06 May 2007

Revisiting the late FPJ's citizenship case

WINNIE MONSOD'S piece on the controversial decision of Comelec Special First Division declaring Mayor Robredo a Chinese citizen takes issues with one of the arguments raised by Commissioner Romeo Brawner.

I am reproducing that argument in full:

Assuming further for the sake of argument, that Lim Teng is the same as Juan Robredo, respondent would still remain to be a Chinese citizen as Lim Teng himself remained a Chinese citizen. The Philippine Bill of 1902 defining who are citizens of the Philippine Islands requires that the Spanish subject must not only be an inhabitant of the Philippine islands on the 11th day of April, 1899, but must also continue to reside therein. The only thing established on record is Lim Teng's arrival in this country on April 2, 1896. The record is bare of any evidence that would show that he was able to establish his permanent residence here. In the absence of such proof, the doubt would be resolved in favor of the state and against the claimant. Any person who claims to be a citizen of the Philippines has the burden of proving his Philippine citizenship.
Brawner would go on to cite the celebrated case filed by Victorino Fornier questioning the citizenship of the late Fernando Poe, Jr. in the run-up towards the 2004 presidential election. Like Monsod, this prompted me to read the Supreme Court decision, which can be found here.

The following paragraph is extremely interesting, as it largely disputes Brawner's argument:
The death certificate of Lorenzo Pou would indicate that he died on 11 September 1954, at the age of 84 years, in San Carlos, Pangasinan. It could thus be assumed that Lorenzo Pou was born sometime in the year 1870 when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain. Petitioner would argue that Lorenzo Pou was not in the Philippines during the crucial period of from 1898 to 1902 considering that there was no existing record about such fact in the Records Management and Archives Office. Petitioner, however, likewise failed to show that Lorenzo Pou was at any other place during the same period. In his death certificate, the residence of Lorenzo Pou was stated to be San Carlos, Pangasinan. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it should be sound to conclude, or at least to presume, that the place of residence of a person at the time of his death was also his residence before death. It would be extremely doubtful if the Records Management and Archives Office would have had complete records of all residents of the Philippines from 1898 to 1902.
No wonder, Winnie can only react so sarcastically I can envision her face smiling crookedly, eyes rolling and head turning from side to side: "Gee whiz. The man had five children, including Jesse’s father (born in 1923) and was buried in the Philippines in 1934 or thereabouts. Who fathered those children and supported them -- a ghost? For Brawner, the scenario must have been that Lim Teng left the Philippines, and then came back just to die."

And what did the the High Court, writing through Justice Jose Vitug, establish in dismissing the Fornier case?
...it is necessary to take on the matter of whether or not respondent FPJ is a natural-born citizen, which, in turn, depended on whether or not the father of respondent, Allan F. Poe, would have himself been a Filipino citizen....Any conclusion on the Filipino citizenship of Lorenzo Pou could only be drawn from the presumption that having died in 1954 at 84 years old, Lorenzo would have been born sometime in the year 1870, when the Philippines was under Spanish rule, and that San Carlos, Pangasinan, his place of residence upon his death in 1954, in the absence of any other evidence, could have well been his place of residence before death, such that Lorenzo Pou would have benefited from the “en masse Filipinization” that the Philippine Bill had effected in 1902. That citizenship (of Lorenzo Pou), if acquired, would thereby extend to his son, Allan F. Poe, father of respondent FPJ. The 1935 Constitution, during which regime respondent FPJ has seen first light, confers citizenship to all persons whose fathers are Filipino citizens....
And Brawner ignored this obvious similarity from the very citation, in fact, to my mind, one of the more fundamental precedents to Robredo's case. No wonder John Nery calls it "a masterpiece of deliberate obtuseness"!


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