Born this way

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - February 2, 2016 - 9:00am

She’s lost 15 pounds and is in danger of losing some of her relatives. Aspiring for the nation’s highest post has taken a visible toll on Sen. Grace Poe, although she has not lost the equanimity that has earned her the moniker “Amazing Grace” from admirers.

Her time as a pre-school teacher probably helped train her to deal with stress, she said. While living in the United States, she wanted to be with her son at his Montessori pre-school in Virginia, so she agreed to teach science and math to his schoolmates, even if she was weak in the two subjects.

“I sleep well at night,” Senator Grace told STAR editorial staff and columnists during a visit to our office the other day.

She explained that this is because she is not burdened by “major political betrayals” and the issue raised against her presidential bid is not corruption but “the circumstance of my birth.”

Her upbringing by her mom, Philippine cinema’s Susan Roces, and support from her husband and children also give her strength, Poe said.

The circumstance of her birth may yet disqualify her not only from the presidency but also from her Senate seat.

“I remain optimistic,” she told us. “I feel that we have a good chance.”

* * *

Poe’s candidacy has driven a wedge between her and at least one cousin, Sheryl Cruz, daughter of Susan’s sister Rosemarie Sonora.

As the nation now knows, Rosemarie is rumored to be Senator Grace’s biological mother from a dalliance with dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Ironically, if the rumors were true, it would leave no doubt that Poe is a natural-born Filipino who is fit to seek the nation’s highest office.

So we asked Poe, why not put the rumors to rest once and for all and accept an offer (even if given in jest) from Marcos’ only son and namesake, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, to undergo DNA testing? Or why not subject her mother, who will have Rosemarie’s genes, to a DNA test?

On Marcos undergoing a test, Poe initially told us, “I don’t think there’s a reason for it… I don’t think (Rosemarie) is my mother.”

But when pressed about it, she said, “Baka nga gawin ko… siguro after May… (I might just do it… perhaps after May…) we’ll see.”

Poe pointed out that she was born in 1968, during which there is no record of Rosemarie getting pregnant. The rumor in show biz circles and the Marcos camp is that the actress was sent abroad to give birth when the pregnancy could no longer be hidden. The Poe camp says she was found in a church in Jaro, Iloilo and her citizenship is covered by international rules on foundlings.

Poe says Sheryl “is furious about it… I apologize to her for unintentionally dragging them into it.”

Another criticism of Poe’s candidacy also drives close to home: how can a Philippine president have a US citizen for a husband and children with dual citizenship? How much is a candidate and those closest to her willing to give up for the Philippines?

Poe describes her children as “natural-born Filipinos.” Her son was born in the US. Her two daughters were born in the Philippines but took their father’s US citizenship, although they can choose their country of citizenship upon reaching legal age.

“I’m giving my children the right to choose,” Poe told us. “I think it’s unfair to make them choose at this time just for politics.”

Poe admits that her children, particularly the youngest who is just 11, had initial misgivings about her presidential bid, but they have since become more supportive.

* * *

The questions on her citizenship and residency have overshadowed Poe’s campaign platform, which is the most similar to that of daang matuwid, without the baggage of the Metro Rail Transit mess, the Disbursement Acceleration Program and Mamasapano.

During our two-hour meeting, Poe outlined solid plans for what she intended to do in case fate delivered her to Malacañang, from poverty alleviation to untangling traffic to improving infrastructure and dealing with China and the peace process.

She is not yet ready to name all her key supporters and advisers, although when in doubt, she said, she consults her mother: “I attribute to her – (to) my parents – who I am today. May pulso ang nanay ko. She has the pulse.”

Will she be beholden to any particular campaign backer? “What I promise them is a level playing field,” without vindictiveness in case she wins, against those who do not support her. “You will be surprised how a lot of them welcome that.”

She also disclosed that her government would include “the best and brightest” from different administrations.

Over a year ago, while seated beside her at a dinner, I sounded her out about what a stalwart of the Liberal Party had told me, that certain LP members were considering her as their standard bearer because even back then, the public seemed to find Mar Roxas unimpressive.

She told me that no one had approached her from the LP, that she would rather focus on her work as a senator and was not yet thinking of 2016.

The other day I asked her what made her decide to run for president. “I have many plans for the country,” she told me. “And I saw the other candidates and I thought our people deserve other choices.”

Even if she hurdles the citizenship question, with Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno being unusually vocal in her support for the senator’s cause, Poe still faces the residency issue, over which all the divisions of the Commission on Elections had decided to disqualify her. 

Whichever way the wind blows, Poe comes off genuinely unperturbed. Explaining her grace under pressure us, she told us, “Maybe I was just born that way.”

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