SC ousts ‘American’ mayor of Lanao town
Can someone who once swore allegiance to a foreign country and continued to use a foreign passport after supposedly reacquiring Philippine citizenship legitimately hold public office?
In a decision that has now become part of the body of jurisprudence on the question of the qualification of candidates who once held foreign citizenship, the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of a Lanao del Norte mayor who continued to use his United States passport even after reacquiring his status as a Filipino citizen in July 2008 and renouncing his American citizenship in April 2009.
“Only natural-born Filipinos who owe total and undivided allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines could run for and hold elective public office,” read the decision released just this week.
Through an 8 to 4 vote, the high court upheld last Aug. 18 the Commission on Elections 2013 resolution disqualifying Kauswagan Mayor Rommel Arnado, who won reelection by a landslide in 2013 despite questions about his citizenship dating back to his first electoral bid in 2010.
The high court ruled that Arnado’s continued use of his United States passport in 2010 in effect invalidated his renunciation of his US citizenship in 2009.
The ruling disqualified him in his first electoral bid in 2010, “being a candidate without an undivided allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.”
The ruling comes in the midst of a disqualification case involving a question of citizenship being heard by the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) against Sen. Grace Poe, who has just announced her candidacy for President. Poe became a US citizen in 2001, 10 years after she married a US citizen, Neil Llamanzares.
A foundling born in 1968 and adopted in 1974 by the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. and his wife, actress Susan Roces, Poe claimed to have reacquired Philippine citizenship in 2006. She claimed to have been a dual citizen until 2010, when she said she renounced her US citizenship upon her appointment as chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.
Her accuser, Rizalito David, a defeated senatorial candidate in 2013, is claiming that Poe continued to use her US passport despite her reacquisition of Philippine citizenship.
Oral arguments on the case are set for Monday at the SET. Among the issues to be taken during the proceedings is whether Poe’s use of her US passport after supposedly renewing allegiance to the Philippines on July 7, 2006, “affected her acquisition of natural-born Filipino citizenship.”
The Aug. 18 decision was the second Supreme Court ruling deeming Arnado unqualified for an elective position, the first one having been issued on April 2013, toward the end of his first term in office.
The high court had in its first ruling declared Casan Macode Maquiling, the petitioner in the first case, the rightful winner of the 2010 mayoral race in Kauswagan.
In the second ruling, which resolved Arnado’s petition to stop his disqualification, the high court said Arnado’s continued use of his US passport in 2010 had, in effect, voided his renunciation of his US citizenship on April 3, 2009.
The court also upheld the Comelec’s declaration of Florante Capitan, the one who petitioned against Arnado’s candidacy, as the victor in the Kauswagan mayoral election in 2013.
It also lifted the status quo ante order it issued in March 2014, which allowed Arnado to “continue to assume and exercise the functions” of mayor while the high court deliberated on the merits of his petition seeking reversal of the Comelec-ordered disqualification.
Comelec did not err
“The Comelec en banc did not err, nor did it commit grave abuse of discretion, in upholding the resolution of the Comelec Second Division disqualifiying Arnado from running for public office,” said the decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.
“It is worth noting that the reason for Arnado’s disqualification to run for public office during the 2010 elections—being a candidate without undivided allegiance to the Philippines—still subsisted when he filed his COC [certificate of candidacy] for the 2013 election on Oct. 1, 2012,” the court ruled.
In throwing out Arnado’s petition to stop his ouster, the Supreme Court cited its April 2013 ruling—a decision it upheld with finality in July of the same year—where it disqualified the mayor from public office for precisely the same problems surrounding his citizenship.
The court said the poll body “merely adhered” to its ruling in the first case on Arnado’s citizenship, “lest it would be committing grave abuse of discretion had it departed therefrom.”
“The circumstances surrounding the qualification of Arnado to run for public office during the May 10, 2010, and May 13, 2013, elections, to reiterate for emphasis, are the same,” said the ruling.
“Arnado’s use of his US passport in 2009 invalidated his oath of renunciation, resulting in his disqualification to run for mayor of Kauswagan in the 2010 elections. Since then, and up to the time he filed his COC for the 2013 elections, Arnado had not cured the defect in his qualification,” the high court said.
It cited the doctrine of stare decisis et non quieta movere, or “to adhere to precedents and not to unsettle things which are established,” which “enjoins adherence to judicial precedents and bars relitigation of the same.”
The court ruled that Arnado failed fo fulfill qualification requirements under Republic Act No. 9225, the law on rules governing dual citizenship.
Dual citizenship rule
The dual citizenship law requires that those who retained their Philippine citizenship when they obtained foreign citizenship may seek public office only if they “make a personal sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenships before any public officer authoritized to administer an oath prior to or at the time of filing their certificate of candidacy.”
The high court upheld the Comelec’s ruling that Arnado had failed to comply with this requisite as “his affidavit of renunciation (of his US citizenship) in 2009 was deemed withdrawn when he used his US passport after executing [the] affidavit.”
The court said Arnado failed to comply with this requirement when he filed his COC for the 2013 elections on Oct. 1, 2012.
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