POSTSCRIPT / February 3, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec proper venue for Poe citizenship suit

TOO EARLY FOR S.C.: The more we look at it, the more we are convinced that the pre-campaign petition to disqualify presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. over his citizenship should be resolved by the Commission on Elections.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, among other lawyers, said the petition to disqualify Poe must be heard only by the Supreme Court sitting as Electoral Tribunal and not by the Comelec where the disqualification bid is pending.

The senator quoted the last paragraph of Section 4, Article VII, of the Constitution that provides: “The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.”

We agree with Senate President Franklin Drilon when he said earlier that at this early stage, the Comelec has jurisdiction over the disqualification petition against Poe (for allegedly not being a natural-born Filipino as required of presidential candidates).

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READ ENTIRE ARTICLE: But when we looked again at the Section 4 cited by Pimentel, we noted that the section actually consists of seven paragraphs outlining in chronological sequence the process of electing and installing (and possibly disqualifying) the President and the Vice President.

That paragraph cited by Pimentel is only the last step in the sequence outlined in Section 4.

The sequence starts with the direct vote by the people, followed by the transmitting of the certified election returns to Congress, the official canvass, the proclamation of the winners, and the hearing of any protest by the Supreme Court sitting en banc.

Section 4 must be read in its entirety for a better appreciation. It is clear, at least to this layman, that protests envisioned in that section involve “contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice-President” after they are proclaimed by Congress under the process outlined.

In short, as Drilon pointed out, the Supreme Court comes in only after the election and proclamation of the winners, not before.

Poe has not been proclaimed president-elect. In fact, he has not even started to campaign as the campaign period will begin only on February 10.

During this pre-campaign period, it is premature to toss directly to the Supreme Court questions over his qualifications as a candidate.

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NOT MINISTERIAL: Under the Constitution, the Comelec is the proper agency receiving and passing upon certificates of candidacy. Its approval is not ministerial.

The commission has to examine the certificates, statements and attachments filed by the applicants, including their claim of citizenship.

We have seen how the Comelec has thrown out some of the presidential candidacies as “nuisance.” Is Pimentel saying that the Comelec may not legally do this but must advise the complainants or challengers to go instead to the Supreme Court?

As there is a presumption of regularity, the Comelec normally gives the candidacies due course. However, once a question is formally raised about the qualification of a would-be candidate, the Comelec must look into and resolve the challenge.

The Supreme Court, the tribunal of last resort, must not be burdened with the investigative chore of checking the facts alleged, the authenticity of documents and such details that a lower court or quasi-judicial body like the Comelec must first verify.

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1935 CHARTER APPLIES: On the citizenship question swirling over Poe, since he was born in 1939, his citizenship is covered by the 1935 Constitution then in force.

For reference, we quote here the applicable Article on citizenship of that Constitution. Section 1 of Article IV says:

“The following are citizens of the Philippines:

“(1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of the adoption of this Constitution.

“(2) Those born in the Philippine Islands of foreign parents who, before the adoption of this Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippine Islands.

“(3) Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines.

“(4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship.

“(5) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.”

Poe’s case is covered by Sub-section (3) above. For Poe (born Ronald Allan) to be considered a “natural-born” Filipino, his father must have been a Filipino at the time of his son’s birth.

If Poe became a Filipino only after his birth, such as by election or naturalization, he is not a natural-born citizen.

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AMENDMENTS: In the following 1973 Constitution, the charter during the Marcos regime, the section on parental citizenship as basis was changed in Subsection (2) to “Those whose fathers and mothers are citizens of the Philippines.”

Note the conjunction “and,” which means that both mother and father must be Filipinos for the child to carry their common citizenship. This is different from the provision in the 1935 charter, covering Poe, that made the father’s citizenship the controlling criterion.

However, in the 1987 (current) Constitution, the conjunction “and” was replaced by “or.” This means that as long as either mother or father is a Filipino, their child is a Filipino at birth or a natural-born citizen.

But neither the 1973 nor the 1987 Constitution applies to Poe. As we’ve said, he is covered by the 1935 Constitution.

The Constitution defines a natural-born Filipino as “one who is a citizen of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his Philippine citizenship.”

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ON TO LAS VEGAS!: Philippine Airlines is inaugurating on March 16 four-times-weekly flights to Las Vegas, Nevada’s glittering entertainment capital, as part of its expansion of service to the US mainland.

The flights will use the same wide-body Airbus A340-300 aircraft now flying to Vancouver in Canada. With the added leg, however, the planes will leave Manila earlier.

Flight PR 106 will now depart Manila every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 4:40 p.m. Arriving in Vancouver is 12:45 p.m. the same day, the plane flies on to Las Vegas at 2:15 p.m., arriving there at 4:40 p.m.

The return service, PR 107, departs Las Vegas at 6:40 p.m. on the same days, arriving in Vancouver at 9:15 p.m. It departs Vancouver at 10:45 p.m., arriving in Manila at 5:20 a.m. two calendar days later.

Las Vegas will be PAL’s fifth US destination (after Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Guam) and 24th internationally. It also flies to 18 points in the Philippines.

“We are thrilled to be adding to our network such an exciting destination as Las Vegas,” PAL president Avelino L. Zapanta said. “This underscores our commitment to serve our customers in this important aviation sector in North America.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 3, 2004)

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