Grace Poe’s damaged identity
One doesn’t have to be a renowned student of law to understand the heart of the matter: Sen. Grace Poe should never have aimed for the highest position of the land because of the ambiguity of her parentage and the conflicting, dual nature of her loyalty and allegiance. Her serious lack of experience in governance is secondary to those fundamental issues.
Should Poe win the presidency, even if she doesn’t measure up to the basic legal and constitutional requirements of the job, our country would have a bizarre situation where its top leader is a person of dubious character. What we will have in Poe is a person who once voluntarily and freely renounced her Philippine citizenship in favour of the economic advantage of American citizenship and “regained” her full natural Filipino citizenship after officially renouncing her American citizenship, in order to aspire for the Philippine presidency. It’s an acrobatic act of allegiance and opportunism unheard of in Philippine history.
Can such a president be trusted to wisely and patriotically lead an unruly, divided nation that aspires to be a just and prosperous society in a world of economic turbulence and dangerous geopolitical and security concerns? More to the point: Since it is an axiom of international relations and governance that “there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies,” will a President Poe be able to dispel her divided loyalty in the event of a major crisis in relations between the Philippines and its long-time ally, the United States? Keep in mind that her husband and three children are all American citizens.
That’s why such an absurd situation should not be allowed to develop. We must guard against influential voices who peddle the devious, shallow rationale that the contentious issues surrounding Poe should be left to the judgment of the “sovereign will of the people” in the coming presidential election. Those apologists of Poe conveniently forget that the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions that defined the qualifications of presidential aspirants were also the handiwork of the Filipino people, through their duly chosen representatives. And they were done decisively, not in the emotionally-charged, circus character of our national elections, but in a much more impassioned, deliberative and exhaustive manner involving the best and brightest minds of the nation.
If we are to bypass our present Constitution in favor of direct democracy in the resolution of contentious electoral and citizenship issues, we might as well amend it, abolish our electoral bodies, and downgrade the Supreme Court. Henceforth, let’s just refer such matters directly to the electorate. In the Philippine context, we all know what that means because our elections are not known for their intelligent articulation and serious deliberation of policies, platforms and issues. Rather, they often mirror the worst features of our political system, such as a rowdy fiesta atmosphere of mass entertainment, personality-centered parties, bossism, vote-buying, guns, goons and gold—hardly an ideal environment for the exercise of sound judgment.
Letting our immature, padrino-dependent electorate decide the fate of an unqualified but charming presidential candidate such as Poe, with her legacy of an immensely popular, legendary matinee idol of a foster father in Fernando Poe Jr., would be a shameful judicial cop-out.
In a wider, more complex historical perspective, Poe’s damaged identity is a telling reflection of our people’s own severely damaged culture, a by-product of centuries of colonial subjugation. True, many other peoples have been victims of protracted Western colonialism, but the Philippine experience is unique because unlike other colonizers, such as Portugal, the Netherlands and England, that were primarily concerned with economic plunder and thus were exclusivist in their socio-cultural intent, the United States, which ruled the Philippines for 45 years, was a radically different type of imperialist. After defeating Filipino revolutionaries in a brutal war lasting several years, in what may be called the first Vietnam, America, the reluctant imperialist, undertook to transform the Filipinos into its image through the English language, universal education (or what Renato Constantino succinctly called “mis-education”), American movies, American literature, American cuisine, advertisements and other instruments of cultural domination. Whether America patronizingly considered Filipinos its “little brown brothers” or “the white man’s burden,” such colonial rule, even with its pernicious economic side, was unparalleled in history.
Although one can argue that it’s a love-hate relationship, I think it’s obvious that most Filipinos are enamored of America and its values: Our political and economic system, laws, educational content and moral-philosophical outlook are inspired by or imitate America’s; more than four million Filipinos reside in the United States; and, instructively, the Philippines officially recognizes dual Philippine-American citizenship. If Washington opened a fast lane in its immigration gates next week for Filipinos, I have no doubt more than half of our population would grab the offer.
Considering all these factors, Poe’s damaged identity is not so bizarre, after all. And that explains why she cannot be aptly termed a “Manchurian candidate” by some people who oppose her fitness for the presidency because she is not at all secretive about her dual identity. In fact, she even flaunts it.
Narciso Reyes Jr. ([email protected]) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.
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