Sereno: SC must do justice to foundlings like Poe

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno championed the cause of foundlings like Senator Grace Poe in her concurring opinion made public Friday night, March 11 – 3 days after the Supreme Court's (SC) historic vote in favor of Poe.

Sereno, one of the 9 justices who voted to allow Poe to run for president in the 2016 elections, agreed that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) acted with grave abuse of discretion when it cancelled Poe's certificate of candidacy (COC).

The chief justice said Poe validly presumed that she is a citizen of the Philippines, since there is sufficient basis to support the presumption that foundlings are Filipino citizens.

"A presumption of foundlings' natural-born status can be established by the deliberations of the 1935 Constitution and the history of its provisions. These legal authorities and materials serve as sufficient justification for any foundling's good faith belief that she is a natural-born citizen," Sereno noted.

In her 126-page opinion, the chief justice also highlighted the dangers of declaring foundlings like Poe as either stateless or not natural-born, since statelessness in the Philippines would mean deprivation of countless rights and opportunities under the Constitution.

"A declaration that petitioner is a citizen but is not natural-born is no less odious to foundlings considering the privileges that would be deemed unavailable to them."

She also insisted that it is the SC's "first and foremost duty" to render justice to foundlings.

"The proposal for Congress to remedy the unjust situation that would result from an affirmance by this Court of unjust Comelec rulings is too odious a solution to even consider. It is not the function of Congress to correct any injustice that would result from this Court's proposed unhappy ruling on foundlings."

During the oral arguments, Sereno interpellated counsels of both petitioner and respondents on the implication of Poe's case on foundlings 

Good faith

In her opinion, Sereno also criticized the Comelec's "narrow-minded approach to the question of citizenship" when it failed to appreciate evidence that shows good faith on the part of Poe. 

After all, Sereno pointed out, it is clear in Poe's constant assertion of her status and the official documents she used to present her case that she "honestly" believes she is a natural-born citizen.

"I believe that these documents, at the very least, negate any deliberate intent on her part to mislead the electorate as to her citizenship qualification," she said, adding that it would be "unreasonable and unfair" for the Comelec to say Poe misrepresented her status since there has been no definitive ruling on the citizenship of foundlings.

Sereno argued that both originalist and functionalist interpretations of the 1935 Constitution lead to the same result: Poe had sufficient reason to believe she, as a foundling, is a natural-born citizen.

An originalist approach refers to interpretation of the Constitution in accordance with the intent of the framers, while a functionalist approach refers to interpretation consistent with natural justice.

The chief justice also called the standard of evidence proposed by the Comelec – that is, physical proof of blood relation to a Filipino parent – as an "impossible, oppressive, and discriminatory" condition that would only render foundlings "even more vulnerable."

"Evidently, there is no legal basis for the standard proposed by the Comelec and private respondents. Physical or scientific proof of a blood relationship to a putative parent is not required by law to establish filiation or any status arising therefrom such as citizenship," Sereno pointed out.

"In fact, this Court has repeatedly emphasized that DNA evidence is not absolutely essential so long as paternity or filiation may be established by other proof."

She said the concept of natural-born citizenship, which was originally meant to distinguish one from being "foreign-born," cannot be used to justify the denial of citizenship status to foundlings because of their inability to prove a certain blood relationship.

Aside from citizenship, Sereno also sided with Poe in the residency issue, saying that based on the totality of the circumstances, the senator was able to reestablish her domicile in the Philippines since May 2005.

This, she said, cannot be overthrown by Poe's single declaration in her 2012 COC that she had been a resident for 6 years and 6 months.

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.