THE government’s top lawyer asked the Supreme Court Monday to uphold the Senate Electoral Tribunal decision that Senator Grace Poe is a natural-born Filipino citizen and was therefore qualified to run for senator in the 2013 elections.
In a comment filed Monday, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, acting as counsel for the SET, also asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition filed by Rizalito David seeking to reverse the decision, saying the SET was correct in ruling that Poe, a foundling, is a natural-born citizen based on evidence—including her physical features and circumstances surrounding her abandonment and discovery.
“The SET did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ruling that private respondent is a natural-born citizen,” Hilbay said. “The SET reasonably and correctly ruled that proof of private respondent’s status as a foundling did not necessarily equate to the lack of proof of Filipino parentage. Neither did it translate to an inability to prove Filipino parentage.”
Hilbay also said the minority opinion of the three Supreme Court justices in the electoral tribunal that Poe needs to prove that either of her biological parents is Filipino was an undue burden on the senator.
“To impose scientific levels of certainty, as by way of a DNA sample of a Filipino parent, as the only acceptable means to prove one’s filiation, would be to impose a burden significantly higher than that which is normally required for these proceedings,” he said.
The three justices who voted against Poe in the SET—Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Arturo Brion—have inhibited themselves from deliberating on David’s petition before the Supreme Court.
Hilbay said the majority in the SET were correct in considering the evidence that Poe presented.
“What we therefore have, in lieu of a birth certificate evidencing Filipino parentage, are relevant pieces of evidence, properly admissible under the Rules of Court, that private respondent has, at least, a Filipino mother or Filipino father and, most likely, both. They are facts, admitted by petitioner, that a reasonable mind can accept as sufficient and credible to reach the conclusion that private respondent has a Filipino parent,” the solicitor general said.
“In other words, notwithstanding [Poe’s] lack of proof of a specific identifiable Filipino parent, she was nonetheless able to prove her Filipino parentage. To reject these facts on record as evidence in her favor is to reject common sense, practical considerations that furnish reasonable people with sufficient basis for making conclusions . . .” Hilbay said.
The chief state lawyer also noted that the “SET decision embodies a legally grounded, reasonable and just interpretation” of the pertinent provision of the 1935 Constitution.
“Foundling are natural-born citizens of the Philippines under the 1935 Constitution . . . Thus, from the point of view of justice and reason, it made sense for the framers [of the 1935 Constitution] to remedy the already-disadvantaged position of foundlings by simply assuming that their parents are Filipinos, given the probabilities arising from context and reality. To assume otherwise, would be to further disable such vulnerable class of persons by denying them political status for reasons not of their making,” Hilbay said.
“Evidence is in favor of private respondent [Poe] being a natural-born citizen of the Philippines . . . Thus, the SET did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it held that the burden is on petitioner to prove that private respondent is not a natural-born citizen,” he added.
The solicitor general also defended the ruling of the SET upholding that Poe “validly reacquired her natural-born citizenship” under Republic Act No. 9225 or the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003.
“The SET correctly ruled that private respondent, who became a naturalized citizen of the United States on October 18, 2001, validly reacquired her natural-born citizenship under RA No. 9225,” the chief state lawyer said.
He added that the SET also correctly ruled that Poe validly renounced her US citizenship when she executed a sworn affidavit of renunciation of US citizenship.
“The SET did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ruling that private respondent’s use of her US passport cannot be considered a recantation of her renunciation of US citizenship,” the OSG said, noting that “in all instances that she had used her US passport, she had not yet executed an oath of renunciation of her US citizenship.”
The SET, made up of six senators and three Supreme Court justices, voted 5-4 in favor of Poe in November last year, saying that as a natural-born Filipino citizen, she was qualified to run for senator in 2013.
But in December, the Commission on Elections disqualified Poe from running for president on the ground that she was not a natural-born citizen and failed to meet the 10-year residency requirement. The senator has appealed the decision before the Supreme Court, but it is unclear if the three justices who voted against her in the SET will also recuse themselves in the review of the Comelec decisions.
A spokesman for Poe, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, said they hoped the three justices would take the same stance in the Comelec cases, since her citizenship was also one of the core issues in the Comelec disqualification cases.
Acting on Poe’s petition, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order to stop the Comelec from removing the senator’s name from the official list of candidates for president in 2016. One of the petitioners against Poe, former senator Francisco Tatad, on Monday asked the Supreme Court to lift the TRO, saying there was no grave abuse of discretion on the Comelec’s part. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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