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Q and A on Grace Poe’s natural-born citizenship

My two columns opining that Sen. Grace Poe possesses natural-born citizenship that could be affirmed by a DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test were written three months ago on June 14 and 21. Yet, to this day, I still get a lot of questions. For easy comprehension, I will simplify the questions and my answers.

Question 1: Why is natural-born citizenship important? Answer: Because only natural-born citizens are qualified to be president, vice president, senator, congressman or Supreme Court justice.

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Consequently, if a final decision decrees that Senator Poe is NOT a natural-born citizen, she would be removed from her office as senator, barred from running for the presidency and, if elected, prohibited from serving her mandate.

Question 2: What tribunals are authorized to pass judgment on her citizenship? Answer: The Senate Electoral Tribunal has jurisdiction over cases questioning her qualifications as a senator. Also, the Commission on Elections is authorized to hear and decide petitions challenging her qualifications for the presidency but only after she has filed her certificate of candidacy for the post. The decisions of these tribunals may be elevated to the Supreme Court later.

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Question 3: Which Constitution governs her citizenship? Answer: The 1935 Constitution because this was our basic law in 1968 when she was born. Under this Constitution, “The following are citizens of the Philippines: (1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of the adoption of this Constitution. (2) Those born in the Philippine Islands of foreign parents who, before the adoption of this Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippine Islands. (3) Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines. (4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority elect Philippine citizenship. (5) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.”

In addition, the 1935 Constitution (as well as the current one) states that the “Philippines… adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the Nation.” Thus, by this “doctrine of incorporation,” customary international laws are given the same force and effect as statutes passed by Congress.

Question 4. What are the international laws that govern the citizenship of foundlings?

Answer: Mainly, (a) the 1930 Hague Convention on the Conflict of Nationality Laws, (b) the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (c) the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In international law, nationality is synonymous with citizenship.

Question 5: Specifically, what provision of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is relevant to Senator Poe? Answer: Article 2 which states: “A foundling found in the territory of a Contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born in the territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State.”

Question 6: The Philippines is not a signatory to this 1961 Convention. Why are we bound by its provisions? Answer: Because they have become “generally accepted principles of international law” which, as earlier stated, are as binding as statutes passed by Congress.

Question 7: Who are natural-born citizens? Answer: Under the 1987 Constitution, they “are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”

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Question 8: Why is Grace Poe a natural-born citizen? Answer: Because under Article 2 of the 1961 Convention quoted above, she—a foundling who was found in Iloilo, Philippines—is deemed to have Filipino parents. Perforce, she is natural-born since her presumed parents, specifically her father, are accorded Philippine citizenship.

Question 9: Is she not a naturalized Filipino falling under item 5 in the answer to Question 3— that she was “naturalized in accordance with (international) law”? Answer: No, it was her parents who acquired Philippine citizenship pursuant to international law. But she derived her citizenship from her presumed Filipino father; thus, she is a citizen from birth without having to do anything to acquire or perfect her Philippine citizenship.

Question 10. May her biological father be proven to be actually an alien? Answer: Yes, but the burden of proof belongs to those who challenge her natural-born status. Unless such proof is presented, her parents continue to be presumed Filipinos. Thus, she retains her natural-born citizenship.

Question 11: Grace Poe became a US citizen after she got married and moved to the United States, how did she reacquire her natural-born citizenship? Answer: By taking an oath of allegiance to the Philippines pursuant to the Dual Citizenship Law (Republic Act No. 9225) and by renouncing her American citizenship pursuant to American law.

Question 12. Aside from invoking the interaction between our Constitution and customary international law, may Senator Poe prove her natural-born citizenship by other methods? Answer: Yes, by undergoing a DNA test showing that her biological father is a Filipino. Our Supreme Court has issued many decisions affirming the binding force of DNA tests.

Question 13. How are DNA tests conducted and can such tests conclusively prove who her biological father and mother are? Answer: Yes, if done according to the protocols laid down by the Supreme Court. More on this in a future column.

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