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At Large

Orphans and presidents

/ 01:31 AM September 29, 2015

ON OUR first stop in China (discounting the stopover in Hong Kong), at the China Hotel in Guangzhao, we spotted a number of Caucasian couples with Chinese-looking children. They were ubiquitous because, among other things, many of the children were disabled and had to be carried from place to place or else needed walkers or strollers.

When we went on an evening cruise of the Pearl River, we found many more such family groups, with one little girl loudly protesting that she wanted to be carried, arguing with her obviously exhausted adoptive mother.

We finally found some answers on our group’s final day in Guangzhou, when we met a Filipino woman married to an American. She was on a visit to China to arrange the adoption of their second daughter. She and her husband were part of a group visit of potential adoptive parents and this was their second visit. She showed off their older daughter, a lively tyke about seven years old who showed off her gymnastic skills by tumbling about the lobby of the hotel.

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Their new daughter was being carried by her father, a very tall American who shyly acknowledged our greetings. They were from Oregon, our new friend revealed, and it was her husband who finally convinced her to give “China adoption” a try.

“I would have wanted to adopt a Filipino orphan,” she said. But they found the government’s requirements rather onerous, foremost of which was the residency requirement that would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for busy couples to commit to.

Even in China, she said, the orphanages make available for adoption mostly little girls, since son preference is pretty strong among Chinese families. “The only boys who are available for adoption are those with disabilities,” the Filipino mother revealed, which explains the number of wheelchairs, walkers and strollers we saw.

As their group slowly made their way to their tour bus, we could only wish the best for them in their new life. More so for the children, who had found new families from far away and who now faced a world of possibilities that the circumstances of their birth had previously proscribed.

* * *

WHICH brings us to the story of another adopted child, Sen. Grace Poe, who announced her candidacy for president while we were in China.

The senator has not made any secret of the story of her birth and adoption, and in fact shortly after our arrival, I caught a TV ad that is unique in the annals of Philippine electoral campaigns. Instead of touting the accomplishments and credentials of a candidate, the ad asks what it would take to serve the country, focusing on a baptismal font, beside which stands a young girl, volunteering herself, saying, “I could be the one.” Only then do we see a photo of the candidate as she is today.

Indeed, does the experience of being orphaned and then taken in for adoption confer on the adoptee a special qualification for a life of service? The jury is still out on this one, but the ad certainly attempts to discount the pejorative attitudes attached to adoption, with implications that one’s circumstances of birth should have no bearing on one’s capacity for public office.

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Still, to be objective about it, there is still little proof of Senator Poe’s abilities or statesmanship, aside from her public persona as someone with a good head on her shoulders who served creditably as chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, and in the last three years as a senator of the realm. Her biodata is rather thin, and so far her public statements, including her ill-thought support for the Iglesia ni Cristo protest action, have been underwhelming.

* * *

FOR many, of greater import than her being a foundling is her renunciation of her Filipino citizenship when she moved to the United States shortly after her marriage, and her adoption of American citizenship. Then, upon her return to the country on the death of her father, she renounced her American citizenship and opted to “rejoin” her nation of birth, although it seems her husband and three children remain Americans.

This brings up the rather uncomfortable possibility of having a family of foreigners, even if American, living in Malacañang.

There is nothing wrong for a Filipino to take up American citizenship or any other nationality, for any number of plausible and maybe even necessary reasons. But should a former alien, who once vowed loyalty to a foreign constitution, still invoke the right to run for the highest office of the land?

It’s up to the lawyers, including our redoubtable columnist former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, to settle with finality the question of Senator Poe’s citizenship. But with 100 million or so of us so-called full-blooded and fully legitimate Filipinos, why should we settle for someone with a checkered history of loyalty to the country to lead us for the next six years?

I can’t help but think of the Chinese toddlers I saw walking hand-in-hand with their new parents as they made their way to the airport and to their new countries and their new lives. For their own good, I can only wish they will find their niches in these new lands, and find eventual acceptance and belonging.

But what if one of these children should decide decades from now to return to China and reassert his or her Chinese citizenship? From what I know about the Chinese’s fierce sense of identity and patriotism, I doubt very much if the presidency would even be a distant possibility for this returnee. Unless the story Grace Poe embarks on establishes a precedent for orphans and foundlings the world over.

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TAGS: adopt, Citizenship, foundling, Grace Poe, opinion, orphan
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