I may have committed an indiscretion when I wrote recently that if we need to hold a 2016 presidential election despite the extremely deranged political situation, and somebody named Poe must run for president in that election, we should blithely ignore the ambitious but constitutionally disqualified Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, and consider instead the more stately actress Susan Roces Poe, widow of the late Fernando Poe Jr., who was widely perceived to have been duped in the 2004 presidential election, and surrogate mother to the highly problematical Grace.
I hope Susan Roces Poe will accept my sincerest apologies.
Unlike Grace, whose constitutional disability has long been exposed, Susan Roces Poe has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications for the highest office. She is a natural-born Filipino, which Grace is not; she is more than 40 years of age, a registered voter, able to read and write, and a resident of the country all her life—the Constitution requires a mere ten years residence immediately preceding the election.
Was I being flippant or facetious? By no means. I wanted to save Grace from her own folly, save our politics (such as it is) from Grace, and propose the “right Poe” to compete for the job which eleven years ago might have gone to FPJ, had the election been a little less crooked. Susan Roces Poe bore the tragedy and trauma of that campaign in silence, but she could not help but raise her voice upon her husband’s death a few months after his unbelievable “defeat.”
“You stole the presidency not once but twice,” she thundered at the victor, who, to her credit, bore that volcanic eruption with some poise. Had FPJ’s widow ended in Malacañang, she might have done so much better than Ninoy’s widow, or Ninoy’s and Cory’s orphaned son; but she showed no interest whatsoever in it. She still seems not interested in it.
But in her first public statement on Grace’s beleaguered status, Susan showed the Bard wasn’t kidding when he wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She literally flew off the handle when she talked of Rizalito David’s citizen’s suit before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and the Commission on Elections seeking to unseat Sen. Grace for not being a natural-born Filipino citizen, which is an absolute requirement for anyone running for senator, congressman, president or vice president.
As reported in the Times, Susan excoriated Grace’s unnamed and unidentified critics, apart from petitioner David, for questioning her eligibility to sit in the Senate. “Never ko siyang tinawag na adopted. Never ko iyang tinawag na ampon. Lalong never, never ko siyang tinawag na pulot! (I never called her adopted. I never called her a ward. Most of all, I never called her a foundling.) How dare they use that word!”
The lady is not the “Queen of Philippine movies” for nothing; she can deliver her lines half asleep, even without a written script. Whether her show of anger was real or simulated, she has turned the otherwise dry and boring discussion of a severe constitutional issue into sensational theatre, by resorting to the most familiar form of argumentum ad misericordiam and argumentum ad hominem.
Instead of showing that Grace Poe Llamanzaresis indeed, or at least used to be, a “natural-born Filipino” as claimed, the angry discourse changed the thrust of the conversation into whether or not Grace’s critics, (not mere “detractors,” as the news report wrongly puts it), have any right to call her “adopted,” “ward,” or “foundling.” The approach is skillful but rather low, and threatens to blind those who are easily moved to tears by the most unintelligent sad story.
There has been no name-calling
But, truth to tell, none of the terms complained of is pejorative. And nobody we know, not even petitioner David, has ever referred to Grace in a manner that is derogatory or offensive. Many have accused her of lying under oath, and the official documents prove it; but nobody has ever called her names in the manner Susan Roces says they have. There has been no name-calling at her expense. There is obviously a serious misunderstanding about the meaning of some of the words used.
This could happen even in the best of times and circumstances. In Ramon Magsaysay’s time, there was a brief brouhaha over Sen. Claro M. Recto’s use of the word “motley” to describe RM’s audience. Malacañang took offense and slammed Recto for allegedly suggesting that Magsaysay had spoken to a very small crowd. Recto had to explain that the word “motley” did not mean small, but simply diverse. The same situation appears to have arisen in relation to the word “foundling.” Susan Roces Poe appears to resent the use of the word, even though there is nothing derogatory about it.
Even Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online, has something to say on this. Its entry on Grace carries the following line: “Born in Iloilo but abandoned by her biological mother at birth, she was later adopted by Philippine National Artist Fernando Poe Jr. and his wife Susan Roces.” The term “foundling” is not used, but that’s what it means. It is a legal term.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “foundling” as “a deserted or abandoned infant; a child found without a parent or guardian, its relatives being unknown.” In fact, some lawyers quote the right of “foundlings” in the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to support their view that Grace is a natural-born Filipino.
Under Article 2 of this Convention “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 that territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State.” A boon for foundlings, but not necessarily for Grace. Why? Because this Convention entered into force in 1975, seven years after Grace was born, and until now the Philippines has not acceded to it, contrary to earlier reports that it had. As of 2014, only 63 countries have acceded to the Convention, and the Philippines is not one of them. So it is of no use to Grace.
But what is ultimately harmful to Mrs. Llamanzares is not what other people have said or are saying about her, but rather that what she and her promoters have said and are saying about herself are not borne out by the facts. She and her surrogate mother have openly admitted that her natural parents were unknown; we heard her latest admission on this when she traveled to Jaro, Iloilo in search of any blood relatives. Her surrogate mother said something about it when she told the press that the child’s umbilical cord was still intact when she was found inside the church in Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968.
She said under oath she was born to Mrs. Poe
But in her application for “reacquisition of Philippine citizenship” under Republic Act 9225, popularly known as the Dual Citizenship Law of 2003, Grace Poe Llamanzares said under oath that she was a natural-born Filipino citizen born in Iloilo City on Sept. 3, 1968 to Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, a Filipino citizen, and to Jesusa Sonora Poe, a Filipino citizen.
Presumably, she made the same declaration or it was made for her by a guardian when she first applied for a Philippine passport to allow her to travel and study in the United States. Her official website on the Internet makes the same claim that she is the daughter of the Poe couple, without any reference to her adoption.
The central and core issue here is the Constitution. We cannot trifle with it. Under the Constitution, no person may be elected senator, congressman, president or vice president unless he is, first of all, a natural-born Filipino citizen; and a natural-born citizen is a Filipino from birth who does not have to perform any act to acquire or perfect his citizenship.
The only relevant question here therefore is whether or not the suit against Grace has any constitutional merit, rather than who are behind the citizen-petitioner David. Thus, instead of asking the LP or UNA whether they had provided David the P50,000 filing fee, which he did not have when he first appeared at the SET, they should rather ask the Roxas and Binay camps whether or not they believe Grace Poe Llamanzares is a natural-born Filipino.
The law is clear, and the facts cannot be falsified. Grace was born of unknown parents in 1968 and was therefore stateless. She initially became a Filipino citizen after making a false claim, or allowing somebody else to make a false claim on her behalf, that she is the natural daughter of Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces.
The couple was married on Dec. 25, 1968, three months after Grace’s birth on Sept. 3, 1968. There is no record of Mrs. Susan Roces Poe giving premature birth to a child three months before her marriage.
The serious material misrepresentation gave the young Grace Poe a natural-born Philippine citizenship, which however was void ab initio because based on a false statement. This spurious Philippine citizenship was totally extinguished in 2001 when she became a citizen of the United States. In 2006, she applied for reacquisition of her Philippine citizenship under RA 9225. This law allows “former natural-born Filipino citizens” who had become citizens of a foreign country after the law took effect in 2003 to reacquire their Filipino citizenship by taking a prescribed oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.
Again, by misrepresenting herself as the natural daughter of the Poe couple, which the government failed to verify with concrete evidence, she was able to “reacquire” a spurious Philippine citizenship. Spurious, because as I have pointed out over and over again, under RA 9225 only former natural-born Filipino citizens who had lost their Philippine citizenship to become a foreign national after 2003 may avail themselves of this privilege. Grace became a US citizen in 2001 rather than after 2003.
I find Grace intellectually more attractive than many of her colleagues, and were it not for this serious constitutional question, I might have no difficulty extending to her the same support I had extended to FPJ in 2004. But the Constitution is sacred, and no one who aspires to be President should be allowed to make light of it. Citizenship is so intimately intertwined with sovereignty that even if Mrs. Llamanzares’s citizenship were not in question, the nation could still not rest easy, knowing that if she ran and won, she would be the first Filipino president to gift our nation with a pure-American first family.