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The wisdom of Jose Vitug in the FPJ citizenship case

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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The wisdom of Jose Vitug in the FPJ citizenship case
There were no presumptions nor assumptions in the Supreme Court case that eventually favored the late Fernando Poe Jr

Petitioners who had sought the cancellation of FPJ’s certificate of candidacy on the ground of material misrepresentation turned to the Supreme Court when they were rebuffed by the Commission on Elections. (READ: FPJ’s citizenship woes a glimpse of Grace Poe’s battles)

Mr. Justice Joe Vitug, one of the ablest men ever to grace the Court, penned the majority opinion that favored FPJ. His opening paragraph is full of timely wisdom for the disputes of our day:

“Citizenship is a treasured right conferred on those whom the state believes are deserving of the privilege. It is a ‘precious heritage, as well as an inestimable acquisition’ that cannot be taken light by anyone – either by those who enjoy it or by those who dispute it.”  

The sagely Vitug was not talking “limpieza de sangre…purity of blood,” not even of pedigree. He was writing of citizenship and all the loftiness that it entailed. Without a doubt, there is a biological element to it, insofar as “father” is a biological concept, besides all else that it connotes. But which biological facts are juridically significant is a matter of policy, a matter about which politicians, principally through the drafting of the Constitution or the passage of law, decide.

There were no presumptions in the case of FPJ.  

Allan Poe was his father. Lorenzo Pou was his grandfather. Lorenzo’s death certificate identified him as a Filipino. That is neither surmise nor conjecture, neither assumption nor presumption. The death certificate, the ponencia rightly holds, is admissible documentary evidence. And the eminent ponente found it necessary to ascertain the status of the documents because it did count and it did matter who begot whom!  

In other words, the Supreme Court left no doubt in that case that establishing descent is necessary in determining the veridicality of a claim that one is a natural-born Filipino.

Rules of evidence

There is another valuable lesson taught by Justice Vitug, an acknowledged authority in civil law.  It is a lesson in constitutional and legal hermeneutics: “The proof of filiation or paternity for purposes of determining his citizenship status should thus be deemed independent from and not inextricably tied up with that prescribed for civil law purposes. The Civil Code or Family Code provisions on proof of filiation or paternity, although a good law, do not have preclusive effects on matters client to personal and family relations.

The ordinary rules of evidence could well and should govern. For instance, the matter about pedigree is not necessarily precluded from being applicable by the Civil Code or Family Code provisions.”  

In short, reckoning for the purposes of one branch of law should not be illegally exported to another branch. He went on to write: “In case proof of filiation or paternity would be unlikely to satisfactorily establish our would be difficult to obtain, DNA testing, which examines genetic codes obtained from body cells of the illegitimate child and any physical residue of the long dead parent could be resorted to.  A positive match would clear up filiation or paternity.”  

That of course is significant in the extreme – because it clearly requires some concrete proof of paternity and filiation.  

In the light of the cerebral distinctions made, the speciousness of transporting assumptions, presumptions and premises from one set of laws to another should be clear.  

In this respect, Vitug cites the amicus curiae brief of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ which, by the way, is a fundamental rule of hermeneutics: The doctrine is only as binding as far as the facts of the case go. Obviously, when the jurisprudence one cites is not even on four with a case, you have a case of “eisegesis” (reading into the text) rather than “exegesis (reading from the text).

Once more, turning to the facts should not hurt.  

Exactly how many foundlings are there? And how many of these aspire for public office? And how many for the presidency? Not too many, I guess. (READ: Foundlings are Filipino citizens? No legal basis)

And it is not like that the situation is hopeless for them. It takes merely one inspired senator, with the good of foundlings in mind, one like Senator Grace Poe, to introduce the necessary legislation to better their status, or to nudge the Executive into signing the helpful treaty, and Senate, into concurring with it. Get real! –


The author is Dean of the Graduate School of Law, San Beda College.

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