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A matter of loyalty

/ 12:38 AM November 20, 2015

No one can blame Sen. Grace Poe for heaving a huge sigh of relief—indeed, she looked and sounded near tears when asked to say something about the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s favorable ruling on the disqualification case against her.

But telling is the composition of those SET members who voted for or against the petition to unseat the first-term senator and declared presidential candidate.

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The three Supreme Court justices in the SET—Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Arturo Brion and Antonio Carpio, who chairs it—voted against Poe. As did Sen. Nancy Binay, whose father, Vice President Jojo Binay, is likewise running for president.

While it is easy to ascribe political, if not personal, motives for Senator Binay’s vote, the opinion of the three justices is much more weighty and cannot be dismissed lightly. One must suppose that the three justices know far more about laws—especially the one on the determination of a person’s citizenship—than do the senator-members of the SET.

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But the five senators who voted in favor of Poe explained that they precisely based their opinion on their reading of the law. The favorable vote of Sen. Bam Aquino was quite unexpected, for instance, for not only is he a member of the ruling Liberal Party, which is fielding Mar Roxas for president, he is also a cousin of P-Noy and thus expected to favor the candidate endorsed by the President. That certainly is not Poe.

Senator Aquino explained that he was not thinking solely of Poe while rejecting the petition to disqualify her based on her being a foundling, or an orphan of unknown parentage.

“What we thought about was what would be the implication for the thousands of abandoned children in the country,” Senator Aquino said. Indeed, the impact of an adverse decision had previously been cited by Poe: She asserted that her battle at the SET was not being fought solely for herself but for all other foundlings as well.

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As Senator Aquino put it: “If we considered foundlings naturalized, the rights and privileges that could have been given to foundlings if they were considered natural-born would be gone.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano, a lawyer, is said to have been the “swing vote” among the five senators voting in favor of Poe. She is the sponsor of a bill clarifying the rights, privileges and citizenship status of foundlings and orphans, herself being the adoptive mother of her youngest and only son.

I look forward to hearing the explanations of the three justices on their adverse ruling, and on their contributions to the efforts to further clarify our laws on citizenship, especially as these apply to the most vulnerable and innocent.

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My own reservations about Poe’s citizenship qualifications rest not on the circumstances of her birth, but on her decision some years back to adopt American citizenship based on her marriage to an American citizen, and then to renounce that same citizenship to return to being Filipino.

Many arguments—for and against—have been raised regarding this issue, but most legal scholars seem to focus on the timing of the switch in citizenship and if it complies with the requirements of law.

My own take on this is that it’s not so much a matter of timing as of motivation, and of commitment to one’s land of birth and people. Is citizenship such a minor issue to trifle with? And should shifting loyalties be rewarded with the presidency?

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Among the Apec member-economies, the Philippines is the top performer—in terms of bridging the gender gap, that is.

The World Economic Forum in its latest report placed the Philippines seventh among the 145 economies it had assessed. This is two rungs above the Philippines’ previous performance in 2014, with the countries’ performance in bridging the gender gap assessed according to four indicators: health and survival, educational attainment, economic participation and political empowerment.

Ironically, while educational opportunities for girls have always been a strong point for the Philippines, its ranking slid down quite a bit last year due to a “huge drop” in the enrollment of girls in primary education. Historically, boys have usually fared worse in terms of accessing education, with more boys dropping out of school sooner to help out with their family’s income. Also, families usually prefer to educate their daughters whom parents deem to be better “investments,” since they not only stay in school but also are more willing to help their families after graduation and even after they get married and have families of their own.

The falling number of girls in primary school thus bears more investigating, especially in looking at the factors to explain what has been keeping parents from educating their daughters.

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I can only hope that Filipino girls can see a role model in Aisa Mijeno, an engineer and campaigner for Greenpeace and now a new “rock star,” for her performance in a panel with no less than Alibaba founder Jack Ma and US President Barack Obama.

Mijeno sat in on a panel “moderated” by Obama and centering on climate change and private-sector participation. She is credited with conceiving of a saltwater-powered lamp that can be used by poor communities and now marketed by the firm SALT (for Sustainable Alternative Lighting), of which she is CEO.

In the session, Obama praised Mijeno as an “innovator,” a young person who, armed with an inventive mind and spirit and inspired by poor tribes people she met in the hinterlands, decided to come up with a product that could change their lives without need of huge capital or access to resources like kerosene.

Pluck and determination are just as valuable resources in the continuing effort to pursue gender balance in the world, and environmental justice on our planet.

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TAGS: Aisa Mijeno, Apec 2015, Barack Obama, disqualification, Elections 2016, gender gap, Grace Poe, Jack Ma, Senate Electoral Tribunal
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