FEDERICO PASCUAL: POE CASE COULD REST ON JUST 2 DOCUMENTS

MANILA, February 12, 2004
 (STAR) POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual, Jr. - FINAL ARBITER: Mercifully, the debate over the eligibility of actor Fernando Poe Jr. to run for president has reached the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of all legal disputes.

Despite its being related to the May elections, a high-profile political exercise, the case is purely legal and must be decided solely on what the law says and how the Supreme Court interprets the law.

The bone of contention is whether or not Poe is a natural-born citizen or one who has been a Filipino since birth and did not have to do anything to perfect his citizenship.

Under the current Constitution, only natural-born citizens who have all the other qualifications and none of the disqualifications may run for president.

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TWO KEY FACTS: In resolving the question, the high court will review the application of the pertinent laws on the undisputed facts presented. It will not pass upon the authenticity of documents, which is a task assigned to lower courts.

Although complicated, the case could rest on just two key facts based on documents that Poe himself had presented before the Commission on Elections and which his detractors had accepted.

These are: (1) his Birth Certificate, and (2) the Marriage Contract of his parents.

Having admitted these documents, both parties are now beyond arguing their correctness and authenticity.

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13 MONTHS LATE: The birth certificate of Poe (named Ronald Allan) shows that he was born August 20, 1939, to Fernando Pou, a Filipino, and Bessie Kelley, an American.

The marriage certificate of his parents shows that Pou and Kelly were married on September 16, 1940, or almost 13 months after Poe was born.

Since he was born in 1939, Poe is covered by the citizenship provision of the 1935 Constitution then in effect. Its Paragraph (3), Section 1, Article IV, provides that "(t)hose whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines" are Philippine citizens.

Under Philippine law and private international law, Poe having been born out of wedlock, was an illegitimate child. This point of his having been illegitimate at birth is accepted by all parties.

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AFTER THE MOTHER: Big question: Being illegitimate, did Poe acquire at birth the claimed Philippine citizenship of his father as provided under Paragraph (3) cited?

(It is possible that some parties or intervenors may attempt to go farther back and question the Philippine citizenship of Poe’s father, but we will not go into that prior question.

(We assume here for simplicity that Fernando Pou the father was a Filipino at the time his son Ronald Allan was born.)

One school of thought (let us call it School A for this discussion) says that being illegitimate, Poe followed the citizenship of his American mother.

This school cites Morano vs. Vivo (20 SCRA 562, 573 [1967]), wherein the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional provision on citizenship (Paragraph 3, Section 1, Article IV cited) applies only to legitimate children.

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NO DISTINCTION: But another school of thought (let us call it School B) says that Paragraph 3 cited merely said "those whose fathers are citizens . . ." and made no qualification or distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children of Filipino fathers.

School B contends that it is enough that they prove that Fernando Pou is the father of Ronald Allan and that Pou the father was a Filipino.

Under the principle of jus sanguinis, or the law of the blood, which was/is being followed in the Philippines in determining citizenship, School B says, the overriding consideration is blood relations and not the civil status of legitimacy or illegitimacy.

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NOT LEGITIMIZED: School A contends that the subsequent marriage of Poe’s parents did not automatically legitimize their son.

It cites Article 121 of the Old Civil Code, under which legitimation by subsequent marriage occurs only when the natural child had been acknowledged by the parents before or after their marriage.

Under this theory, two acts must occur: the subsequent marriage and the acknowledgment. With either one element missing, the child born out of wedlock is illegitimate.

Related to this is Article 131 of the Old Civil Code, under which a parent’s acknowledgment of a natural child must be made in a record of birth, in a will, or some other public document. If not, Article 135 provided that a case had to be filed in court to compel the father to acknowledge the child.

School A says that tacit, implied or silent acknowledgment is not sufficient to legitimize the child.

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NO EVIDENCE: No evidence was presented in the hearings before the Commission on Elections that Poe has been acknowledged in the manner provided by law.

School A concludes that Poe remains an illegitimate child of his parents and an American citizen.

It argues further that assuming that Poe can present evidence that he has been acknowledged by his father and was thus legitimated by the marriage of his parents, he is still not a natural-born Filipino.

The reason given is that under Article 123 of the Old Civil Code, the effects of legitimation commenced only from the date of marriage. This means that Poe, if ever, acquired the Philippine citizenship of his father only on September 16, 1940, the date of his parents‚ marriage.

Therefore, School A says, from his birth on August 20, 1939, to September 15, 1940, Poe was illegitimate and an American citizen like his mother. He was not a Filipino at the time of his birth.

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OVERDOSE: At the rate we are being bombarded with heavy doses of political propaganda, many of us non-partisan onlookers are already suffering this early from an overdose.

This can develop in many of us resistance, then an aversion, and soon a rejection of most things political. Is this good or bad?

It is probably good for us non-partisans as it renders us deaf and impervious to the inanities of the candidates and their barkers. Hopefully we could then attend to things more crucial to improving the quality of our lives.

It would probably be good also for candidates whose popularity and approval ratings are already more or less above those of the competition.

Conversely, it would be bad for those who still have to prove themselves or to have themselves noticed and heard above the din.

Specifically, it could be good in a negative way for the incumbent President, who already has about 20 percent of the votes at the starting gate and has the government machinery working full-time for her.

But it could also be good for somebody like Fernando Poe Jr. who may not have to prove anything as his popularity could be enough to carry him to victory in this star-struck nation.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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