Senator Grace Poe announced her Philippine presidential candidacy in an American style set-up. Her candidacy is contested because of her citizenship and residence in the country. In a country where a tenth of its citizens lives overseas, is it still right to deny returning expatriates a chance to run the country?

Globalization brought people to work, live, and acquire citizenship in other countries outside one’s homeland. The example of European Union and favorable immigration policies before the 9/11 attacks led to many people, especially from Third World countries, to become dual citizens. Filipinos, colonized by three (or four, if the British occupation of Manila for two years would count) nations in the last five centuries, are most likely to have another citizenship due to the diaspora of workers during the post-World War era that eventually continued to a labor export policy implemented in past five decades. As the current economic and political situation in the Philippines stabilizes, many have returned and tried their luck in country for either work, business, retirement, or even politics. Now, one of these Filipinos is trying to become the president of the country but is challenged due to her being absent in her homeland.

Senator Grace Poe is a neophyte politician and her entry to politics made her overwhelmed by her past. As a foundling adopted by movie stars Susan Roces and the late Fernando Poe Jr, former rival of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she has a relatively low profile life until the death of his father just months after 2004 Philippine general elections. Probably staying away from limelight, her parents let her leave the country and live in the United States. Now, she says she have felt the need to come back to the country to continue what his father supposed to have started and run for the highest position in the country. But it was just the start of a melancholic and, as her rivals say, dramatic journey to politics.

Necropolitics is alive

Poe entered the government as the chairperson of the state censors board due to her association with the opposition that won in the 2010 general elections. As a child of a showbiz couple, it was deemed appropriate for her to start at a entertainment industry-related work. She then ran for a Senate seat under the theme of continuing what his father has started, albeit vaguely expressed. His father did not ever had a position in the government but was “helping the poor” until he died. Her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr., usually played a man of the masses in his films: an underdog guy who discovers people are being harassed by evil people – gangs, thugs, oligarchs, corrupt policemen and officials – and goes against them until justice has been served to the oppressed. He was loved by people through that kind of portrayal and has gained much support when he ran for president. 

Probably due to her lack of experience in the government compared to her rivals, Senator Poe opted to consistently use his father’s image in her political run. She was the surprise topnotcher during the 2013 senatorial elections and many analyst believe that her father’s appeal made her won, considering that many believe that Poe Jr. was cheated on by then President Arroyo. The use of necropolitics was not necessary new as her ally President Aquino rose to popularity shortly after the death of his mother Cory.

An American Filipino politician?

Senator Poe was the darling of everyone when she entered the Senate at 2013. As a neophyte politician, she is perceived to be incorruptible and intelligent compared to veteran politicians. This made her a potential candidate for president. President Aquino himself once invited her to become the administration’s candidate. But her run for presidency opened a can of worms about her past, being both a foundling – somebody who is adopted and have unknown parents – and a former American citizen.

Her presidential candidacy is questioned on two grounds: first, as a foundling, she is not considered to be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; and second, as a former American citizen, she does not meet the ten-year residency requirement for a president. The Philippine electoral commission already disqualified her on both grounds. Legal analysts say that although there are international laws that grants citizenship to foundlings and the Philippine constitution generally adopts international laws, they are technically not valid in the country because they are not yet ratified by the Senate. Consequently, while there is a law that allows expatriates who lost their citizenship due to the grant of another citizenship to regain natural-born citizenship, this does not cover Poe because of her being a foundling. Meanwhile, her residency is questioned by the fact that she officially renounced her US citizenship only in 2010, making her four years short of the required qualification. There are precedents on politicians that were disqualified due to their citizenship. She appealed her disqualification to the Supreme Court, hoping that it will have a similar decision regarding another disqualification case filed in the Senate Electoral Tribunal upholding her qualification as a senator.

When American dream fades

The Philippine Supreme Court just recently allowed Poe to run, leaving to the public to determine if she can legitimately lead the country. To think that an expatriate return to one’s country of birth and govern it is not seen frequently. Already experiencing better living conditions abroad, returning to one’s homeland to help it succeed seems noble. Senator Poe is very well-off in the United States and has probably come back to the Philippines to seek closure, if not justice, if her father won the presidency. Running under a campaign theme of “galing at puso” (merits and heart), her experiences in the First World where meritocracy rules is mixed with a seemingly populist agenda of better welfare for citizens. For a nation that sends its best people abroad, she can be seen as an initial manifestation of the reversal of brain drain which the Philippines suffered for a long time. Her potential ascendancy to the highest position of the country may start of better things to come for the country once called “the sick man of Asia.”

Image source: ABS-CBN News