By Atty. Emmanuel S. Tipon
May a Filipino citizen who became naturalized as a U.S. citizen and then renounced his U.S. citizenship and reacquired Filipino citizenship and run for public office and win continue using his U.S. passport without losing his public office?
In Rommel Arnado v. Comelec, decided by the Philippine Supreme Court on August 18, 2015, a majority through Justice Del Castillo held that “Only natural-born Filipinos who owe total and undivided allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines could run for and hold elective public office.” Therefore, the Comelec did not abuse its discretion in holding that Arnado “failed to comply with the second requisite of Section 5 (2) of RA 9225 [make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship] because, as held in Maquiling v. Commission on Elections, his April 3, 2009 Affidavit of Renunciation was deemed withdrawn when he used his U.S. passport after executing said affidavit. Consequently, at the time he filed his CoC on October 1, 2012 for purposes of the May 13, 2013 elections, Amado had yet to comply with said second requirement. The Comelec also noted that while Amado submitted an affidavit dated May 9, 2013, affirming his April 3, 2009 Affidavit of Renunciation, the same would not suffice for having been belatedly executed.” The court upheld the disqualification of Arnado from running in the May 13, 2013 elections and the setting aside of his proclamation as elected mayor of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte and proclaiming Capitan as the duly elected mayor of said municipality.
This ruling is highly reevant to the disqualification case against Senator Grace Poe who recently announced her candidacy for president. Poe allegedly became a U. S. citizen in 2001. She married a U.S. citizen, Neil Llamanzares. Poe is said to have become a dual citizen in 2006 when she renewed her allegiance to the Philippines. She is alleged to have renounced her U.S. citizenship in 2010 when she was appointed chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. In the disqualification case filed by Rizalito David, a defeated senatorial candidate in 2013, it is alleged that Poe used her U.S. passport even after reacquiring Philippine citizenship on July 7, 2006. The case is pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
Arnado is a natural-born Filipino citizen who lost his Philippine citizenship after he was naturalized as a citizen of the United States of America (USA). Subsequently, Arnado applied for repatriation under Republic Act No. 9225 (RA 9225) before the Consul General of the Philippines in San Francisco, USA. He took an Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines on July 10, 2008 and an Order of Approval of Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition was issued in his favor. On April 3, 2009, Amado executed an Affidavit of Renunciation of his foreign citizenship. On November 30, 2009, Arnado filed his Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) for mayor of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte for the May 10, 2010 elections. Balua, another mayoralty candidate filed a petition to disqualify Amado and/or to cancel his CoC alleging that Amado remained a US citizen because he continued to use his US passport for entry to and exit from the Philippines after executing the Affidavit of Renunciation. Bureau of Immigration records were presented showing that Arnado used his US passport on January 12, 2010 and March 23, 2010. While Balua’s petition remained pending, the May 10, 2010 elections proceeded where Amado garnered the highest number of votes for mayor. He was proclaimed the winning candidate.
The majority said that it was settled in Maquiling v. Commission on Elections “that the use of a foreign passport amounts to repudiation or recantation of the oath of renunciation.” and “that matters dealing with qualifications for public elective office must be strictly complied with.”
On October 1, 2012, Arnado again filed a certificate of candidacy for the May 13, 2013 elections. On May 10, 2013, Capitan, Arnado’s lone rival for the mayoralty post, filed a Petition seeking to disqualify him from running for municipal mayor of Kauswagan and/or to cancel his CoC based on the ruling of this Court in Maquiling. The resolution of Capitan’s petition was overtaken by the May 13, 2013 elections where Arnado garnered 8,902 votes (84% of the total votes cast) while Capitan obtained 1,707 (16% of the total votes cast) votes only.
The court said that “The circumstances surrounding the qualification of Arnado to run for public office during the May 10, 2010 and May 13, 2013 elections are the same. 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 court said that even assuming that the recently discovered November 30, 2009 Affidavit of Renunciation with Oath of Allegiance is true and authentic, Arnado performed positive acts [used his U.S. passport] on January 12, 2010 and March 23, 2010 which effectively negated the alleged November 30, 2009 Affidavit resulting in his disqualification to run for an elective public office.
Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen dissented and maintained the same position he had taken in Maquiling that Arnado’s use of his US passport in 2009 was an isolated act justified by the circumstances at that time. The majority said that this issue was not raised by the petitioner. Justice Brion also dissented, arguing that what was cancelled by virtue of Maquiling was only the April 3, 2009 Affidavit of Renunciation where Arnado expressly renounced any foreign citizenship, not the July 10, 2008 Oath of Allegiance which carried with it an implied abdication of foreign citizenship. The majority said that this was not raised by the petitioner, and even assuming that Arnado’s 2008 implied renunciation is sufficient, the same had been negated by his use of his US passport in 2009.
In Maquiling, the Supreme Court emphasized that popular vote does not cure the ineligibility of a candidate. Thus, while Arnado won by landslide majority during the 2013 elections, garnering 84% of the total votes cast, the same “cannot override the constitutional and statutory requirements for qualifications and disqualifications.” In Velasco v. Comelec, the Supreme Court pronounced that election victory cannot be used as a magic formula to bypass election eligibility requirements; otherwise, certain provisions of laws pertaining to elections will become toothless, one of which is Section 39 of the Local Government Code of 1991, which specifies the basic positive qualifications of local government officials.
ATTY. EMMANUEL S. TIPON has a Master of Laws degree from Yale Law School and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines. He is co-author of the best-seller “Winning by Knowing Your Election Laws” published by Rex Publishing. He writes columns for Filipino-American newspapers and co-hosts “The Tipon Report,” Honolulu’s most witty and useful radio show. He practices law in Honolulu, Hawaii, focusing on immigration and other federal laws. Tel. 808-225-2645. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.