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Aga Muhlach Gets First Dose of Electoral Challenges

NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur—As long as you are a Filipino citizen, 18 years of age, resident of the Philippines for at least one year and resident of the city or town where you intend to vote for at least six months, and not disqualified by law, you may exercise your right of suffrage in accordance with Commision on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 9149 Sections 5 and 6.

Actor Aga Muhlach officially expressed his interest to enter politics upon filing his Certificate of Candidacy on October 5 to run as representative of the Fourth District of Camarines Sur against the infamous political clan of the Villafuertes in the Partido area. In August, he joined the Liberal Party of President Noynoy Aquino to jumpstart his political career.

But as of late, he has been facing challenges in pursuit of the congressional seat.

First is being barred from the voter’s list. However, Muhlach and wife Charlene Gonzalez have seen no grounds to be barred from filing their voter’s applications at the local office of the Comelec in San Jose, Camarines Sur, especially when they are not disqualified by law to do so in any of the following grounds: (1) final judgment of imprisonment of one year without pardon or amnesty; final judgment to have committed a crime involving disloyalty to a duly constituted government; and (3)  declaration of insanity or incompetence by a competent authority.

Various sources reported that the couple’s eligibility, however, was contested by San Jose Mayor Gil Pacamara, along with 14 other complainants, in April this year asserting before the municipal Election Registration Board (ERB) that the applicants did not meet the six-month residency requirement. Recently, the ERB ruled in favor of the celebrity couple citing substantial compliance with the residency requirement of six months in the place where they intend to vote.

Pursuant to Section 12 of R.A. 8189 whereas there’s a change of residence to another city or municipality, “The application for transfer of registration shall be subject to the requirements of notice and hearing and the approval of the Election Registration Board, in accordance with this Act…”

While the ERB approved the voter’s application of the couple, it looks like the battle is far from being over as the San Jose Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) ruled to strike out the couple from the voter’s list upon failure to meet the residency requirement.

Apparently, the ERB has expressed its approval of the MCTC decision of Judge Ricky Benigno, stating that the former does not object the exclusion of the couple from the list of voters.

Six months prior to the 2013 Elections, the MCTC ruled that the actor, along with his wife, did not fulfill the six-month residency requirement to join the electorates of San Jose, Camarines Sur, thereby ruining his political plan of running for congressional office.

In several news reports, Atty. Romulo Macalintal, the actor’s legal counsel, responded on the affirmative saying that the actor-turned-politician has a house in Camarines Sur and has been going back to the province once in a while to prove his residency. From the looks of it, Muhlach is establishing his newfound domicile of choice where his father allegedly originated.

In Romualdez vs. Regional Trial Court (226 SCRA 408, 409), it is noteworthy that the Supreme Court ruled, “In election cases, the Court treats domicile and residence as synonymous terms, thus: “(t)he term “residence” as used in the election law is synonymous with “domicile”, which imports not only an intention to reside in a fixed place but also personal presence in that place, coupled with conduct indicative of such intention.” “Domicile” denotes a fixed permanent residence to which when absent for business or pleasure, or for like reasons, one intends to return.”

But despite the recent MCTC ruling, Muhlach continues with his campaign in the 4th district of Camarines Sur. His camp has already filed an appeal before the Regional Trial Court to question the MCTC decision.

The political aspirant is facing yet another challenge, but this time with his citizenship. It was last month when he attended a disqualification case questioning his Filipino citizenship before the COMELEC with petitioner, Gil Pacamara, alleging that the actor is a Spanish citizen.

Article VI, Section 6, of the 1987 Constitution clearly states that, “No Person shall be a Member of the House of Representatives unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and, on the day of the election, is at least twenty-five years of age, able to read and write, and, except the party-list representatives, a registered voter in the district in which he shall be elected, and a resident thereof for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding the day of the election.”

As far as Atty. Macalintal is concerned, the actor is a natural-born Filipino citizen who has not acquired any other citizenship.

Reports also surfaced that petitioner’s lawyer, Atty. George Garcia, argued that Muhlach applied for Spanish citizenship sometime in 2011 which, according to the former, is equivalent to renunciation of his Filipino citizenship without applying for repatriation for dual citizenship.

Whether or not applying for Spanish citizenship is tantamount to renunciation of Filipino citizenship, jurisprudence, particularly in Jose Aznar vs. Comelec and Emilio Mario Renner Osmena, suggests that, Filipino citizenship can be lost “by any of the modes provided for under C. A. No. 63.  Among others, these are:  (1) by naturalization in a foreign country; (2) by express renunciation of citizenship; and (3) by subscribing to an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution or laws of a foreign country.”

Perhaps it is timely to revisit the wisdom of the Supreme Court in settling the case of Ernesto Mercado vs. Eduardo Manzano that, the law does not bar those holding dual citizenship from holding elective office but such a prohibition only applies to those with dual allegiance, with the court further noting the exercise of one’s right of suffrage, and more so filing a certificate of candidacy, is an assertion of Filipino citizenship and allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. Further it said, ”…by declaring in his certificate of candidacy that he is a Filipino citizen; that he is not a permanent resident or immigrant of another country; that he will defend and support the Constitution of the Philippines and bear true faith and allegiance thereto and that he does so without mental reservation, private respondent has, as far as the laws of this country are concerned, effectively repudiated his American citizenship and anything which he may have said before as a dual citizen.”

Most importantly, it should be noted that the law requires “express renunciation of citizenship” and definitely not an inference thereof, hence the argument in the abovementioned case saying, “When we consider that the renunciation needed to lose Philippine citizenship must be “express,” it stands to reason that there can be no such loss of Philippine citizenship when there is no renunciation, either “express” or “implied.”

So will Muhlach successfully claim his citizenship before the Comelec? Chances are, the case will go up to the Supreme Court just like the citizenship cases of actor-politicians Edu Manzano and the late Fernando Poe, Jr. If he will enjoy the same fate as that of Manzano and Poe, that is for the court to decide.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Aga Muhlach could be barred from running for Congress if the MCTC decision won’t be reversed and the Comelec will deny his Filipino citizenship.