When and how did Poe reacquire her Philippine citizenship?

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Greg B. Macabenta

Posted on June 17, 2015

Senator Grace Poe has been unusually silent amid the barrage of media reports and commentaries on her US citizenship and her qualification to run for President or Vice-President.

While she personally responded to the challenge posed by the UNA party interim president, Representative Toby Tiangco, on her Philippine residency, she has since left it to her spokespersons to answer subsequent commentaries on the citizenship issue. And while the media have dug up immigration records on her use of an American passport in several trips to the Philippines (up to Dec. 27, 2009), no one from her camp has offered to produce documents disproving the reports.

Chari T. Villegas
Poe’s silence leaves her no better than the object of her recent criticism, Vice-President Jojo Binay, when she told the media (translated into English): “Does it mean that he would not answer or face all allegations against him just because he believes these were politically motivated?”

Indeed, what she demands from Binay equally applies to her: “He owes us an explanation on the accusations against him.”

The vital questions that Poe should answer are the following:

When did she acquire US citizenship and when did she officially renounce it according to US law?

When and how did she reacquire her Philippine citizenship, thereby becoming a dual citizen?

Or did she simply assume that she “automatically reacquired” Philippine citizenship upon renouncing her US citizenship?

Only by directly addressing these questions with supporting documents can Poe put this issue behind her. Even Barack Obama had to produce his birth certificate to settle challenges to the validity of his presidency.

Meanwhile, we can only go by whatever pieces of information are available from public records. Immigration logs show that she entered the Philippines on a US passport several times, going back to Nov. 9, 2003.

In relation to that date, Republic Act No. 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003, was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Aug. 29, 2003. One provision allows automatic retention of Philippine citizenship: “All Philippine citizens who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship under the conditions of RA 9225.”

This means -- conversely -- that if Poe became a US citizen before the “conditions of RA 9225” came into effect (meaning, before Aug. 29, 2003), she is deemed to have lost her Philippine citizenship.

In a paper entitled “Philippine citizenship, dual citizenship, and dual allegiance: An evaluation of RA 9225, the Dual Citizenship Law,” lawyer James Benedict Panopio wrote: “The Dual Citizenship Law also amended the old citizenship law, Commonwealth Act No. 63, which provides that acquisition of foreign citizenship is a ground for the loss of Philippine citizenship.”

Thus, contrary to Poe’s claim that she never “abandoned” her Philippine citizenship, the act of taking up US citizenship was by itself an act of abandonment.

I was part of a delegation of Fil-Ams (led by Alex Esclamado, Loida Nicolas Lewis and Rodel Rodis) who lobbied the Philippine Congress, as well as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the passage of RA 9225, as well as the Overseas Absentee Voting Law. I distinctly recall Senate President Franklin Drilon, principal sponsor of RA 9225, pointing out the significance of the terms “Retention and Reacquisition.”

Drilon said that “retention” meant that, after the passage of RA 9225, Filipinos who chose to acquire foreign citizenship would still retain their Philippine citizenship. On the other hand, “reacquisition” meant that those who had become foreign citizens prior to RA 9225 would be able to reacquire Philippine citizenship. You obviously do not reacquire what you have not lost.

I’m frankly surprised that Drilon seems to have failed to enlighten Poe on the ramifications of RA 9225 the way he enlightened our Fil-Am delegation. Worse yet, he has invoked the doctrine of animus revertendi, which may not apply in Poe’s case.

RA 9225 clearly refers to the loss of Philippine citizenship which, therefore, needs to be reacquired, i.e.: “Any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, natural-born citizens of the Philippines who have lost their Philippine citizenship by reason of their naturalization as citizens of a foreign country are hereby deemed to have re-acquired Philippine citizenship upon taking the following Oath of Allegiance to the Republic...”

Please note the requirement to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Philippines. This is crucial.

This is where Poe appears to have misunderstood the provisions of RA 9225. She stated in an interview with GMA News (which I am quoting verbatim):

“To revert back to Filipino citizenship, ire-renounce mo lang yung US citizenship mo. Yun lang ang ginawa ko. Yun kasi ang condition ng Dual Citizenship Law. Hindi iyon to reacquire Philippine citizenship kasi it reverts back to that automatically.” (To revert back to Filipino citizenship, you simply renounce your US citizenship. That’s all I did. That is the condition of the Dual Citizenship Law. You need not reacquire Philippine citizenship because it reverts back to that automatically.)

Poe appears to have been under the impression that she “automatically” regained her Philippine citizenship upon renouncing her US citizenship, without taking formal steps to reacquire it. “Yon lang ang ginawa ko...” she said.

Is she saying that she did not take the Oath of Allegiance to the Philippines, which is required by RA 9225? I’m not a lawyer and only a competent court can answer this question best: Does one reacquire Philippine citizenship without taking the Oath of Allegiance?

At any rate, two scenarios come up here: Even if she did take the Oath, if Poe only reacquired Philippine citizenship upon renouncing her US citizenship, which was either in 2009 or 2010 (or 2012, according to US immigration records), she would be short of the residency requirement for a candidate for President or Vice-President.

The other possibility is too shocking to even ponder: If Poe did not reacquire Philippine citizenship according to the provisions of RA 9225, after renouncing her US citizenship, does that mean that she became stateless?

In the face of all these, Poe and her lawyers have much explaining to do. Of course, as I said, only the proper court of law can decide on this issue. But in the spirit of honesty and integrity, Poe should confront these doubts, bring out her old Philippine and US passports, and bravely answer the sticky questions, whatever the consequences might be.

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.