Sereno to Comelec: What proof do you want from Grace Poe?

MANILA, Philippines – What evidence should Senator Grace Poe produce to prove to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that she is a natural-born Filipino?

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno raised this question on Tuesday, February 2, during the 3rd round of oral arguments on the presidential candidate's qualifications before the Supreme Court (SC).

The SC is hearing oral arguments on the consolidated petitions filed by Poe seeking for a reversal of the Comelec's decision to cancel her certificate of candidacy (COC) for president in the 2016 elections.

During her interpellation of Comelec's lead counsel Commissioner Arthur Lim, Sereno asked the poll body what their standard of evidence is. Lim said the burden of evidence shifted to Poe the moment she admitted she is a foundling.

"The standard of evidence you are requiring is physical evidence: prove who her parents are, if she cannot prove who her parents are, she can't be considered as a natural-born citizen. Is that your standard?" the Chief Justice asked.

"Not totally," Lim answered.

"What were you asking her to produce?" Sereno continued. "If it's so fuzzy in your mind, when there is actually no legal standard, it depends on what she presents, but every quasi-judicial agency, every court must already have the legal standard in its mind. What was your requirement before she can prove her natural-born citizenship?"

Lim said Poe's camp could have presented substantial evidence, but instead submitted the case "on presumption of international law."

Pressed further to enumerate what kind of evidence would have satisfied the Comelec, Lim said Poe could have presented not only results of DNA tests, but also testimonial evidence, documentary evidence, baptismal records, and even family photos to prove her parents are Filipinos.

Earlier in the interpellation, Sereno asked Lim if he thinks any foundling who says "Ako ay Filipino (I'm a Filipino)" is being dishonest.

"If you think a person who is...an ampon, pulot, singaw, sabit – those are the local terms that can cut the hearts of these people with no known parents. If a person says 'I do not know who my mother is, who my father is, but they are Filipinos,' then she is lying?"

"But if I will interpret your decision, you're saying 'Nanloloko po ang petitioner kasi sinasabi niyang natural-born citizen siya kasi di naman niya mapatunayan kung sino ang ina niya.' Ngunit kung alam naman niya sa puso niya at naniniwala siya, panloloko po ba 'yun?"

(But if I will interpret your decision, you're saying, 'The petitioner is deceitful because she is saying she is a natural-born citizen, but she has not yet proven who her mother is.' But if she knows that in her heart and believes in that, is that deception?)

To this, Lim asked Sereno not to forget Poe is running for the presidency in the 2016 elections, and that "the sad plight of foundlings is not an issue in these proceedings." (READ: ‘Adoption laws presume foundlings Filipino citizens’ – Sereno)

Sereno then asked if Poe's case as a foundling is isolated from the thousands of other foundlings in the country. The Chief Justice has insisted in her interpellation on Tuesday, and even during the January 26 oral arguments, that the case at hand has a very profound implication on foundlings.

Lim said the Comelec is only fulfilling its mandate to find out if whether there was material misrepresentation on the part of Poe when she claimed she is a natural-born citizen in her 2015 COC.

Circumstantial evidence

Sereno asked Lim if it is not a sufficient circumstantial evidence that Poe as an infant was found in the Parish of Jaro in Iloilo – "a sleepy town where there are not many foreigners." (READ: TIMELINE: Grace Poe's citizenship, residency)

Lim said this evidence was not presented by Poe's camp, because the Comelec would have evaluated it, although it is an admitted fact stipulated by both parties.

He said the circumstances when the senator was found in 1968 are not considered a substantial evidence to prove her natural-born citizenship.

But Sereno cited examples to show physical evidence is not always needed for presumptions on filiation.

"In other words, the matter of proving filiation by blood is not a matter of absolute requirement. It is not even a matter of a medium or substantial evidence requirement. Presumptions can take the place, even circumstantial evidence surrounding a person can be used, to come to a conclusion," she explained.

But Lim countered, "Unfortunately, the Commission has not found any applicable presumption to warrant the conclusion that the petitioner is natural-born.” – 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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