship before any public officer authorized to administer an oath.”

Does this requirement of renunciation of foreign citizenship apply to those filing a certificate of candidacy for a national office? If it does, it would seem to me to be an unconstitutional addition to the requirements for national office.

Finally, when is jurisdiction over contests passed on to the electoral tribunal? Jurisprudence has repeatedly said: “The Court has invariably held that once a winning candidate has been proclaimed, taken his oath, and assumed office as a Member of the House of Representatives, the COMELEC’s jurisdiction over election contests relating to his election, returns and qualifications ends, and the HRET’s own jurisdiction begins.” Or, stated in another manner, where the candidate has already been proclaimed winner in the congressional elections, the remedy of the petitioner is to file an electoral protest with the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

In all these past cases, the HRET had already been formed. Hence, the Court could say to the petitioner, “Go to the electoral tribunal as the ‘sole’ judge of all contests.” My question now is about media reports that the losing party in this case, as of last week, has already assumed office in Congress. Is this a rebuff of the Supreme Court decision of last June 25? What will happen next?

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