Grace Poe: I’m qualified
“I’m qualified,” Sen. Grace Poe declared on Wednesday. She said she had not announced her candidacy, but “why are they so afraid of me?”
Poe was referring to the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party of Vice President Jejomar Binay, which seemed to have started trying to derail her candidacy even before she could decide to run for any office in next year’s elections.
On Tuesday, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, interim president of UNA, claimed that Poe could not run for Vice President, much less President, because she did not meet the constitutional requirement of 10 years’ residency immediately prior to the election.
Tiangco dug up Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for senator in the 2013 elections in which she wrote that she had been a resident of the Philippines for six years and six months.
Going by that information, Poe would be a resident of the Philippines for only nine years and six months by election day 2016—six months short of the constitutional requirement.
Poe lived in the United States for 13 years and returned to the Philippines after her father, the movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., died in December 2004.
Speaking to reporters before the start of the Senate session on Wednesday afternoon, Poe said she wrote in her COC, which she filed in 2012, “six years and six months” because it was only in April 2006 that her US home was sold.
But she had proof that she had been living in the Philippines for more than 10 years, she said.
Poe said she had been living here since February 2005 and she could prove that, as her children began to go to school in the country in June of that year.
She said her family bought a house here in 2005 as a temporary residence while a more permanent house was under construction.
“As of today, I exceed the residency requirement,” she said.
But why raise the question of her residency when she has not even said she would run for higher office in 2016, she said.
“I will answer that if I will file my candidacy,” she said, adding that it was not the question that got her goat.
‘Nothing to hide’
What made her feel insulted, she said, was Tiangco’s insinuation that she was dishonest.
“I have the truth, I have nothing to hide. That’s why I don’t have to hide behind a spokesperson,” she said, clearly referring to Binay, who has long declared his presidential candidacy and makes his aides answer the corruption charges against him being investigated by the Senate.
Turning to Tiangco, Poe said: “Perhaps he understands, because he represents Navotas but he lives elsewhere.”
Poe said she did not believe Tiangco’s disclosure of her Commission on Elections (Comelec) residency information had no blessing from Binay.
“That big a decision had no official sanction?” she said.
She disclosed that UNA asked her to run on its senatorial ticket in 2013 then dumped her. She did not say anything then, she said, because she was a newcomer to politics, but she was hurt because those who junked her were her father’s friends.
On Sen. Nancy Binay’s statement that she should admit that she would run for a higher office, Poe said she did not know if the Vice President’s daughter was referring to her but she had noticed that those believed to be running for office already had television ads.
50 percent sure
Poe said she was going around the country but was only accepting speaking invitations.
She said that whenever people would ask her how sure she was about running, she always answered, “I think 50 percent, but they try to push it to 100 percent.”
Poe observed that UNA raised the question of her residency after she signed the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee report recommending plunder and graft charges against Binay.
Asked if UNA’s action encouraged her to run, she said: “If that is the kind of people we will elect to office, I think this country will run backward.”
Poe admitted that she was a foundling and that to this day she had not learned who her real parents were.
She said, however, that she held no ill feelings for her parents because they left her in a church in Jaro, Iloilo province.
FPJ and his wife, movie actress Susan Roces, adopted Poe.
Too early to say
Poe was asked about rumors that her real mother was her aunt, actress Rosemarie Sonora, and her real father was the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
She said she had asked her mother and her aunt about that and they had denied it and she believed them.
Answering questions about Poe’s residency, Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said it was too early to determine whether the senator was qualified to run for a higher office.
Speaking with reporters in the Office of the Ombudsman, Bautista said candidates for President and Vice President should be residents of the Philippines for at least 10 years, as required by the Constitution.
“But at this point, it’s still hypothetical because Senator Poe is not yet a candidate,” Bautista said.
“We will act on it once a petition is filed with us. But as I have said, it’s still speculative because the filing of certificates of candidacy is in October,” he said.
Former Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes had a more definite answer: Poe could not be disqualified from the presidential election based on her residency status. Her citizenship, however, may be a different issue.
“As far as residency is concerned, I believe Grace Poe is qualified, based on the issue of domicile,” Brillantes told reporters.
Brillantes explained that the residency requirement in the Constitution referred not to the actual period of residence but to legal residence or domicile.
“The Philippines as her domicile is well established since she was born here. The Philippines is her domicile of origin, she is a resident of the country from the day she was born up to now,” said Brillantes, a veteran election lawyer.
“The residency referred to in the certificate of candidacy is actually on the domicile, and not the actual physical residence. Domicile means you may not be physically there but there remains your intent to return,” he said.
Even if the controversy reaches the courts, Brillantes said, Poe’s COC could not be considered strong evidence of failure to meet the residency requirement.
Question of citizenship
“What you put in the COC does not really have much weight since the court will look into what is the real circumstance. It will look if one is really a resident and has established domicile for a certain number of years,” he said.
But Poe’s citizenship may be a different issue, Brillantes said.
A disqualification case may progress once the question of residency is tied with the question of Poe’s citizenship, as she once held American citizenship, he said.
In such a case, Brillantes, the election lawyer of Poe’s father, FPJ, said it would be almost inevitable that the issue about her real parents would be scrutinized.
“The question will then be, Who is her real father? Even if she was born here but if her father is a foreigner, it means she is also a foreigner. These issues will eventually come up soon,” Brillantes said.
He pointed out, however, that it was too early to raise such questions because Poe has not announced that she is running in next year’s election.
“You can raise all these issues once she files her COC. That’s the time a disqualification case can be filed against her,” Brillantes said.—Reports from Christine Avendaño, Tina G. Santos and Marlon Ramos
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