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Is it so hard to count Grace Poe’s residency?

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Sisyphus’ Lament

Is it so hard to count Grace Poe’s residency?

SINGAPORE—PETITIONS attacking Sen. Grace Poe’s residency emerged soon after she filed her certificate of candidacy (COC) for president. But why does the debate seem so complicated when there is no mind-boggling doctrine in visualizing where a person lives?

Article VII, Section 2 of our Constitution provides: “No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen… and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.”

Poe traces all her woes to this simple sentence. She was abandoned as an infant and cannot trace her nationality to her unknown parents. Scholars argue whether she was born Filipino under an unwritten international custom, a less intuitive source of law.

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Residency, however, is far simpler. If Poe can show that she permanently returned from abroad before May 2006, she will have the 10-year residency requirement by the May 2016 elections.

Curiously, few analyses cite when exactly Poe returned, the logical starting point. Poe’s own timeline is available online, as part of her answer to the Senate Electoral Tribunal case questioning her citizenship.

Poe began studying in Boston College in 1988, then stayed in the United States and became naturalized in 2001.

In April 2004, she visited the Philippines to support her father Fernando Poe Jr., who ran and lost in the May 2004 presidential election.

He fell into a coma in December 2004. Poe rushed back, arriving the day before he died. She stayed with her mother Susan Roces until February 2005.

Her family decided to return to be with Roces. Poe resigned from her US job and returned in May with her children, who began studying in the Philippines in June. They initially lived with Roces then purchased a condo in San Juan in November.

Her husband stayed longer in the United States. He resigned from his job and sold their US home in April 2006, and returned to the Philippines on May 4, 2006. Poe and her family then reacquired Philippine citizenship, becoming dual citizens in July 2006.

If the above is true, then Poe resided in the Philippines before the crucial May 2006 cutoff. By then, she was living here with her entire family and had sold her US home.

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A challenger would, logically, present other facts to show that Poe was living, or even intending to live, elsewhere after May 2006. Strangely, this is not what they are doing and no one has questioned this.

The dominant theory focuses on Poe’s COC for the 2013 elections. A senator only needs a two-year residency, and her 2013 COC for senator stated that she would be resident for six and a half years as of the 2013 elections. Challengers argue that she is bound by this statement and must be resident for only nine and a half years as of the 2016 elections, and cannot inconsistently assert that she has been a Philippine resident since May 2005.

What this really challenges is Poe’s intent to live permanently in the Philippines in May 2006. If she was already physically here, why did she not begin counting from May 2005? Challengers argue she must have considered herself a visiting foreigner instead of a resident. The common-sense rebuttal is: Where was Poe intending to live in May 2006 if not the Philippines, even assuming she is bound by her 2013 COC?

The other theory is that Poe became resident only in July 2006, when she reacquired Philippine citizenship. However, citizenship and residence are two independent concepts. An American can reside in the Philippines. Even the Constitution’s wording clearly presents two separate requirements, and there is no requirement to have been a citizen for 10 years. Finally, this second theory likewise cannot explain where Poe planned to live in May 2006 if not the Philippines.

Incidentally, early debates raised a very liberal 1995 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that Imelda Marcos was resident in Leyte since birth, having always celebrated her important life events there and intended to return. Although Poe is different because she became a naturalized American, some argued that this liberality is appropriate for a country with so many overseas workers. Poe’s SET answer does not take this more aggressive position so this debate remains academic.

Whether it is legal for Poe to run is of utmost importance to voters. However, our discussions end up less critical than classroom debate. These focus more on the perceived stature or political leanings of lawyers than actual arguments. Pundits omit when Poe allegedly returned, the one piece of information indispensable to thinking the issue through.

Indeed, some posit that arguments on foundlings’ citizenship are purely emotional, not legal. It is astounding to argue that human rights are not legal simply because they are greatly emotional. Others claim that pro-Poe arguments put her legal issues to a vote, promoting mob rule. The actual doctrine sounds very different: When there is doubt about a legal issue in an election context, it is best interpreted in a way that will allow the sovereign people to choose.

Still others implied SET Chair Justice Antonio Carpio, who voiced arguments against Poe, is biased because his old law firm partner is allegedly close to another candidate. This is uncritical given the politicians in the SET, including Sen. Nancy Binay, whose father is running against Poe.

How we debate Poe’s relatively simple legal issues underscores yet again how we sorely need to be more critical of legal issues that underlie broader democratic debates. One worries about our political maturity in the face of more complex issues from pork barrel to the Bangsamoro Basic Law. We must think legal issues through for ourselves and realize they are not as arcane as they seem.

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React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Elections 2016, Grace Poe, nation, news, Poe’s disqualification case
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