MANILA, February 18, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - There’s no truth to that wry text joke about U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone. It claims that he "left Manila because Washington no longer needs an envoy, what with the impending victory of an American in RP’s presidential race." But the twit, obviously at survey front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., could be too close for comfort. More so since U.S. law considers him a natural-born American – when the Philippines was still a U.S. territory.

The U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Handbook has specific provisos for persons similarly situated as Poe. Written by Daniel Levy "under the auspices of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild," it quotes in Chapter 4 the pertinent sections of U.S. law:

"Citizenship Through Birth Outside United States to Citizen Parent or Parents. (XXX) Persons Born Abroad Between May 24, 1934 and January 13, 1941 ... (4:26) Out-of-Wedlock Children:

"Out-of-wedlock children born to a U.S. citizen mother between May 24, 1934 and January 13, 1941 acquired U.S. citizenship at birth through the general provision of the 1934 act, which granted citizenship to children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent. Since the natural father in such cases is not considered the legal father, the retention requirement when one parent is a noncitizen does not apply. The citizenship acquired under this provision is not affected by subsequent legitimation of the child."

The 1934 act referred to was the law passed by the U.S. Congress on May 24 that year. Section 1 of the act, as quoted, jibes with both the official records presented by Poe and the jurisprudence cited by petitioners for his disqualification from the presidential race.

In arguing that he is a Filipino at birth, a constitutional requirement for one who would be president, Poe submitted his birth certificate and his parents’ marriage contract. The certificate dated 20 August 1939, and the contract dated 16 September 1940 both state that his father is Filipino and his mother is American. He said he is thus Filipino at birth since the 1935 Constitution, which was operational at the time, defines Filipinos as "those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines." He bolstered this with the principle of jus sanguinis (bloodline), which the Philippines follows in determining citizenship.

But the petitioning lawyers point to the dates as the key. Poe was born 13 months before his parents wedded, which makes him an out-of-wedlock child. Precisely because of jus sanguinis, jurisprudence at the time recognized only the mother of an illegitimate child as principal guardian. The lawyers cited at least eight Supreme Court rulings on illegitimate children born before the 1946 Republic, which had them automatically taking on the nationality of their mother. Poe was thus American at birth. His parents’ subsequent marriage did not alter that. If Poe subsequently acquired Filipino citizenship, thus enabling him to vote and acquire land, he is still not qualified to run for national offices reserved only for natural-born Filipinos.

The U.S. follows both the principles of jus soli (birthplace) and jus sanguinis in determining citizenship. Under the first, it considers a child born on U.S. soil or territory as an American subject. Under the second, it considers a child born by a U.S. parent (or parents), but outside U.S. soil or territory, as American as well. The adoption of both principles has to do with the U.S. colonial past, during which American citizens populated its conquered or occupied lands, like the Philippine Islands before 1946.

To avoid confusion, U.S. law is specific on potentially contentious cases. Thus, Chapter 4 of Levy’s U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Handbook cites the operating section on persons similarly situated as Poe:

"(V) Persons Born Abroad Between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986 ... (4:65) Residence and Physical Presence in Philippines, Other Possessions, and Extensions of U.S. Territory:

"Residence and physical presence in the Philippines after April 10, 1899 and July 4, 1946 may be used to satisfy the residence or physical presence requirements of the INA (Immigration and Naturalization Act). Similarly, residence or physical presence in the other outlying possessions of of the United States (except for the Panama Canal Zone) prior to December 24, 1952 may be used to satisfy the residence and physical presence of the INA. However, the State Department considers that after December 24, 1952, only residence or physical presence in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands of the United States satisfies the physical presence and residence requirements. The State Department specifically holds that time spent in the Trust Territories as not counting toward either requirement."

It was probably through this section in the INA that Poe’s older and younger siblings by their American mom got U.S. recognition of their American citizenship. And it was probably this section that Poe waived, so his unofficial spokesman Sen. Tito Sotto said that he "elected" to be Filipino as a show of patriotism. But then, electing to be Filipino means he was not natural-born to begin with, and thus had to perfect his status.

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Maybe it’s because of jailed former president Joseph Estrada’s role in the present election campaign. Or maybe the man who brought him down, former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, continues to inspire awe and interest. Whatever, Singson’s biography is in the top ten bestseller list at the National Bookstore. Written by Linda C. Limpe, The Nine Lives of Luis "Chavit" Singson likens the man to a cat who escaped death many times as a local politician and the whistleblower of Estrada’s jueteng payola.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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