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Reactions to ‘Grace Poe’s citizenship’

Last Sunday’s piece titled “Grace Poe’s citizenship” elicited several reactions (aside from the many in the Inquirer.net website which I will no longer take up now).

United Nations. Most exhilarating is an early e-mail from Bernard Kerblat, country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who wrote, “Your opinion sounds like a pleasant soothing philharmonic orchestra composition to our ears.”

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He added in part: “Thank you for the badly needed clarification … that a foundling in the Philippines is not a stateless person contrary to what some uninformed voices have recently asserted… Your statement to the effect that ‘Parenthetically, it is high time the Philippines acceded to and joined the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961 Convention) for the benefit of all Filipinos…’ is music to our ears. YES, the UNHCR FULLY supports your statement.”

Later, on June 16, Kerblat, his deputy Yasser Saad and his legal aide Iya Gallardo visited me at my home. They explained that, during a ministerial meeting on Dec. 7, 2011, the Philippine panel pledged to initiate our accession to the 1961 Convention.

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Last February, various executive agencies convened to develop a national plan to end statelessness in our country by 2016. This piece of good news, after a long drought of no news, should be followed up. And I will do so in future columns. Today, let me answer questions on Senator Poe’s citizenship.

From everywhere. Reader Paulino Yusi, a Makati lawyer, argues that the presumption in Article 2 of the 1961 Convention saying that foundlings found in the Philippines have Filipino parents does not ipso facto mean that Poe is a natural-born citizen.

He posits that, under the 1935 Constitution, those born with Filipino mothers and foreign fathers need to elect Philippine citizenship “upon reaching majority age.” Thus, he concludes that Poe cannot be deemed natural-born because she had to perform an act (election of Philippine citizenship) after her birth.

Answer: The 1961 Convention refers to “parents.” So, to confer natural-born citizenship on Poe, it is enough that her legally presumed father (who is a “parent”) is Filipino. She need not “elect” anymore because her presumed father already conferred natural-born citizenship on her.

From Dubai, Joselito Basilio, citing a deceased Supreme Court justice, wrote that Article 2 of the 1961 Convention may not be compatible with our 1987 Constitution because it is based on jus soli while our Charter is based on jus sanguinis.

Answer: The 1961 Convention simply states that a foundling is presumed to have parents who are nationals of the country where the foundling was found. Under our 1987 Constitution, a child follows the citizenship of the father or mother. Thus, I see no incompatibility.

From California, Ray Lopez wondered why some critics “make themselves intellectual prostitutes to sway public opinion” for or against certain candidates. He added that it didn’t “matter which side you’re on, but you just explained the citizenship issue as clear as can be … devoid of bias.”

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I thank Mr. Lopez for his kind words for me. Indeed, I merely wrote my honest and sincere opinion without any bias for or against anyone. I met Senator Poe only once during a public forum where she and I were guest speakers. I have had no other official or personal association with her.

The tougher question was posed by multiawarded journalist Marites Vitug, Eric Damasing and others. They explained that while Senator Poe may have acquired natural-born citizenship via “generally accepted principles of international law” as I explained last Sunday, she nonetheless lost it when she married her American husband.

And by executing an oath of allegiance to reacquire it, is she deemed to have performed an “act to acquire or perfect her citizenship” that excludes her from the constitutional definition of a natural-born citizen?

Damasing cited David vs Agbay (March 18, 2015) which explained that, under the Dual Citizenship Law (Republic Act No. 9225), natural-born citizens who became citizens of another country before the effectivity of said law shall reacquire their Philippine citizenship after they take an oath of allegiance to the Philippines, while those who became foreign citizens after the effectivity of said law shall retain their citizenship upon taking the same oath. Since Senator Poe belongs to the first category, what kind of Philippine citizenship did she reacquire?

Answer: Her original natural-born citizenship. Her taking an oath of allegiance is not “an act to acquire or perfect her citizenship.” She already acquired or perfected her citizenship at birth. Ineluctably, she reacquired the same original natural-born status.

Why then did the Court have to make the distinction in David vs Aglipay? Because in that case, the petitioner, Renato David, who became a Canadian before the effectivity of RA 9225, represented himself to be a Filipino citizen in his application to purchase public land filed before he took his oath of allegiance.

Not having taken the required oath, he had not yet reacquired his Philippine citizenship when he executed under oath his said application. Thus, the Court held that he was liable for falsification of a public document. Had he been naturalized as a Canadian after the effectivity of RA 9225, he would have been deemed to have retained his Philippine citizenship and would not have been held criminally indictable.

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TAGS: 1935 Constitution, 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Bernard Kerblat, Citizenship, foundling, Grace Poe, statelessness, UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
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