#Journeyto30 Citizen Poe
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - March 12, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The atmosphere outside the Supreme Court building in Padre Faura street, Manila was tense. SWAT teams and sharpshooters armed with assault rifles were deployed in the vicinity of the building. A 200-strong anti-riot battalion from the Manila Police District was on standby with their truncheons and shields. A fire truck was also dispatched in case there was a need for water cannons.

It was March 3, 2004 – a highly anticipated day for supporters of two presidential candidates, Fernando Poe Jr. and incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It was the day when the Supreme Court came out with the decision declaring Poe as a natural-born Filipino, in response to petitions for disqualification filed by various parties.

The petitioners, Victorino Fornier, Maria Jeanette Tecson, Felix Desiderio and Antonio Zoilo, contended that Poe wasn’t a natural-born Filipino as he was an illegitimate child of non-Filipino parents. According to them, Poe’s parents weren’t married yet at the time of his birth, making him illegitimate. They also argued that Poe’s mother Bessy Kelly was an American, while his father Fernando Poe Sr. was a Spanish citizen, being the son of a Spanish subject, Lorenzo Pou.

The High Court, in a vote of 8-5, declared Poe as a natural-born Filipino, thus qualified to run for president. The eight justices who voted in favor of Poe were Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Associate Justices Adolf Azcuna, Romeo Callejo Sr., Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Alicia Austria-Martinez, Reynato Puno, Consuelo Yñares-Santiago and Jose Vitug.

Meanwhile, Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Leonardo Quisumbing and Dante Tiñga voted against FPJ.

In coming up with its decision, the High Court sought the advice of four amici curiae or “friends of the court” – retired justice Vicente Mendoza, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former UP College of Law dean Merlin Magallona and UP Law professor Ruben Balane. All four opined that in establishing citizenship, the Constitution did not distinguish between a legitimate or illegitimate child as long as there was proof of filiation.

The High Court’s favorable ruling eliminated the remaining hurdles in Poe’s candidacy. The ruling endeared him more to the masses who were the base of his support, for it portrayed him as a hero triumphant against detractors out to derail his aspirations for the highest seat in the land. The decision pulled up his survey numbers, just as Arroyo’s numbers picked up momentum. It made the 2004 presidential race tighter than ever – a virtual battle between two candidates instead of the declared five. If not for the alleged cheating, Poe would’ve been the fifteenth president of the Republic.

Who would have thought that Poe’s daughter Grace would suffer the same fate? Twelve years later, almost to the exact date, Grace Poe would be vindicated by the High Court in a vote of 9-6 over accusations against her citizenship. While the circumstances are slightly different, with Poe’s foundling status and residency being the bones of contention, the daughter’s fate has a lot in common with that of her father’s. Is this prophetic of an eventual Poe in the Palace or will dark forces conspire again to derail citizen Poe’s dreams of the presidency?

The recent ruling in favor of Grace will definitely bring her survey numbers up and consolidate a lot of support from the Nationalist People’s Coalition as well as other parties. But a lot has changed since 2004; the circumstances that worked for FPJ may no longer work for his daughter. Or may be it can.

It’s definitely still a tight race. Only voters can seal Poe’s fate come the ninth of May.

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