Law experts rebut Sereno on foundlings

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Law experts have rebutted the opinion of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno favoring Sen. Grace Poe in her disqualification case before the Supreme Court (SC).

Election lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Edgardo Carlo Vistan II disagreed with Sereno’s position that the disqualification of Poe, if upheld by the high court, would set a dangerous precedent and have repercussions on rights of foundlings in government service.

Macalintal said yesterday such opinion was rather “extreme.”

“The statement of Chief Justice Sereno speaks of an extreme situation as it is not the intention of the Comelec (Commission on Elections) to deprive foundlings of their rights,” he said in a text message.

In the third oral arguments on Poe’s case last Tuesday, Sereno said the disqualification of Poe would be discriminatory to foundlings as it makes them second-class citizens.

Interpellating Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim, the SC chief read a long list of positions in government that are open only to natural-born Filipino citizens.

Citing constitutional provisions on citizenship, particularly on the theory of bloodlines and the rights of foundlings, Sereno lamented that foundlings would be deprived of rights of ordinary citizens if the SC upholds the position of the poll body on Poe’s case.

But Macalintal stressed there is no law pertaining to the status of foundlings as natural-born citizens.

“Since there is no law on foundlings, it is not for the Court to make such law as its function is not legislative,” he said.

Vistan agreed, saying Sereno’s warning was “speculative.”

“The decision in Senator Poe’s case will not result in the mass ouster of supposedly naturalized incumbent officials. In the first place, not all offices are reserved for natural-born citizens,” Vistan said. “I think it is speculative to say that many will lose their posts because of an adverse ruling against Senator Poe.”

Macalintal also pointed out that the case of Poe’s father, the late action king Fernando Poe Jr., cannot apply as precedent in the senator’s case.

During oral arguments, Sereno cited the case of the senator’s late father, action star Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), whose citizenship was also questioned in 2003 when he ran in the 2004 presidential poll.

She explained that the SC presumed that FPJ’s grandfather Lorenzo Poe was natural-born, despite the fact that the only proof of this was his death certificate in 1984.

But Macalintal explained that FPJ’s case is “different” from his daughter’s case simply because he was not a foundling and his blood lineage was established.

Vistan and former University of the Philippines law dean Pacifico Agabin shared this opinion.

“There has been no Supreme Court decision on the nationality of foundlings before Sen. Grace Poe’s case was brought to the Supreme Court,” Vistan pointed out.

“All SC decisions where nationality of a person was an issue applied the provisions of the Constitution to the circumstances, and the decisive factors were always the citizenship of parents, just like in FPJ’s case,” Vistan stressed.

“FPJ’s case and other prior decisions cannot be used to rule in favor of Sen. Grace Poe since the citizenship of her parents are unknown,” he said.

“Grace Poe and FPJ cases should not be compared because FPJ’s father was known,” Agabin added.

Macalintal acknowledged the opinion of Sereno is not yet the official ruling of the high court as the 15 justices have yet to deliberate and vote on the case.

“Comments made by justices in the course of oral arguments do not necessarily mean their position on an issue. It may or may not change during deliberations by the 15 SC members on Poe’s case since a justice could be influenced or enlightened by arguments or comments by other justices,” Macalintal said.

“SC, being the interpreter of laws, will have the final say. While the Chief Justice’s comment appears to favor Poe, it is not a guarantee that that would be the vote of the majority,” he added.

The camp of former senator Francisco Tatad, one of the petitioners in the disqualification cases against Poe in the Comelec, shared this opinion.

Tatad’s lawyer Manuelito Luna said the position espoused by the Chief Justice during the oral arguments was “perplexing” as she appeared to be “sympathizing with foundlings, but not with naturalized citizens who cannot be appointed to thousands of government positions.” 

Luna insisted Poe remains disqualified unless the SC reverses the Comelec rulings. He stressed that the camp of the senator has not effectively proven her eligibility on both citizenship and residency issues.   

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