MANILA, January 23, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - Any more delay in resolving his birth case will be unfair to Fernando Poe Jr. and to the country. The campaign period officially starts in 18 days. Apprehensions of eventual disqualification can scare off fund contributors, which is probably why FPJs supporters are warning of a rampage. The election system, already rocked by a flawed supply contract for automated counting machines, could turn into a scorched-earth war for supremacy.

The parties must agree on which agency will hear FPJs case. The Comelec is empowered to decide, from facts and records, who may run or not. But with evidentiary documents from both sides tainted by suspicion of forgery, an independent referee may have to step in to determine which ones are authentic. Still, if a group of historians is formed, how swiftly can it do the job, without the usual contentious air? It cannot be the Senate; its members are too partisan to render an even verdict. Besides, it still has a national budget and six economic-reform bills to tackle before going on recess on Feb. 6.

A break in the impasse may have been offered inadvertently by Victorino Fornier, the lawyer who petitioned the Comelec to disqualify FPJ. While distancing himself from the explosive admissions of three National Archives workers about doctoring of records that he submitted, Fornier said his case can still be judged based on the records presented by FPJs lawyers. That is, FPJs birth certificate of 20 Aug. 1939, stating his father Allan F. Poe to be Filipino and his mother Bessie Kelly to be American. And the marriage of contract of Allan and Bessie, dated 16 Sept. 1940, attesting to the same nationalities.

Fornier earlier had argued, based on US vs Ong Tianse (1915), that illegitimate children take on the citizenship of the mother. He now points to discrepancies between the two FPJ documents. The birth certificate states that Allan and Bessie were married at the time, and that FPJ was born legitimate. The marriage contract, which came 13 months after FPJs birth, states the parents to be single. Let the Comelec now rule on FPJs own evidence and the jurisprudence that Fornier cites about an illegitimate offspring of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, the lawyer declares.

Fornier adds that four other documents submitted by FPJ work in his favor: the birth certificates of four of FPJs five siblings. The certificates uniformly state Allan and Bessie to be married. But about the nationalities, four state Allan to be Filipino; one of the four state Bessie to be Filipino, too, while the rest list her as American. All four certificates are handwritten, while FPJs is typewritten. This, Fornier says, bolsters his allegation of inaccurate, possibly falsified, entries in the latter.

FPJ had built strong arguments in reply to Forniers earlier evidence of Allans prior marriage to one Paulita Gomez on 5 July 1936. Along with a complaint for bigamy and concubinage filed by Gomez on 13 July 1939, that document was said to have been altered, probably fabricted altogether, at the National Archives no less. To counter it, FPJ presented the death certificates of his gradfather Lorenzo and father Allan, stating them to be Filipino. Likewise, real estate declarations and a military service citation.

FPJ cited the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions in uniformly defining Filipino as "those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines." He recalled history the Treaty of Paris of 1898, the Philippine Bill of 1902, the Jones Law - as further holding that Spanish subjects residing in the Philippine Islands before that time were deemed to have become citizens unless they expressly elected to remain loyal to the Spanish Crown. That changed grandpa Lorenzos Spanish citizenship, making dad Allan and FPJ Filipinos too at birth.

FPJ also cited three court rulings in his favor: US vs Angel Ang (1917), Teofilo Haw vs The Insular Collector of Customs (1934), and Jose Tan Chiong vs Secretary of Labor (1947). Unlike US vs Ong Tianse, the cases were about legitimate children born of Filipino mothers and Chinese fathers. In all three, the court held that the children were Filipino because born on Philippine soil.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel has said that the Supreme Court, not the Comelec, should be the ultimate judge of the matter. For, there are conflicting jurisprudence cited by both parties, giving rise to a question of law that only the Tribunal may resolve. But a lower body, in this case the quasi-judicial Comelec, still has to rule on the facts. The parties must agree if the Comelec is competent enough to rule on the accuracy of entries in the birth certificates and marriage contract.

Fornier asserts that the jurisprudence cited by FPJ are three of a dozen or so mistaken rulings on citizenship. He says these were premised on determining citizenship by jus soli or birthplace, instead of jus sanguinis or bloodline. FPJ himself had argued that the Philippines follows the latter principle.

The Comelec has deemed all the evidence and arguments submitted for resolution. Both sides expect the loser to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. It can only be hoped that they will accept whatever the ruling will be. The country cannot afford another EDSA-Tres fomented by lawyers who refused to accept three Tribunal rulings on the legality of Gloria Arroyos ascendancy to the presidency. It would be foolish for the parties to push the country to the most dreaded scenario of all-No-El or no election.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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