Matter of fact

Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

Grace Poe Llamanzares really has all the reasons to rejoice over the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET)’s decision finding her qualified to be elected and to sit as Senator of the Republic. The SET has ruled that she is a natural born citizen of the Philippines which was questioned in the case since it is one of the qualifications for the position. This ruling really has a tremendous impact on the minds of the doubting public about her citizenship. It is a big first step for her towards erasing all doubts on this issue that cropped up when she expressed her intention to become president of this country.

The aspects of this case most appealing to Filipinos are the circumstances surrounding her birth. Most Filipinos empathize with the fact that she is a foundling or a child born of unknown parents who have abandoned her. It was not really her fault at all to be born of parents who chose to leave her after her birth apparently because they did not care for her or perhaps had actually no visible means to support and look after her as she grew up. Her story is indeed a stuff that legends are made of. And this will certainly click with the adoring and very sentimental mass of our people who could readily feel what she feels. In fact her TV political ad has exploited this appealing episode in her life.

This emotionally appealing aspect surrounding her birth obviously had an effect on the SET decision. While the issue in this case is purely legal involving the determination of who is a natural born citizen of this country, the SET apparently injected some politics in its decision that reflects the public pulse. In a hairline 5-4 voting the SET ruled in favor of Poe. But instead of solely relying on Philippine laws and jurisprudence, it resorted to principles of international law which presumes foundlings to be natural born citizens of the country where they are found. Such reliance is legally questionable considering that our Constitution is based on the principle of jus sanguinis (blood relationship) rather than jus soli (place of birth) in determining natural born citizenship. Besides, this is a principle adopted by an international organization where our country is not even a signatory and therefore not absolutely binding here. 

The five who voted in her favor are all Senators. Being elected Senators like Poe herself, it is quite understandable that they decided in favor of Poe not entirely because it is legally correct but because it is more politically advisable and proper to do so. In fact the three Justices of the Supreme Court, who are considered more knowledgeable about our laws as this is their main function, voted against Poe together with a single Senator whose father is a lawyer. The SET decision is therefore more of a political than a legal decision.

Moreover, the SET decision is not yet final. It has not settled once and for all whether Poe is a natural born citizen. In fact this is also the issue raised before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on her qualification to run for President. The ultimate arbiter which will resolve with finality whether Poe is a natural born citizen or not, is the Supreme Court itself. It is the branch of government that decides with finality all constitutional questions. Poe’s victory in the SET merely involved her qualification as a Senator. It may have resolved the constitutional question about her being a natural born Filipino citizen, but in view of the four subsequent petitions for her disqualification as candidate for president filed before the Comelec directly raising such issue once more, the SET ruling is relegated to the background. To be sure, the SET ruling may be disregarded by the Comelec in resolving the four petitions especially because it has not been upheld yet by the Supreme Court.

At this stage therefore, it is also imperative on the part of the Comelec to resolve the various disqualification petitions filed against Poe as soon as possible so that the Supreme Court will have sufficient time to finally rule on it before the elections in May 2016. This is important in order to properly guide our voters on their choice of the presidential candidates. If this is not finally resolved before the elections, more confusions and cases may arise especially if Poe is eventually disqualified.

To be sure, every election should be held without unresolved issues regarding the qualifications of the national or local candidates for elective positions. Our voters deserve to know at the very least that their votes for candidates will not be wasted if the candidates they voted for will be ultimately disqualified. Before the election, disqualification cases must be decided with finality.

With respect to Poe, it would be more advisable for her to erase all doubts on this issue even without waiting for the SC ruling. Indeed she already tried to do so by the DNA testing of the relatives of the possible parent who left her at the Church font in Iloilo province although it turned out to be negative. She should still pursue this step further in fairness to our voters who should be given enough information about the candidates.

The SC ruling here will mainly settle pure questions of law. Poe on the other hand, can still help in resolving the question of fact about her parents and their citizenship. This is especially true with respect to her mother. As a wise saying goes: “motherhood is a matter of fact although fatherhood is a matter of faith.” No mother can bear to be completely separated from the child she carried in her womb. She must have met Poe when the latter was still young. At Poe’s age now, it is possible that her mother is still alive. And if so, she definitely knows as a matter of fact that Poe is her daughter. So she should come out now to clarify this issue. Or Poe can conduct a campaign to search for her, dead or alive.

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