We previously discussed that Filipinos who lost their citizenship through naturalization in a foreign country may now re-acquire their Philippine citizenship, and thereafter exercise civil and political rights, including the right to vote. This is provided in Republic Act No. 9225 (the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003). On the other hand, with respect to the right of suffrage or to vote, the Constitution provides that it may only be exercised by Filipino citizens who, among others, shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year.
May dual citizens vote even without the one-year residency requirement provided in the Constitution? Yes, according to the Supreme Court in the case of Nicolas-Lewis vs. COMELEC (G.R. No. 162759, 4 August 2006).
The persons who filed the petition are successful applicants for recognition of Philippine citizenship under RA 9225, referring to themselves as “duals” or dual citizens. Long before the 2004 elections, they sought registration and certification as “overseas absentee voter” under R.A. 9189 (the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003). Unfortunately, they were told that they cannot yet vote in the 2004 elections because they lack the one-year residency requirement.
Section 1 of Article V of the Constitution prescribes residency requirement as a general eligibility factor for the right to vote.
SECTION 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election. xxx.
However, Section 2 of Article V authorizes Congress to devise a system wherein an absentee may vote, implying that a non-resident may, as an exception to the residency prescription in the preceding section, be allowed to vote. Section 2 reads:
SEC 2. The Congress shall provide a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.
In other words, Congress may provide for such an exception, and it did when it enacted R.A. 9189 – the OAVL (Oversees Absentee Voting Law) – identifying who can vote under it (Section 4) and who cannot (Section 5).
According to the Supreme Court, there is no provision in the dual citizenship law (RA 9225) requiring “duals” to actually establish residence and physically stay in the Philippines first before they can exercise their right to vote. On the contrary, R.A. 9225, in implicit acknowledgment that “cedulas” are most likely non-residents, grants under its Section 5(1) the same right of suffrage as that granted an absentee voter under R.A. 9189. It cannot be overemphasized that R.A. 9189 aims, in essence, to enfranchise as much as possible all overseas Filipinos who, save for the residency requirements exacted of an ordinary voter under ordinary conditions, are qualified to vote.The Supreme Court also noted that the expanded thrust of R.A. 9189 extends also to what might be tag as the next generation of “duals”. This may be deduced from the inclusion of the provision on derivative citizenship in R.A. 9225 which reads:
SEC. 4. Derivative Citizenship. – The unmarried child, whether legitimate, illegitimate or adopted, below eighteen (18) years of age, of those who re-acquire Philippine citizenship upon effectivity of this Act shall be deemed citizens of the Philippines.
If the next generation of “duals” – who may not have set foot in the Philippines – may nonetheless avail themselves the right to enjoy full civil and political rights, then there is no reason why the present day “duals” be denied the right of suffrage as an overseas absentee voter.