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Case Digest: Co v. HRET

Co v. HRET

TOPIC: Elements of the State: Citizens: Citizenship: Modes of Acquisition


On May 11, 1987, the congressional election for the second district of Northern Samar was held.

Among the candidates who vied for the position of representative in the second legislative district of Northern Samar are the petitioners, Sixto Balinquit and Antonio Co and the private respondent, Jose Ong, Jr.

Respondent Ong was proclaimed the duly elected representative of the second district of Northern Samar.

The petitioners filed election protests against the private respondent premised on the following grounds:

1) Jose Ong, Jr. is not a natural born citizen of the Philippines; and

2) Jose Ong, Jr. is not a resident of the second district of Northern Samar.

The HRET in its decision dated November 6, 1989, found for the private respondent.

A motion for reconsideration was filed by the petitioners on November 12, 1989. This was, however, denied by the HRET in its resolution dated February 22, 1989.

Hence, these petitions for certiorari.


WON Jose Ong is a natural-born Filipino citizen


The pertinent portions of the Constitution found in Article IV read:

SECTION 1, the following are citizens of the Philippines:

  1. Those who are citizens of the Philippines at the time of the adoption of the Constitution;
  2. Those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines;
  3. Those born before January 17, 1973, of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority; and
  4. Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.

SECTION 2, Natural-born Citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their citizenship. Those who elect Philippine citizenship in accordance with paragraph 3 hereof shall be deemed natural-born citizens.

The Court interprets Section 1, Paragraph 3 above as applying not only to those who elect Philippine citizenship after February 2, 1987 but also to those who, having been born of Filipino mothers, elected citizenship before that date.

The provision in Paragraph 3 was intended to correct an unfair position which discriminates against Filipino women.

The foregoing significantly reveals the intent of the framers. To make the provision prospective from February 3, 1987 is to give a narrow interpretation resulting in an inequitable situation. It must also be retroactive.

It should be noted that in construing the law, the Courts are not always to be hedged in by the literal meaning of its language. The spirit and intendment thereof, must prevail over the letter, especially where adherence to the latter would result in absurdity and injustice. (Casela v. Court of Appeals, 35 SCRA 279 [1970])

A Constitutional provision should be construed so as to give it effective operation and suppress the mischief at which it is aimed, hence, it is the spirit of the provision which should prevail over the letter thereof. (Jarrolt v. Mabberly, 103 U.S. 580)

In the words of the Court in the case of J.M. Tuason v. LTA (31 SCRA 413 [1970]:

To that primordial intent, all else is subordinated. Our Constitution, any constitution is not to be construed narrowly or pedantically for the prescriptions therein contained, to paraphrase Justice Holmes, are not mathematical formulas having their essence in their form but are organic living institutions, the significance of which is vital not formal. . . . (p. 427)

The provision in question was enacted to correct the anomalous situation where one born of a Filipino father and an alien mother was automatically granted the status of a natural-born citizen while one born of a Filipino mother and an alien father would still have to elect Philippine citizenship. If one so elected, he was not, under earlier laws, conferred the status of a natural-born.

Under the 1973 Constitution, those born of Filipino fathers and those born of Filipino mothers with an alien father were placed on equal footing. They were both considered as natural-born citizens.

Hence, the bestowment of the status of “natural-born” cannot be made to depend on the fleeting accident of time or result in two kinds of citizens made up of essentially the same similarly situated members.

It is for this reason that the amendments were enacted, that is, in order to remedy this accidental anomaly, and, therefore, treat equally all those born before the 1973 Constitution and who elected Philippine citizenship either before or after the effectivity of that Constitution.

The Constitutional provision in question is, therefore curative in nature. The enactment was meant to correct the inequitable and absurd situation which then prevailed, and thus, render those acts valid which would have been nil at the time had it not been for the curative provisions. (See Development Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, 96 SCRA 342 [1980])

There is no dispute that the respondent’s mother was a natural born Filipina at the time of her marriage. Crucial to this case is the issue of whether or not the respondent elected or chose to be a Filipino citizen.

Election becomes material because Section 2 of Article IV of the Constitution accords natural born status to children born of Filipino mothers before January 17, 1973, if they elect citizenship upon reaching the age of majority.

To expect the respondent to have formally or in writing elected citizenship when he came of age is to ask for the unnatural and unnecessary. The reason is obvious. He was already a citizen. Not only was his mother a natural born citizen but his father had been naturalized when the respondent was only nine (9) years old. He could not have divined when he came of age that in 1973 and 1987 the Constitution would be amended to require him to have filed a sworn statement in 1969 electing citizenship inspite of his already having been a citizen since 1957. In 1969, election through a sworn statement would have been an unusual and unnecessary procedure for one who had been a citizen since he was nine years old.


Under the Philippine Bill of 1902, inhabitants of the Philippines who were Spanish subjects on the 11th day of April 1899 and then residing in said islands and their children born subsequent thereto were conferred the status of a Filipino citizen.

Was the grandfather of the private respondent a Spanish subject?

Article 17 of the Civil Code of Spain enumerates those who were considered Spanish Subjects, viz:

ARTICLE 17. The following are Spaniards:

  1. Persons born in Spanish territory.
  2. Children born of a Spanish father or mother, even though they were born out of Spain.
  3. Foreigners who may have obtained naturalization papers.
  4. Those without such papers, who may have acquired domicile in any town in the Monarchy. (Emphasis supplied)

The domicile of a natural person is the place of his habitual residence. This domicile, once established is considered to continue and will not be deemed lost until a new one is established. (Article 50, NCC; Article 40, Civil Code of Spain; Zuellig v. Republic, 83 Phil. 768 [1949])



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