SC justices question Poe’s use of US passport

Edu Punay, Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Grace Poe used her US passport four times after acquiring dual citizenship in 2009 and did not secure a Philippine immigration requirement for permanent residency for returning citizens.

Supreme Court (SC) justices banked on these admissions by Poe’s camp in questioning the motive for her return to the country and in resolving legal questions on her eligibilities for the presidency.

During yesterday’s oral arguments, Poe’s lawyer Alex Poblador insisted that the senator is a natural-born Filipino citizen and has met the 10-year residency requirement under the Constitution.

Poe remained optimistic that the outcome of her petitions filed before the SC would be positive, allowing her to run in the May elections.

The senator is confident the law is on her side and the rights of all foundlings in the country will be upheld, now that the high court has started deliberating on her disqualification case.

Although she is ready to accept an unfavorable ruling, the senator is hopeful the high court will side with her, just like when it decided on the case of her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr., in 2004.

“We are optimistic and we are truthful in our statements, that is why even if I am anxious I am not afraid,” Poe told journalists upon arrival at the SC to attend the oral arguments on her case yesterday.

“But we respect the law and the legal process. Whatever the decision will be, we have to accept it,” she said.

Poe likened her case to that of her father, who also faced disqualification in the 2004 presidential election due to his citizenship, but was declared a natural-born Filipino by the high tribunal.

“There is similarity because my father faced the same hurdle in his presidential bid, when his citizenship was also questioned. I continue to hope and pray for the same justice they gave to FPJ,” she said in Filipino, using her father’s initials.

In the 2004 case, the high tribunal ruled that FPJ was a Filipino even if he was an illegitimate son of an American woman.

The high court said FPJ took the citizenship of his Filipino father.

The senator said she would fight for her presidential bid for the sake of the Filipinos she intends to serve as president.

Poe said she is also fighting for the sake of all abandoned Filipino children, who could be stripped of their right to a nationality if her political opponents would have their way.

“We believe the law will favor our fight for the right of abandoned children. I cannot accept what some people say that foundlings are stateless individuals. It is the responsibility of the law to protect the rights of marginalized people.”

She said a newborn and abandoned child is a natural citizen of the country where he or she was found.

“If someone wants to prove the child has foreign blood, that is the burden of the one who is making the claim. The burden of proof is not with the foundling.” She said her political opponents should not be allowed to have their way against her because it would have widespread implications on all foundlings in the country.

Poe was joined by her mother, Susan Roces, and running-mate Sen. Francis Escudero at the oral argument on her case.

Several disqualification cases have been filed against the senator, questioning her citizenship, a requirement for individuals seeking higher office.

Since the identities of Poe’s biological parents were never known, critics said she could not claim to be a natural-born Filipino.

Poe said that during election season, politicians would do everything including distorting the law in order to take away the right of the people to choose the leaders they want.

“Nothing would be more painful than electing these kind of people into office. They will treat others like rags later. Human rights abuses will never end,” she said.

Instead of engaging in mudslinging, Poe urged her opponents to elevate the campaign by presenting the electorate with what they have to offer.

Motive questioned

Poblador said in May 2005, months after the death of her father, Poe re-established her residency in the country. Upon interpellation by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, Poblador confirmed that Poe used her US passport four times after securing a Philippine passport in 2009 – in October, November and December 2009 and in March 2010.

At that time, the lawyer said Poe was an American citizen with dual citizenship in the Philippines until she renounced her US citizenship in October 2010.

Since Poe returned to the country in 2005, she had not applied for dual citizenship nor secured a passport until 2009.

Del Castillo questioned why the senator opted to use the balikbayan visa, which is temporary, instead of permanent visa if she really intended to stay in the country for good.

Poblador replied permanent visa is not necessary for reacquisition of Filipino citizenship under the law.

Del Castillo questioned why Poe used her US passport four times as a dual citizen despite having a Philippine passport.

The lawyer said the senator was only being “practical and pragmatic” as it was easier to enter the US using her American passport at the time when she had sold her properties there.

“She was a dual citizen and it was easier to enter the US with a US passport. Whether or not she has intention to stay, that is shown by her conduct. She traveled only four times to the United States, where she stayed only for 40 days and she always returned to the Philippines,” he said.

Poblador said Poe migrated to the US to follow her husband and preserve the solidarity of their family.

Del Castillo commented that with Poe’s previous status as dual citizen, she would not have been allowed at that time to run for public office.

The magistrate asked the lawyer for the reason why Poe renounced her American citizenship.

Poblador cited her appointment in 2010 as chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

“You mean, had the President not appointed her to the MTRCB, she would not have renounced her American citizenship?” Del Castillo asked.

“She would still be a dual citizen at that point,” Poblador replied.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio asked the lawyer why Poe did not secure a Bureau of Immigration requirement for former natural-born citizens intending to permanently reside in the country without having to be a dual citizen.

Poblador said Poe thought its was not necessary under the citizenship reacquisition law.

He said such requirement was not the only way for balikbayans to reacquire Philippine citizenship.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro tackled the question on citizenship eligibility against Poe involving her being a foundling – the same issue tackled in the Senate Electoral Tribunal where she and Carpio participated.

De Castro maintained her opinion that citizenship accorded to foundlings like Poe could not be considered as natural-born in nature as it is only given for purposes of adoption, which involves a long process.

Poblador admitted that Poe erred in filling out her certificate of candidacy (COC) when she ran for senator in 2013, where she indicated her residency of only six years and six months.

“In her 2012 COC, the period of residence before May 13, 2013 was asked, but she thought that the period asked was as of Oct. 2, 2012. There was no official process to correct that with the Comelec,” Poblador said.

Poe’s camp earlier sought the inhibition of Carpio, De Castro and Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who was on leave yesterday, due to their participation in the SET.

The justices discussed the applicability of the cases of FPJ and former first lady Imelda Marcos on Poe’s case.

De Castro said the presumption of Filipino citizenship of FPJ was not disputable as it was based on fact – unlike the case of the daughter, which is based on disputable fact.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta said the Marcos case could not be applied in Poe’s case due to difference in circumstances, since the former first lady never lost her Philippine citizenship or acquired US citizenship.

The hearing ended after three-and-a-half hours and will continue on Jan. 26, with the presentation of the positions of the Comelec, disqualification petitioners against Poe and the Office of the Solicitor General.

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