SC justices, Poe’s counsel tackle if foundlings are natural born citizens

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Sen. Grace Poe speaks before students at the Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Is a foundling a natural born citizen?

This was tackled in the second Supreme Court (SC) hearing on Sen. Grace Poe’s petitions against the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) cancellation of her certificate of candidacy (COC) for president.

Poe's counsel, Atty. Alexander Poblador, cited two bases on why the senator is presumed a natural born Filipino.

One was that foundlings should be considered natural born citizens based on the 1930 Hague Convention.

Under Article 14 of the convention, a “child whose parents are both unknown shall have the nationality of the country of birth. If the child's parentage is established, its nationality shall be determined by the rules applicable in cases where the parentage is known.”

The same article of the convention added that a foundling is “presumed to have been born on the territory of the State in which it was found” unless the contrary is proved.

Another international law, used as basis of Poe’s camp to establish her status as a natural born citizen, was the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. It states that a foundling “found in the territory of a Contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born within that territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State.”

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro — two magistrates who voted to disqualify Poe in her case before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) — delved on the international laws provided by Poe in her petitions.

Carpio pointed out that only seven countries ratified the 1930 Hague Convention as of 1934, and it only took effect in 1937. He explained that for a convention to be in force, 10 countries must ratify it. In short, it's not yet effective as far as the 1935 Philippine Constitution is concerned.

Poe was born in 1968, when the 1935 Constitution was still in effect. Poe used this argument to defend her case, saying that the framers of the 1935 Constitution intended to categorize foundlings as natural-born citizens.

De Castro, for her part, asked Poblador to provide a specific provision in the 1935 Constitution stating that foundlings are automatically considered natural born.

The second basis, establishing that Poe is a natural born Filipino, was the place where she was found. Poblador said this constitutes as an evidence that she is born of Filipino parents.

Burden of proof on accuser

Poblador said that from the time Poe was born, there was no piece of evidence presented at Comelec showing that she’s a foreigner.

He added that to say that a person is not natural born, both parents must be proven to be foreigners. The burden to prove this, however, is not on them.

"Who can really say that these foundlings — three days old, five days old had been naturalized? Di ba? Dapat 18 or 21 years old ka bago ka ma-naturalize eh. So the only commonsensical, rational presumption is that they were born of Filipino parents," Poblador said.

Nevertheless, the lawyer told the justices that they presented circumstantial evidence, which shows Poe’s citizenship. This was the person’s place of birth, which he said was Iloilo.

Poblador said that an “overwhelming majority” of the population in Iloilo are Filipino citizens.

Residency vs. citizenship

Poblador also reiterated that citizenship is different from residency, when asked by Justice Marvic Leonen.

Before, Poe’s camp made a similar argument, saying that even as a U.S. citizen, Poe can still be a resident of the country. Otherwise, foreigners who want to be naturalized as Filipinos could not do so as they won’t be able to satisfy the residency requirement.

Answering Leonen’s question, Poe’s lawyer clarified that the 10 year requirement was for the residency and not citizenship. He added that the citizenship requirement must only be present on the day that the COC is filed.

Poblador added that it’s not within the jurisdiction of the Comelec to decide on “qualification per se” of a candidate. It can only decide on whether there was a misrepresentation of information by someone who filed a COC.

The Comelec en banc ruled to cancel Poe’s COC, due to questions on her citizenship and her failure to meet the 10-year residency requirement.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Poe's camp may have overlooked the "richness" of domestic laws by simply invoking international laws.

She added that Philippine adoption laws recognize foundlings as citizens.

Sereno also raised the possible consequences if the court decides against the interest of foundlings.

Next Tuesday (February 2), it will be the turn of Comelec to defend itself.

CNN Philippines' Mikas Matsuzawa contributed to this report.