Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bigotry behind Poe disqualification case

By Dean Tony La Viña
Let me be clear that I am not Senator Grace Poe’s lawyer, nor am I formally affiliated with her campaign (if ever that is already being organized). I feel strongly, however, as a lawyer, as a professor of constitutional law in five universities, and as a human being about the issues involved in the disqualification petition that is being filed against her as a senator.
If you are a parent who cares about vulnerable children, if you are an adopted child or belongs to a family with adoptive children, if you are an overseas Filipino worker or have been part of our diaspora, or have loved ones who are living or have worked and lived aboard, if you are a Filipino Chinese or a Filipino with mixed ancestry whose citizenship and love of country are being questioned -- then you should watch carefully how this case unfolds.
The petition of course has no legal basis. The Senate Electoral Tribunal  should immediately dismiss it on both procedural and substantive grounds. The facts are wrong as we will soon know when Senator Poe presents her defenses. The interpretation of the law is distorted. While some have complained why Poe has not released details, including documents, of her legal defense, this is the right strategy given what was done to her father where documents were falsified when he was unfairly ambushed with a disqualification case in 2004.  The daughter has learned from that unfortunate episode and has long prepared for this case.
On procedural grounds, a quo warranto proceeding under the SET rules must be immediately filed within ten days of the proclamation of the senator. True, there is an exception with respect to issues related to qualifications but that is not applicable here because nothing has changed with respect to the status of Grace Poe since the 2013 elections. If the SET wants to resolve this early, it could dismiss the case simply on this ground alone.
As for the substantive grounds, one must start with the basic rule that a person cannot be stripped of her citizenship without due process of law. The jurisprudence is solid: the one impugning the citizenship of another must prove with strong and indisputable evidence that the person is in fact not a citizen. In the case of Grace Poe, it is not enough to say that she is a foundling or that we do now know her parents but the accuser must prove that Grace Poe’s parents are in fact foreigners and therefore the child is not a citizen. That is an impossible thing to prove here because of the fact that Grace Poe is in fact a foundling. In subsequent columns, I will write about the relevant national and international law that supports the inevitable conclusion that Poe is a natural-born citizen.

For this column, though, I want to highlight the deeper policy consequences of the issues involved here. The truth is that this petition is an attack directed not just at Grace Poe but at all foundlings, the most vulnerable in society. This petition is akin to salvaging children, sadly supported probably by those motivated only by political gain, by those afraid that Grace Poe would defeat their candidate. It is a misuse of law to thwart the people’s will.
The petition  is also directed against OFWs and everyone in our diaspora, asking them to prove their love of country, people who we call “bayani ng bayan.” And yes, even Filipino-Chinese and others with mixed blood should worry because what is being promoted is a closed vision of the Filipino citizen - closed only to those who never left the country, to those who are so-called pure in blood. As I have written before, this is not about Grace Poe but about all of us.
One thing I regret about this petition is that it is filed by a good man, Lito David, whom I voted for in the 2013 elections. For the record, I have always voted for Kapatiran candidates (except JC de los Reyes as I voted for Gibo Teodoro in 2013) because I support the idea of a political party based on ethical norms. It does come as a surprise to me that a pro-life party would take a policy position that foundlings are stateless, which is tantamount to saying they have no rights. How can a pro-life party justify  being anti-children?
I am surprised with this petition because, aside from its legal infirmities, it is unethical and certainly not noble. It attacks foundlings, adopted children, OFWS and others in our diaspora. Grace Poe can take care of herself but not the millions of others who will become vulnerable from unscrupulous political enemies, business rivals, and even relatives who will reopen questions of status for political and monetary gain. Even Filipino-Chinese and others of mixed blood will be attacked and asked to prove their loyalty to the country. The consequences are terrible if these attacks are legitimated by the Senate Electoral Tribunal and later by the Supreme Court.
The sad part is there is a dark side behind our citizenship laws and it is not about nationalism or love of country. It is about disadvantaging fellow Filipinos for political, business or property gain; indeed, this dark side of our citizenship laws has also been characterized as about corruption and rent-seeking. All of us, regardless of our political inclinations – and especially human and child rights activists, OFW advocates, and those of us who believe that the Philippines must be a plural and inclusive society – should unite against this bigotry.

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