I like Grace Poe. She is a refreshing face in Philippine politics. She was not here when Marichu Maceda and I went around town explaining how her father, Fernando Poe Jr., was cheated in the 2004 elections. I hope she heard about it and I suppose, she would have been grateful. She did not know about my involvement in her father’s cause because she was not in the country at that time. She was then in the United States as a citizen and a resident there.
I do know that she came back when her father died. She invited me once to her house located near mine, but I could not go. My colleagues in the Concerned Citizens Movement, such as Pong Querubin and Betina Legarda, went. We are not friends, but we are cordial to each other. One time I bumped into her in the premises of ABS-CBN. I was then uncommitted to anyone as President. I asked her to be the alternative candidate for President. She said “No” and said “Kay Jojo Binay tayo”. I took her words into consideration when I decided to back VP Binay for the Presidency. My last time to see her was in the wake of the SAF 44. Again, I asked if she was running. She said “maybe not”. Later, she was to publicly say that she would rather be good at her current post in the Senate. But even before our last meeting, I did text Anthony Taberna’s afternoon program on DZMM to say that in my opinion, a “Binay na Poe” tandem for 2016 would be unbeatable.
Now it appears that with or without PNoy’s blessings, she would run for President -but still refuses to declare her intentions. I have told her political advisers, Gary Jimenez and another of her staff lawyer, Camille Sevilla, both of whom are lawyers, that she should let her intentions be known. Otherwise, people, like me cannot consider her as a contender for the top post of the land.
This is the context that I now write about my own questions about her residency and her citizenship, both of which are required by the Constitution for all candidates seeking the post of the Presidency, to wit: residence of 10 years and the status of a natural born Filipino. In other words, I genuinely seek answers to these questions because like millions of other voters, I want to consider her still as a candidate for president if and when she does declare to run for the office.
Truth to tell, I thought the controversy that would hound her would be that of her citizenship. While the Philippine Supreme Court affirmed that her father was a natural-born Filipino, her problem is that she is an alleged foundling. The status of a natural-born Filipino is acquired by one who is born of a Filipino parent. In the Fernando Poe case, the Court construed this as being the offspring of a Filipino father or Filipino mother.
A foundling, though, does not enjoy a presumption of being a natural-born citizen. The Convention on Statelessness does guarantee a foundling the citizenship of the foundlings parents. This is not the same as the natural-born Filipino citizenship required of all candidates for President, Vice-President and Congress. Filipinos who are not natural-born can run for local posts but not for Congress and the Presidency. So, I would like an answer to the difficult issue of whether a foundling legally adopted by Filipino parents enjoys the status of a natural-born Filipino. I am not aware of any jurisprudence in this regard. I will continue my search for one.
A second truth to tell is that VP Binay mentioned to me this controversy about Poe’s residency. I had no idea what the VP was saying. I thought he was alluding to her citizenship. Neither VP Binay nor I pursued the subject matter. This is proof that, as Rep. Toby Tiangco has said, the VP has not put much attention on this issue. I heard again the issue of her residency on the radio as I was on my way back from an out-of-town lecture only the other night. Unfortunately, I did not hear the newscast that evening and failed to catch the information that Rep. Tiangco was referring to Poe’s own declaration that she had six months and six years of residency at the time of the elections in 2013. Ergo, Rep. Tiangco did his mathematics and came up with the conclusion that Poe would be six months short of the prescribed 10 years residency required by the Constitution. Rep Toby reckoned that she would only have a residency of nine years and six months by May of 2016.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senator Francis Escudero and Dean Tony La Vina all defended Poe by saying that she had “animus revertendi,” or the intent to return which is determinative on the issue of domicile. True, such a principle exists. But it has only been applied where the candidate himself does not create the controversy by declaring a period of residency short of what the Constitution provides. For instance, it has been applied to one who has a green card and renounced the same before filing a certificate of candidacy for an elective post. It has also been applied to a Filipino who has become a naturalized American, acquired a dual citizenship, and renounced the foreign citizenship before filing a certificate of candidacy for a congressional post. This was the case of Rep. Gina Reyes of Marinduque, whom I represent. In Poe’s case, what is determinative is when she renounced her dual citizenship. This is because the rule on “animus revertendi” on residency cannot be applied to a foreign citizen. At most, it can be applied to a Filipino national with permanent residency abroad, or to one who has renounced a foreign citizenship reckoned from date of renunciation.
So for Poe, the crucial question is this: When did she renounce her dual citizenship? This is an issue of fact. I have heard her say that she renounced it when she assumed the post of MTRCB chair. If so, the point of reckoning should be 2010. Assuming she did so in 2010, she would have only 6 years of residency by 2016. Apparently, this is worse than what she declared in her certificate of candidacy for the post of senator.
Any which way, the Supreme Court can now rule on whether estoppel can be applied to the issue of residency. If so, Poe will be disqualified. I hope otherwise because I believe the Filipino electorate is entitled to as many choices possible for the position of Chief Executive.
Good luck, Senator!