Foundlings are natural-born PH citizens – family law experts

MANILA, Philippines – Two of the country's leading experts on family law took the position that foundlings like potential 2016 presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe are presumed natural-born Filipino citizens and thus eligible to run for high posts in government.

Rappler sought the legal opinion of University of the Philippines College of Law professors Katrina Legarda and Elizabeth Pangalangan to shed light on the legal battle that looms for Poe, a foundling in Iloilo who was adopted by the late actor Fernando Poe Jr (FPJ) and his wife, actress Susan Roces.

"A long-standing presumption and principle of customary international law is that a foundling takes the nationality of the place where she was found," said Legarda.

The presumption prevails, said Pangalangan, unless proof to the contrary is presented. She cited Rule 31 of the Rules of Court. "Whoever alleges must prove," she said.

The 1987 Constitution limits high government posts to natural-born citizens, among a few other qualifications. 

Whether or not she meets the 10-year residency rule is a separate issue resulting from her acquisition of American citizenship later in her life. She renounced it in 2010. 

Presumption of natural born

The Philippines follows jus sanguinis, Latin for right of bloodin determining the citizenship of a person, said Pangalangan. This cannot be established in the case of Poe, however, because the identity of her biological parents is not known.

The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who now lags behind Poe in the latest Pulse Asia survey, has argued that foundlings cannot be natural-born Filipino citizens on the ground that they are initially "stateless" and that a process is required to grant them Filipino citizenship. This is supposedly not a violation of international laws because the child still acquires a citizenship; he or she is just not considered natural-born.

Pangalangan and Legarda disagreed. Poe is presumed a natural-born Filipino citizen, they said, based on international and domestic laws on human rights, rights of a child, and adoption, among others.

The first two declare the right of a person to a nationality; the third highlights the right of a child to acquire it immediately after birth.

The 1987 Constitution states that the "generally accepted international principles" are adopted as part of the law of the land, said Legarda.

Landmark case?

Lawyers concede that there is no known precedent. Legarda welcomed the possibility that the issue will be elevated to the Supreme Court to, once and for all, define the rights of abandoned children. 

While the senator's father, FPJ, also had to defend his citizenship during the 2004 presidential elections, the SC tackled the rights of illegitimate children with alien parents and not of foundlings. (READ: FPJ's citizenship woes a glimpse of Grace Poe's battle ahead

To say that foundlings are statelesss persons is a violation of the CRC, said Legarda. "The CRC affirms that every child has the right to be born, to have a name and nationality, to have a family who will love and care for her," she said.

Pangalangan said the adoption of Poe supports the presumption of her being a natural-born Filipino citizen.

"Philippine law on adoption is applicable only to Filipino children – the Philippines cannot have foreigner children adopted since the status of a child is determined by the child's (or her parents', if known) personal law. It is that personal law which determines whether a child is legally free to be adopted. Senator Poe's adoption under Philippine law proceeded on an assumption that she was a Filipino at birth," Pangalangan said.

Poe has seen an exponential rise in the presidential surveys, which show her neck and neck with Binay. She has overtaken Binay in Pulse Asia's latest May 30-June 5 survey, obtaining a 30% preference rating compared to Binay's 22%. She's also been in talks with President Benigno Aquino III about a possible 2016 run. – Rappler.com