PERRY DIAZ PERRYSCOPE COLUMN — Grace Poe’s Questionable Birth Stirs Controversy

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Abandoned by her biological mother at birth, Grace Poe was adopted by movie stars Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces.  And soon after, speculations began to circulate and baby Grace took center stage in the nasty gossip circuit.  Rumor has it that her father was the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and her mother was the former actress Rosemarie Sonora – Susan Roces’ sister.  Manila’s high society was agog.  But just like any other rumor, it eventually died down and Grace Poe grew up quietly. 

Grace studied at the University of the Philippines where she majored in Development Studies.  Then she went to study at the Boston College in the U.S. where she graduated with a political science degree, got married to a Filipino-American, was naturalized as an American citizen, taught at a Montessori day care center, raised her kids just like all moms, settled down, and led a quiet life in an American city, oblivious of what was going on in her country of birth. 

Then her adoptive father Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) decided to run for President and Grace came home to help in his father’s campaign.  But her dad lost the election amid rumors of massive election cheating.  She went back home to the quietude of life in good old U.S.A.    

But fate might have changed all that.  On December 11, 2004, just a few months after he lost the election, FPJ suffered from a stroke and slipped into coma.  He died on December 14 at the age of 65.  

Grace decided to return to the Philippines where she became involved in politics.  In 2010, she renounced her U.S. citizenship.  That same year, President Benigno Aquino III appointed her Chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). 

In 2013, she decided to run for a Senate seat under President Aquino’s Team PNoy coalition.  Then the unexpected happened.  Not only did she win a seat, she received more votes than any of the other candidates. 

No sooner had she taken her Senate seat than people started pushing her to run for president.  She started topping the popularity surveys, overtaking Jejomar Binay who had been in “campaign mode” ever since he was elected Vice President in 2010.   Knowing Grace’s potential, President Aquino tried so hard to convince her to run as Mar Roxas’ vice presidential running mate.  She resisted the offer. 

Destiny

But she must have felt destiny’s mysterious presence around her, prodding her to run. On September 16, 2015, she declared her candidacy for the 2016 presidential election.  And as expected, she picked Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero to be her running mate.

But as soon as she had teamed up with Chiz, fireworks started to flare.   A lot of people question – and disdain – Chiz’s personal, moral, ethical, and political predilections.  His choice of mega-rich business moguls as “padrinos” to his marriage to actress Heart Evangelista was perceived as an opportunistic attempt to line up potential contributors to his future run for higher political office; which many believe could pressure him to practice corruption to pay back his donors.  And since he is Grace’s mentor and advisor, he’d be in a position to influence her decision-making as well.  And because of her lack of experience, some people wonder – and fear – that Chiz might have a Rasputin-like hold on her.  

Natural-born Filipino

However, notwithstanding Grace’s perceived reliance on Chiz, a lot of people question her lack of experience.  And this is where questions about her biological provenance come to play, which begs the question:  Is Grace a “natural-born Filipino” as required by the Constitution for a person running for President?  And this was the gist of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s opinion that there was no proof that one of Grace’s biological parents was Filipino. 

Justice Carpio gave his opinion during the oral arguments on a petition filed with the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) by Rizalito David, whom Grace defeated in the 2013 senatorial elections, claiming that Grace should be disqualified from the Senate for “failing to meet the requirement under Section 3, Article VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution that requires a candidate to be a natural-born citizen.”   At issue was Grace’s status as a “foundling” and as such was not a natural-born Filipino unless she could produce evidence to the contrary.   During interpellation, Carpio said that customary international law [on foundlings] could be followed so long as it does not violate provisions of the Constitution.  However, he said, ““We do not follow international customary law because our Constitution has primacy. Although under international law, we have a commitment to conform to customary international law by amending the Constitution.”   

Carpio explained that if there is a customary international law saying foundlings can be deemed citizens of the country where they were found, we apply that under the principle of incorporation. It is deemed as municipal law. However, he added: “But you are still a naturalized citizen, not natural born. Because if customary international law says a foundling is natural born, it will violate our Constitution and we cannot apply it here.”  Carpio was pertaining to the “Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” which states that all human beings, including foundlings, have a right to nationality, and the UN Convention relating to the status of Stateless Persons.  But he gave Grace some leeway when he said, “If tomorrow you [Grace] happen to find out by DNA matching that your parent is Filipino, you can still prove that you are natural-born.”  Grace’s lawyer, Manuelito Luna, told the SET that Grace is undergoing DNA tests to prove her Filipino lineage. 

But it is not clear whose DNA would Grace match hers with.  One possibility is actress Sheryl Cruz who is a biological daughter of former actress Rosemarie Sonora.  But Cruz didn’t want to take DNA testing, saying that people can have all these rumors of what they think happened between her mother and Marcos but she knew it wasn’t true. “I am not willing to undergo a DNA test. Please spare my family from this; they are so affected by it,” Cruz said during a media interview.  “I don’t want it to appear that my mom had an affair with another man not my dad [former actor Ricky Belmonte].”  Then she added, “It’s a bit abrupt for her to run in 2016, and popularity cannot be translated into capability.  She’ll make a fine president come 2022.”     

Unanswered questions

At this point in time, there are many questions left unanswered due the complexity of the case, including the legality of Grace’s adoption papers.  David’s camp claims that her adoption papers are null and void because it was granted by the Municipal Court of San Juan and not by a Regional Trial Court as required by law.  David’s lawyer also claims that Grace’s Certificate of Live Birth dated May 4, 2006 bears “glaringly false entries,” such as: Jesusa Sonora Poe [Susan Roces] is Grace’s biological mother and Ronald Allan Kelley Poe [Fernando Poe Jr.] is her biological father.  

With the filing of candidacies coming up soon – October 12 to 16, 2015 – could the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declare Grace’s candidacy as “provisional” pending SET’s ruling?   And what if the case were elevated to the Supreme Court and the high court failed to rule in favor of Grace prior to Election Day on May 9, 2016?  Would an adverse high court decision nullify the votes for Grace if her name remained on the ballot?

With Grace’s questionable birth stirring controversy, one wonders if it would be prudent for Grace to withdraw her candidacy and finish her senatorial term while she mends all the legal issues on her citizenship?  And as her stepsister had said, “She’ll make a fine president come 2022.”  Is it worth the wait?

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