Sen. Grace Poe has single-handedly united the backers of 2016 presidential candidates Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay as well as the behind-the-scenes supporters of ex-presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They are all moving heaven and earth to have her disqualified as a 2016 presidential candidate on the grounds that she is a foundling and was once a U.S. citizen.
These legal objections to her presidential qualifications were never raised when both Pres. PNoy Aquino and his successor-designate Mar Roxas sought to coax her to accept the VP slot in the Liberal Party ticket, nor were they raised by Jojo Binay when he also courted her to be his Veep.
Lest we forget, in the 2013 senatorial elections when she ran as an independent, Grace Poe was the common candidate of both the administration and the opposition parties.
But after Grace Poe spurned their vice-presidential offers, they now claim that she is not qualified to be president because, they say, she is not “a natural born Filipino” as required by the 1935 Philippine Constitution as she is a “foundling” who was abandoned at birth and left in the holy water font of the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral in Iloilo City on September 3, 1968.
When Pres. Aquino was considering Grace Poe as the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate, former Marcos Propaganda Minister Francisco “Kit” Tatad warned him that to do so was “an open invitation to trouble, big trouble, including a possible uprising against Aquino and the oligarchy” because, he wrote, “Grace Poe is not qualified under the 1987 Constitution to run for President, Vice President, or even for senator or congressman. She is not a natural-born Filipino” (Manila Times, July 12, 2015).
Tatad, the man who was the Joseph Goebbels of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1986, is now apparently a constitutional aw expert. “The Constitution is as clear as the clearest sunlight on this issue, and it needs no interpretation of any kind from anybody,” he declared.
If Filipinos all collectively suffered amnesia, then we would not be outraged by this piece of Tatad bluster: “We, the people, should be prepared to confront Aquino and his cabal should they decide to disrespect and trample upon our Constitution and our laws and the sensibilities of those who want to live by our Constitution and our laws.”
But is the legal issue really as “clear as the clearest sunlight”?
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, the chair of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), said international law provides that every human being has a right to acquire nationality and every State must avoid statelessness. “So”, he said, “a foundling has a right to acquire nationality.” But, he added, unless Grace Poe can prove she was born in the Philippines, she is not a “natural born Filipino” and must be considered a “naturalized” Filipino.
But to be “naturalized” is defined as “the legal act or process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country.” What legal process did Grace Poe go through to become a Philippine citizen? How was she a “non-citizen” at birth?
Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban disagrees and points out that “neither that (1935) Charter nor any statute as of that year expressly conferred citizenship on foundlings” because, he wrote, “the framers of the 1935 Constitution explained that expressly providing citizenship rules for foundlings was unnecessary since that could be determined from international law. Note that under the same Charter (and also under the present one), “the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the Nation….”
Under Article 2 of the 1961 International Convention on Statelessness, “[a] foundling found in the territory of a Contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born within the territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State. Applying that article to Senator Poe, a foundling found in the Philippines is presumed, in the absence of contrary proof, to have Filipino biological parents. Since she was found near a church in Jaro, Iloilo, when she was only a few days old, her parents are presumed to be Filipinos. Therefore, she is a natural-born citizen.
Unless of course Kit Tatad is our local Donald Trump and believes that Grace Poe was born in Kenya or Tonga and was secretly transported to Iloilo City as an infant in order to one day run for president.
But this issue is no laughing matter to Atty. Jay Batongbacal, a Philippine lawyer with a three-year old adopted son. In an online post, he wrote: “To be a foundling is an accident of birth, something that s/he had no control over. Why should such a person be any less entitled to the political privileges of natural-born citizens? How is disqualification for being a foundling any different from disqualification by reason of race or color?”
Speaking as the parent of an adopted son, Atty. Batongbacal fumed, “I cannot stand by idly and say nothing as his legal rights and freedoms, his potential dreams, his very humanity and dignity are cut down and scaled back by bad legal reasoning.”
The other political issue against Grace Poe – which is certain to be amplified in heavy-handed political commercials that will be aired in the May 2016 elections – is that she “renounced” her Philippine citizenship when she applied for and became a naturalized American citizen on October 18, 2001.
A sample of what awaits Grace Poe was dished out by Jojo Binay in a recent campaign sortie in Quezon province where he told his supporters at a rally: “Meron akong kakilalang Grace pero di naturalized citizen. Dito local ang Grace ninyo. ‘Yung isa American Grace.” (“I know a Grace who is not a naturalized citizen. Here your Grace is local. The other is an American Grace.”)
If Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo accepts Roxas’ offer to be his running mate, her job would be proclaim that Grace Poe does not deserve to become president because she “once” renounced her Philippine citizenship. “For somebody seeking the presidency, mahirap naman na at one point in your life you renounced your loyalty to your country,” said Robredo, the widow of the late great Naga City Mayor and DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo.
This sentiment was also expressed by singer-composer Jim Paredes, a Roxas-Robredo supporter, who posted on his Facebook blog: “Poe may be legally Filipino, and may even have the right to run as President. That’s for SC to decide and we should abide. But I do not like a candidate who once renounced being Filipino to become American and then takes it back to run for the highest office in the land,” he wrote.
But the most shared Facebook post on this issue was a column written by the former Press Secretary/Spokesman of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Rigoberto “Bobbi” Tiglao, who wrote “And you want somebody who solemnly renounced — the meaning of “abjure” — the Philippines to be our leader?…We are talking here of somebody who had a Filipino citizenship but who decided in her adult life to be an American citizen, who even probably, I dare speculate, risked being an illegal alien – “TNT” is how they are called by Filipinos in the US – for a time.” (“Citizenship by convenience”, Manila Times, June 4, 2015).
Tiglao speculated: “Was she poor that she just wanted her family to escape poverty from her unwanted country? No. Was she escaping political persecution? No. She comes from a family that was among the Philippines’ rich elite. She studied in the most expensive schools here (high school, Assumption College San Lorenzo) and abroad (Boston College). She had famous and very rich step-parents. Her father was even rumored to be the most powerful Filipino ever, Ferdinand Marcos. Yet, she decided to renounce her being Filipino, and swore allegiance to the US. For what? For the convenience of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue or Tiffany’s or maybe even Walmart, and touring Disneyland and Hollywood anytime she wanted? What does that tell us of her character and deepest values?”
For Tiglao, throwing the kitchen sink at Grace Poe included spreading the malicious rumor that Grace Poe is the daughter of “the most powerful Filipino ever” Ferdinand Marcos. If this is so, then she is not a “foundling” and all that would be needed was the DNA of Bongbong Marcos to match it with Grace Poe. Right, Kit Tatad? But if it were true, what does it say about Grace Poe that she would leave all the wealth and comfort of being a Marcos in the Philippines just to immigrate to the U.S. with her high school sweetheart, Neil Llamanzares, whom she married in 1991?
Why would the adopted daughter of the King and Queen of Philippine Movies, Ferdinand Poe, Jr. and Susan Roces, leave the life of glamour and privilege in the Philippines to live a simple life in the US, giving birth to three children, raising them – reportedly without household help – all while working as a preschool teacher and later as a product manager for a Virginia company specializing in scientific equipment?
According to Lito Banayo, Atty. Katrina Legarda surmised to him that Grace Poe likely just followed the U.S. citizenship of her husband “because that is how a wife should be”.
Millions of Filipinos have immigrated to the U.S. and have become naturalized U.S. citizens, most of them never once believing that they were “renouncing” the land of their birth in doing so. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1979 because I thought that was the only way I could visit the Philippines during martial law. Sorsogon Gov. Juan Frivaldo convinced the Philippine Supreme Court in his 2005 certiorari that he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1983 as “a means of survival against the unrelenting persecution by the Martial Law Dictator’s agents abroad.”
Until the Philippines passed the Dual Citizenship law in 2003, Filipinos who became U.S. citizens automatically forfeited their Philippine citizenship. But the U.S. has never required that one “renounce” his/her former citizenship in order to acquire U.S. citizenship (more than 100 countries recognize dual citizenship). Arnold Schwarzenegger retained his Austrian citizenship even while he served as governor of California.
Filipinos in the U.S. – many of whom are U.S. citizens – actually make up most of the $25 billion a year in “OFW” remittances that prop up the Philippine economy. The tourists who flock to the Philippines, the customers who buy most of the condominiums in Metro Manila, the doctors and nurses who annually trek to the country in medical missions are made up of Filipino Americans who never gave up their deep love for the Motherland despite becoming US citizens and later acquiring dual citizenship.
So the suggestion that becoming a naturalized US citizen means that a Filipino American has turned his/her back and “renounced” the Philippines is highly insulting and totally untrue.
Tiglao’s hit piece against Grace Poe is reminiscent of his Philippine Daily Inquirer column of August 25, 2011 where he wrote that “the real fraud in the 2004 elections was the attempt itself of a celebrity, FPJ, to be president.” So it was FPJ, not GMA, who committed the fraud.
Columnist Raissa Robles responded that “Tiglao justified the massive cheating instigated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her cohorts that apparently included Rigoberto Tiglao. It wasn’t cheating, Rigoberto Tiglao said, because it was meant to combat “the real fraud” – the fielding of “Ang Panday” action movie hero Fernando Poe Jr. as the presidential candidate by the political opposition. This, says Rigoberto Tiglao, was the real “conspiracy to cheat democracy.”
As Robles wrote: “a closed-in circle around Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo felt justified in 2004 to cheat Fernando Poe Jr. at any cost because by running for President, Fernando Poe Jr. was committing a fraudulent act against democracy. Democracy had to be saved even if in the process, it was warped beyond imagination. Democracy had to be saved from the ignorant masses. Rigoberto Tiglao, you should be ashamed of yourself. You think you’re still a journalist but you’re not. You’re just a hack.”
I personally do not know Grace Poe, never met her, so I do not know her personal reason for becoming a US citizen. To me, however, the test of her patriotism is not what she did in 2001 but what she did after she decided to return to the Philippines and to reacquire her Philippine citizenship after the death of her father in 2004.
I am also impressed that when she announced her candidacy for president on September 16, 2015, she pledged to strengthen the country’s ill-equipped coast guard and military to be able to defend our territories in the South China Sea. “The West Philippine Sea is ours,” she said, “we must protect it and not let it slip from our grasp by exhausting all peaceful and legal means.”
Grace Poe is the only Philippine presidential candidate to stand up for Philippine sovereignty and to be willing to risk alienating the powerful Chinoy taipans who finance political campaigns in the Philippines. That counts for something.