INSTEAD of answering any of the questions that have been raised about her claim to being a “natural-born Filipino,” which is a constitutional requirement for her staying in office, Sen. Grace Poe has gone to Jaro, Iloilo reportedly in search of relatives to vouch for the circumstances of her birth and her “natural-born” status. It was at the historic Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, Parish of the Lady of Candles, where 47 years ago Ms. Poe was reportedly found as a foundling by a woman named Chayong, family name unknown. She had the infant baptized by her name Grace, then turned her over to another woman from Bacolod named Tessie Valencia, who in turn gave her to the Fernando Poe Jr.-Susan Roces couple for adoption.
The whole thing was reportedly witnessed by the celebrated Archbishop of Jaro, Most. Reverend Jaime Sin, who later became the famous Cardinal Archbishop of Manila of the EDSA I fame. Whether the adoption was ever formalized should be a matter of public record. But the infant grew up and got a good education from the best schools as Grace Poe. She added the name Llamanzares when she got married to a Filipino-American, but dropped it from customary usage when she saw that people preferred Poe to Llamanzares.
Going to Jaro was a noble “sentimental journey” on the part of Grace, even though it looked so conjured, and so much like an afterthought. But will it, or should it, change our reading of the Constitution and the facts of her case? Can it possibly support her claim that she is a natural-born Filipino, and therefore qualified to run for President or Vice President in 2016, or to keep her present seat in the Senate?
I seriously doubt it. It cannot possibly help much, except perhaps to squeeze some sympathy from the maudlin and lachrymose crowd. Some hearts would pump much faster, and some tears would come rolling down the cheeks of the masses, depending on how Grace Poe exploits what in showbiz lingo is known as the “paawa effect.” But it will not change one iota of the law or the facts of the case.
What relatives did Grace Poe meet in Jaro? It is a standard joke in our culture that the more successful you are, the more relatives you’ve got. Within that context, Grace Poe was probably swamped with more “relatives” than she was prepared to accept. But since nobody there or anywhere else knew her parents, what would be the basis of calling anyone her “relatives”? Chayong’s relatives probably, or Tessie Valencia’s, yes; but certainly not her own, or her parents’ relatives. Neither Chayong’s nor Valencia’s relatives nor even Chayong or Valencia herself could bring Grace any closer to her father or mother, even if they were still living rather than dead.
So what kind of relatives did she meet? Assuming an elderly Filipino man in his seventies had materialized and presented himself as her own father, and after some DNA tests was conclusively shown to be her own father indeed, that would have provided earth-shaking proof that she was, indeed, a natural-born Filipino. This would be in full accord with the 1935 Constitution, which was in force at the time of her birth, and which provides that Filipino citizens are those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines, and those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship.
It would also be in accord with the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, even though we have not acceded to it, which provides that “any 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 that territory of parents possessing the nationality of the State.”
But of what use is it? Without any evidence of Miss Poe’s natural father as Filipino, she could never claim she was a natural-born Filipino. We are left to assume that she merely adopted her adoptive father’s nationality as her own when she claimed to be a natural-born Filipino. But this has no basis in our Constitution, old or new. Despite this, I was prepared to vault across that barrier and assume that before she acquired her US citizenship she was a natural-born Filipino. This was how I tried to approach it in my two immediately preceding columns on this issue.
But whether she was in fact a “natural-born” Filipino, she threw it away when she became a naturalized American citizen long before the Arroyo government enacted the Dual Citizenship Law. Enacted in 2003, Republic Act 9225 allows Filipinos to retain their citizenship while acquiring a foreign citizenship, simply by taking a prescribed oath of allegiance to the Philippine government. But this law did not yet exist when Grace Poe renounced and abjured absolutely and entirely her allegiance and fidelity to the Philippine government, or to any prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which she had been a subject or citizen prior to her becoming a citizen of the United States.
Her severance of any political bond with the Philippines was absolute, total and complete. Thus when she decided to return after her adoptive father’s death in December 2004, and to reacquire Philippine citizenship, she had to formally renounce her American citizenship, and take an oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. This entailed, among other things, surrendering her US passport, paying certain fees associated with it, and accepting a certificate of loss of American citizenship.
Now, when did all this happen? Grace Poe is the best person to tell us all this, with supporting documentary evidence; but she has not been forthcoming with the exact data, particularly the dates. The limited available data have come to us from other sources, but not enough to give us the complete narrative.
Grace Poe claims to have returned to the Philippines in 2005, after FPJ’s electoral defeat and death. This is contradicted though by an official document she had sworn to saying she came back in 2006. She does not say what passport she used in coming back to the Philippines. There is no evidence that she used a Philippine passport, so many people freely assume that she used a US passport. And this US passport she used again on December 27, 2009, according to reports, four years after she had reestablished herself and her children in the Philippines. Was she still an American citizen then?
In 2010, President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed her as chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. This is a government position open only to Filipino citizens. The presumption, therefore, is that she had renounced her US citizenship then, and had become a Filipino citizen all over again. Did she have to produce a certificate of loss of her US citizenship, or proof that she had surrendered her US passport? Obviously she was not required to, and she did not. So in December 2011, the Washington Passport Agency issued her a new US passport, according to reports.
This means that either she had applied for her old passport to be renewed, or the US agency simply issued the passport, out of sheer efficiency, without her applying for it.If she was no longer a US citizen, she would have had no reason to apply for it; if on the other hand, despite her being no longer a US citizen and not having to apply for it, she still received a US passport, she should have informed the US government that there was a mistake, and she should have returned the travel document. This did not happen. Was this perhaps the first time the US government ever issued a US passport to a non-citizen of the US?
Finally, on May 16, 2014, Miss Poe acquired a Philippine passport, which expires on May 17, 2019. This confirmed her Filipino citizenship. But this was dated one year after she had become a senator, on the wings of Smarmatic’s and Comelec’s famous “60-30-10” electoral operation by means of which she and PNoy’s other senatorial candidates got 60 percent of all the votes counted, while UNA got 30 percent, and the “independents” 10 in all precincts, even in places where she and her friends were not known.
This compels us to ask: Was Grace Poe still holding a US passport when she ran for senator? If so, was this known to Aquino, who sponsored her senatorial run, and to the US government?
Clearly and undeniably, real crimes were committed here. In her certificate of candidacy, she stated under oath that she was a “natural-born Filipino.” But having long lost her “natural-born” status when she renounced her Philippine citizenship to become an American citizen, this was an utterly false statement and she knew it only too well. This was perjury pure and simple, and it was the first crime. Running for senator on the basis of that perjured claim, and occupying the position after she was electronically elected, and receiving all the emoluments attached to the office, despite her not being a “natural-born” Filipino is the more serious crime. But if she ran in 2013 while still holding an American passport, that would be the more unspeakable crime.
I have not wanted to see Grace Poe or any sitting senator accused of any of these crimes. But the facts speak for themselves. Nothing would give me greater peace of mind and personal satisfaction than to be shown to have erred completely and unnecessarily in what I have written. But the truth must be told, regardless of cost or consequence. This is exactly what Grace Poe said when she signed the illegitimate report of the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee recommending the filing of plunder charges against Vice President Binay by the Ombudsman, which was already investigating Binay on the same charges before the sub-committee of bribe-takers started their own investigation.
Sen. Poe must not be allowed to hide behind the myth and mystique of FPJ’s name. She must make a clean breast of it, and tell us everything. She cannot allow any lawyer who is not even in her employ to speak for her. In the spirit of free exchange and fair play, she should answer the questions personally. If she cannot do so, she could and perhaps should authorize her lawyer-chief of staff, who is said to enjoy her absolute personal confidence, to speak on her behalf.
On the part of the aggrieved public, I would encourage some civic-minded citizens to go to the Senate Electoral Tribunal as soon as possible on a quo warranto petition, to question by what right Sen. Poe, who is not a natural-born Filipino, sits in the Upper Chamber. This might cure her of her recent tendency to daydream about getting machine-elected in 2016 for the highest position of irrelevancy in the land.