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SolGen to SC: Grace Poe met requisite 10-year residency

MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who refused to defend the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the Supreme Court (SC) case filed by Grace Poe, said the senator had met the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates. 

In his opening statement before the SC on Tuesday, February 16, Hilbay said Poe made a valid claim when she said she had been a resident of the Philippines "for at least 10 years."

"In the first place, it is a fact that she has been in the Philippines since 2005. In the second place, her life in the Philippines from 2005 to today is a coherent narrative of a permanent return to one’s roots and a permanent abandonment of one’s second home," Hilbay argued. 

The SC is hearing oral arguments for the 5th day on the consolidated petitions filed by Poe, who is seeking a reversal of the Comelec rulings to cancel her certificate of candidacy (COC) for president in the 2016 elections.

Hilbay in January refused to defend the poll body in the case filed by Poe against the Comelec. This was after the Office of the Solicitor General defended the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruling in favor of Poe. (READ: FULL TEXT: SolGen defends SET ruling in favor of Grace Poe)

The SET earlier junked a petition to disqualify Poe as senator, based on claims that she is not a natural-born Filipino.

'Home is where your children are'

On Tuesday, Hilbay said that, for most Filipinos, "where your children are is where your home is," and Poe came back to the Philippines in 2005 with her children after she removed them from American schools and transferred them to schools in Manila. 

"In other words, petitioner’s pivot to the Philippines is definitely marked by her presence here and her children’s return and subsequent enrollment. These facts are more telling than an alien certificate of registration or an immigrant status from the Bureau of Immigration. People’s lives revolve around experiences and relationships, not paper."

Hilbay also noted that Poe’s re-acquisition of her Philippines citizenship in 2006 is "totally irrelevant to her residence," since the SC itself has repeatedly declared that citizenship and residency are "two separate formal qualifications with independent rationale."

"Citizenship establishes formal political allegiance; residence indicates presumed familiarity. Couched in logical terms, a citizen need not be a resident – as is the case with many dual citizens – and a resident need not be a citizen."

He continued: "Obviously, one does not need citizenship to acquire familiarity with the politics and economics of a jurisdiction. It follows that one’s residence can precede the acquisition or reacquisition of citizenship."

Length of stay a valid declaration

The solicitor general also tackled Poe’s declaration in her 2012 certificate of candidacy for senator, where she said she had been a resident in the Philippines for 6 years and 6 months.

Hilbay said it was a mistake for Comelec to consider Poe’s declaration as "conclusive and binding" in determining the length of her residence as qualification for the presidency. 

He gave an example of a natural-born Filipino who has been a Philippine resident from birth but declares his residence as only 5 years or his residence when he came back to the country after finishing his master’s degree abroad. 

"The residence qualification for the Senate is only two years, and the candidate could have placed an even longer period of residence if he understood what residence means under our election laws. Following the language of Section 78 [of the election code], declaration is false, but not materially so. It is therefore a valid declaration."

If the same candidate runs for the presidency 3 years later, Hilbay argued, he has the right to declare a longer period of residence and not just add the 3 years on top of his prior declaration of 5 years.

"The situation of Senator Grace Poe fits this basic model. She could have pegged her residence at 2005 in her certificate of candidacy for the Senate, but did not. Nothing prevents her from making that declaration now in her certificate of candidacy for president because both declarations would be valid under Section 78 of the election code,” he said. – Rappler.com 

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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