Philippine senator and 2016 Presidential aspirant Grace Poe who was once very popular among Filipino voters is now becoming another polarizing figure after the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Second Division cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy for the presidency. Their decision is based on grounds that she is not a natural-born citizen and has not met the minimum 10-year Philippine residency required to run for President. Apparently, her claim that she has resided in the Philippines for at least 10 years contradicts what she wrote in her COC for senator in 2013 – that she had been a resident of the Philippines for 6 years and 6 months only. In light of that, the COMELEC decided that Poe has committed material misrepresentation. The implication of that is, she could even be disqualified as a senator.
Poe has only one option left to pursue and that is, to go to the Supreme Court and appeal for a reversal of the COMELEC’s decision using the “honest mistake” excuse in filing her COC in 2013. Her chance of succeeding is not looking good though. Some of the Supreme Court judges who were also members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) already ruled against her citizenship status earlier. They are unlikely to rule in her favor on her appeal. Most of the judges cited the law in their decision and it would be safe to assume that the rest of the Supreme Court judges would follow the law as well.
It is very unfortunate for Poe that the law is clear on the citizenship status of foundlings. According to the law, since she cannot trace her parents and cannot prove her Filipino lineage, she is not a natural born Filipino but a naturalized Filipino citizen. Only natural born Filipinos can run for the Presidency.
Dealing with her foundling issue is one thing but what makes things complicated is the fact that Poe also renounced her Philippine citizenship after she took up her American citizenship in 2001. That is the issue that gets some people’s goat. There are people who think she is a traitor for doing that. Some have gone on to say that she was a traitor twice. The first time was when she turned her back on the Philippines and the second time was when she turned her back on her adoptive country, the United States of America when she renounced her American citizenship in 2010. They think that she did not take her oaths of citizenship seriously. And that was before she took another oath as Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chair.
I disagree with people who say that Poe is a traitor. Based on her own accounts, I would say that she was simply confused and could have been suffering from an identity crisis at the time. It seems she tried living abroad but after a few years, decided that she preferred to live in the Philippines. Some might find her decision baffling considering there are millions of Filipinos who would rather be living in the U.S. than the god-forsaken country that is the Philippines.
But Poe is one of those fortunate members of the Philippine elite who has powerful connections and is offered powerful jobs in government. Life was peachy for Poe until she became a threat to other Presidential aspirants like Mar Roxas. It is a shame she had to learn the hard way how ugly Philippine politics is. She found out the real character of her “allies” just by running for the Presidency. Perhaps those who despise her should blame President Benigno Simeon Aquino for paving the way for her to enter Philippine politics despite her questionable citizenship status back in 2010.
While I may not be a Poe supporter, I don’t think her citizenship status is a big deal. I prefer to focus on whether or not she is capable of leading 100 million Filipinos. Is she that good that Filipinos are being denied an opportunity to be led by someone who can make a big difference to the country? Is it really worth disregarding the law just to accommodate Poe? My answer to both questions is no. She hasn’t even finished her first term as a senator and in the less than three years she has been in the senate, she has not made a difference at all.
Poe quite often exhibited lack of resolve in a lot of issues in the past. An example of this was when she did not pursue holding BS Aquino accountable for the deaths of 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force in the hands of Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front back in early 2015. That was after a senate report, which she commissioned, found that the President knew about the operation and ordered the military to stand down instead of helping the embattled forces.
Poe was also slow to act on problems involving the public transport system particularly the MRT. She could have spoken out against failure to improve the trains system earlier on considering she was seen riding the MRT way back in 2014. One can be forgiven for thinking that that was just for photo op and that she only started criticizing the head of the Department of Transportation and Communication Jun Abaya late in 2015 just to appeal to the angry voters.
I also question Poe’s sincerity. Like I said before, her use of her maiden name Poe instead of her married name Llamanzares says a lot. One, she is relying on the popularity of her late father, who was a revered actor, to win the votes and, therefore, she ranks right up there with most traditional politicians like her friend BS Aquino. Less than a decade in politics and it seems like Poe’s already been swallowed up by the system. Two, using her father’s popular name means she cannot stand on her own. That’s not a good sign. She is willing to live under the shadow of a man whose only real credential was being a successful actor in the Philippines. That in itself says something about the low bar the voters set for their leaders.
But never mind what I think of Poe. The point here is, Poe’s case is dividing the sentiments of the Filipino people. Even if she wins her case in the Supreme Court, the die has been cast. There are already Filipinos who do not believe they should be led by an American citizen or someone who is married to an American citizen. Their sentiments about patriotism may be misguided but the fact remains, their belief is strong and if Poe wins the election — if she is allowed to run — these people will not support her Presidency. One can predict another tumultuous six years under a leader who will not have a strong mandate.
One wonders if all of Poe’s legal woes would not have surfaced had she agreed to run as Mar Roxas’s Vice President instead. After all, the Liberal Party at the start turned a blind eye to the fact that she was a foundling and that she did not meet the 10-year minimum residency requirement. Malacanang’s excuse that they were not aware of her problems is lame. BS Aquino should actually share the blame for Poe’s legal problems. He was the one who handpicked her for the MTRCB. Her case is another example of the Philippines’ debilitating patronage politics.
The situation with Poe has the potential to get even uglier for Filipinos. If the COMELEC allows Poe’s name on the ballot and wins the election due to her popularity, then her term could be spent responding to disqualification cases filed by her rivals. How then can she accomplish anything significant for the country? A Poe Presidency could be another wasted six-years.
If Poe really wants what is best for the Philippines, she should considering backing out of the Presidential race for the sake of unity. It will help remove some of the inconsequential issues the Filipino people have to deal with.