MANILA, January 12, 2004
(STAR) By Marvin Sy and Jose Aravilla - President Arroyo vouched yesterday for the citizenship of movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., a declared rival in the presidential elections in May, and offered to help the actor fight accusations that he is not a Filipino citizen.

"I believe that Fernando Poe Jr. is a Filipino," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement. "He has lived and worked in our country for his entire career and no one has ever questioned his citizenship until now. I have no reason to doubt his being a Filipino in heart and spirit."

"If he needs any official document or evidence to fight his case, the government is prepared to help him," she added.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the one-paragraph statement after the Poe camp accused Malacañang over the weekend of causing a little-known lawyer to ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify Poe allegedly because he is not a Filipino.

But election lawyers said that even if Poe is later determined to be a Filipino citizen, the question raised in the disqualification petition of lawyer Victorino Fornier actually centers on whether Poe is a natural-born Filipino as required by the 1987 Constitution.

Even officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) conceded that Poe’s citizenship is not in question because the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had repeatedly issued the movie actor several passports through the years.

"He has been issued a passport and, unless the DFA cancels that, we will assume that he is a Filipino... We will likely not intervene," said a BI official, who requested anonymity.

But another BI official said newly designated Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez Jr. could order an investigation on the citizenship history of Poe’s family once he assumes office, replacing Andrea Domingo, who resigned to run for mayor of the City of San Fernando in Pampanga.

Both BI officials clarified that while the BI could probe Poe’s citizenship history, his citizenship and qualification to run for president are beyond the agency’s jurisdiction.

The BI is an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is headed by acting Justice Secretary Mercedita Gutierrez, who was only recently appointed by the President.

Mrs. Arroyo conceded that while she can "help" the movie actor, the matter will ultimately be determined by a competent court or the Comelec.

"Nevertheless, a case has been filed and let the court come out with its own findings and judgment," Mrs. Arroyo said.

But the Poe camp insisted that Poe satisfied the constitutional requirement that no person can become president of the country unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

In the disqualification petition he filed on Friday, Fornier claimed that Poe was not a Filipino because his father, Allan Fernando Poe Sr., was a Spanish citizen while his mother Elizabeth was an American when the presidential candidate was born in Pangasinan in 1940.

Fornier argued that even if Allan Fernando Poe Sr. was a Filipino, Poe still cannot be considered a Filipino because his American mother’s marriage to his father was allegedly bigamous.

The disqualification petition has not been tackled by the Comelec but the poll body is expected to ask Poe to comment on Fornier’s allegations.

But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, a re-electionist senator under Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), maintained that Fernando Poe Sr. was a Filipino citizen under the Treaty of Paris, which settled the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the Jones Act, which paved the way for Philippine independence in 1946.

Pimentel maintained that the citizenship of Poe’s mother was immaterial to the presidential candidate’s citizenship because Philippine citizenship laws are based on paternal lineage.

Citizenship lawyers concur that Philippine citizenship law has been and is still based on jus sanguinis, or "right of blood," and when Poe was born in 1940 the country was then under the 1935 Constitution which provided for a patrilineal citizenship tradition.

While the Supreme Court ruled at some time in the 1930s that jus soli, or "right of the soil (of birth)," should prevail, the high court reversed itself a few years later.

Under current laws, Filipino citizenship is still based on jus sanguinis but may now be traced through the citizenship of either parent.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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