Saturday, May 12, 2007

A solemn obligation of citizenship

Reacting to the “Brawner Doctrine” by virtue of which the votes of two commisioners of the Special First Division of COMELEC have nullified the majority’s will in the election of Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo (who is at the end of his fifth term as mayor of the city and is running for his sixth in the May 14 elections) conveniently by ousting the mayor in a quo wrranto proceedings on a highly controversial citizenship question), FEU constitutional law professor Edwin Lacierda could not hold the stinging wallop of his analysis:
What is unfair in the decision is that (Commissioner) Brawner attacked the citizenship of Jesse’s grandfather who will never have the chance to rise from the dead and defend himself. And in fact, the Supreme Court said in a Co versus HRET, a case cited by Brawner himself, that you cannot attack the citizenship of a father just to get back at the son. This should be done in a direct action to nullify the citizenship of the father. In this case, Brawner should not entertain an attack on the citizenship of the grandfather just to get back at the grandson. Brawner knows the case, skips that particular part of the case and conveniently said that the Co case is totally not applicable to Jesse’s case.

That is the paternal line of Jesse which Brawner attacked and which I have shown why Brawner’s attack was ill conceived, deficient in research and totally unfair and disrespectful of the dead Lim Teng who in one swift stroke by Brawner was stripped posthumously of his Filipino citizenship.

Not satisfied with the paternal line, Brawner proceeded to destroy the maternal line as well. He said that Jesse who was born of a Filipino mother did not elect Philippine citizenship as provided by CA No. 625 which requires a person to execute a statement of an oath of allegiance to the Philippines and filed before the local civil registry. Brawner said that voting in an election or running for public office does not qualify because there is a procedure for election. I think that is a very restrictive interpretation of what election means. Brawner cites the case of Co v. HRET as basis for saying that implied election does not apply to non-Filipino like Jesse.

The present understanding in electing citizenship is that one has to elect in accordance with CA No. 625. I think the Supreme Court would have to revisit that jurisprudence because what better way to show your oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines than to vote in an election or run for public office. Moreover, there is no definitive ruling from the court that CA No. 625 and implied election of Philippine citizenship such as voting in an election are mutually exclusive of each other.

The Supreme Court has mentioned that our citizenship laws are antiquated. I think now is the time to test our ideas on what constitute citizenship. Brawner was too quick to point out the absence of proofs forgetting the fact the evidences are nearly a century old and may no longer be extant. He also forgets the fact that their own Comelec building just burned down and the evidences have been destroyed. If a recent fire gutted down their building destroying all evidence, is it not fair to say that Brawner is being unreasonable to demand proof of documents a century old?
In an email to me on the same subject, Ric Marasigan, a US lawyer and also a Bicolano, has bewailed the “culture of impunity” that has attended the Philippine officialdom as well as the outdated notion of Philippine citizenship over against a culture of assimilation and diversity among successful and progressive nations:
This is but another manifestation of the “culture of impunity” that characterizes the Philippine government and its officialdom. This culture ignores all appeals and calls for legality, decency, morality and even invocation of basic Christian values. That is why “other” Filipinos are calling for radical measures to effect fundamental change and reform in the Philippines which is unfortunate. This latest episode is a shameless dismissal of the role, place and contributions of the Chinese ethnic element in what constitutes the Filipino nation today. All for the exigencies, whims and caprices of petty politics and petty people in Naga City and Camarines Sur! Rizal, Aguinaldo, Osmena, Aquino, and all Filipinos of Chinese descent must be shaking their heads in disbelief and rage. Some of the mightiest and richest nations in the world today welcome and encourage immigration and ethnic assimilation like the US and Singapore. Even the newly-elected President of France is a Frenchman of Hungarian descent.
When the camp of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had employed the same dirty tactic (not to mention other serious allegations of election chicaneries) against her leading opponent, Fernando Poe, Jr., in the last presidential election, my own reaction was anchored on sovereignty grounds and similarly on the continuing transformation of Filipino citizenship:
If there is anything certain about the controversy involving the citizenship of presidential frontrunner Fernando Poe, Jr., it is the fact that the historical process of transformation of the Filipino citizenship is still in a state of flux. Only recently, the dual concept of citizenship has been legislated not so much upon the emotional requirement of allegiance as on the practical imperatives of economics. This continuing formulation and debate are also a reflection from the wavering, inconsistent and back-and-forth positions taken by the Supreme Court in its earlier rulings—from Roa vs Collector of Customs(1912), Chua vs. Secretary of Labor (1939), Torres vs. Tan Chim (1940), to Tan Chong vs. Secretary of Labor (1947), and Talaroc vs. Uy (1952)—as to which citizenship criterion to rely on, whether the principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on blood) or jus soli (citizenship based on place of birth). On the basis of those shaky, if often clashing, judicial holdings, the Court’s readings of the constitutional requirements, circumscribed by the predilections of the individual justices, are not the most comforting place to go to for some intellectual conception of citizenship.

The other thing clear and certain on the question of FPJ’s citizenship is the language of the Constitution itself. Indeed, the constitutional requirements for Philippine citizenship are unmistakably plain and simple to be subjected anew to the reviewing itch of the Justices of the Supreme Court. Article IV, Section 1, (2) of the Constitution defines as citizens of the Philippines “Those whose fathers or mothers* are citizens of the Philippines.” And if, according to the Constitution, they are such citizens of the Philippines “from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship,” they are “natural-born citizens.” It cannot be any plainer and simpler than that. xxx

Citizenship, like religion, is more than an accidental birthright. It can only be taken for granted in innocence. Upon the attainment of the full consciousness of membership, what is inaugurated as a right of the natural person, to borrow from the political thoughts of Rousseau, is in fact transformed into a solemn duty of the citizen. This affirms the truism that membership in the community precedes citizenship in the polity. As a consequence of membership, citizenship goes well beyond definitional technicalities, constitutional or otherwise, as well as any judicial opinions interpreting those definitions. Before the formalities of conferment, citizenship must first be attained.

Hence, for example, one is only as much a Filipino citizen in name simply because the Constitution or the law defines him to be so, as another is a Roman catholic only in name simply because he was baptized in innocence as a Roman catholic. Citizenship, just as religion, demands devoutness. It is a solemn obligation of service more than a definitional right or a privilege.

Arguably, the First Filipino was Jose Rizal. He did not earn his citizenship by constitutional fiat because he had preceded the Constitution. By definition, he could have not been considered a citizen at all, having remained allegiant to Spain until his death. Rizal, a Chinese by direct ancestry, attained citizenship not by parchment but by historical relationship, and by duty and deed. Rizal, like Ninoy Aquino, identified with his intellect and wisdom as a citizen rather than with the desire for power, wealth or personal safety. And both decided to return to their community from exile against the counsel that impending danger awaited their arrival. Rizal and Ninoy Aquino died in a state of virtue as political animals—the original Aristotelian conception of a citizen as someone owing his labor and loyalty to the polity—not knowing whether their individual sacrifices would attain the goals they had hoped for.

Obviously, to draw in this current controversy any undue or unnecessary parallelism from the self-abnegation of Rizal and Aquino would be farfetched. But still, it is not easy for anyone not close enough to the popular movie actor to determine what motivations had obliged someone like FPJ with no experience, as others claim, about the intricacies, pitfalls or rewards of political governance, when finally he acceded to the importuning of people around him to run for president. Certainly many would be at a loss wondering why FPJ, already powerful, wealthy and personally secured, would sacrifice those hard-earned securities and his relatively private life for reasons other than possibly to give his labor and loyalty to the only country he has known, which made him powerful, wealthy and secured—however weird, hyperbolic or unrealistic those reasons, aspirations or motivations might be.

I am not particularly enamored with the change alternative so far bared by the FPJ campaign, or by the opportunities offered by the other presidential aspirants as they present their challenge to the incumbent. Neither am I excited at all with the business-as-usual approach the administration of Macapagal-Arroyo is pursuing to confront the long-standing scourge of elite democracy that has tormented the nation and the Filipino people. But I believe it is the quest of FPJ for the presidency, more than the ambition of the other candidates, which is rewriting again the people’s narrative of People Power Democracy.

In the last analysis, the resolution of the question involving the aspiration of FPJ for the highest office of the land is a sovereign matter the Supreme Court cannot preempt to pass upon. It is of no moment if the ancestry of the aspirant may be foreign as long as his qualifications clearly are in compliance, as above explained, with the unequivocal language of the Constitution, all the possible follies and other consequences thinkable attendant to such a political pursuit notwithstanding.

If the people vote for FPJ as their next leader, so be it. If not, that also is their final say, not the Supreme Court’s.**
By the very same weight and force of reason, the sovereign majority in the City of Naga, not the shameless illogic of two COMELEC commissioners bordering on impeachable offense, should have the final say as to who should serve or will serve the Nagueños as the City’s mayor.

Protecting and preserving the sovereign will in the May 14, 2007 elections is in fact the solemn obligation of all Filipinos who deserve the privilege of citizenship.


* This provision is a constitutional recognition of the critical role of the mother in inculcating the virtues of citizenship in the child.

**In Tecson v. COMELEC (March 2004), the Supreme Court has ruled against the petitions to disqualify FPJ and in effect held that even a “bastard” could run for president; the rest is history.