Mayor Alice Guo and citizenship in the Philippines

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

Recently, Filipinos have been entertained by yet another drama with the continuing Senate hearing into the alleged links of Bamban, Tarlac, Mayor Alice Guo to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs). A more alarming issue is the allegation that Mayor Guo, who claims to have forgotten much of her past, earning her the moniker “amnesia girl”, could be a Chinese spy.

During the Spanish period, the natives were classified as indio, with the term ‘Filipino’ reserved for Spaniards born in the Philippines. While indio was considered the lowest, many embraced this label especially towards the end of Spanish rule. In the early 1800s, Juan Mercado, Jose Rizal’s grandfather, altered his family’s status from Chinese mestizo to indio on the tribute list. Rizal’s grandfather felt that after four generations, they were more indio and no longer Chinese. Nationalist historians postulate further that Rizal was prouder of his indigenous heritage, citing the way Rizal portrayed the Chinese in his writings.

After Spanish rule ended, Spaniards left in the Philippines were allowed to become Filipinos or retain their Spanish citizenship. Those who remained Spanish had to declare before a court this intent to remain Spanish. An example is Pablo Antonio Garcia, great-great-grandfather of Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, who signed this declaration to remain Spanish on March 28, 1900.

Over the years, many politicians’ citizenship had been questioned. Locally, we can cite Mayors Labo of Baguio and Lim of Manila. Jun Labo won as Baguio City mayor in 1988 but was removed after two years because of his Australian citizenship. He again ran and won as mayor in 1992, but unseated yet again. Alfredo Lim ran in the 1998 presidential elections and was accused to be Chinese; he was able to prove his Filipino citizenship and allowed to run.

In 2004, actor Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential candidacy was questioned and accused of being American. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor and he was allowed to run. His adoptive daughter, Grace Poe, faced the same citizenship questions. She ran for president in 2016 and was accused of playing fast and loose with her citizenship and only reacquired her Filipino citizenship for selfish reasons and that she had uncertain citizenship due to her “foundling” status. The Supreme Court later ruled in her favor and she continues to serve as a Senator today.

Another senator, incidentally co-chairing the Senate hearing involving Mayor Guo, is Win Gatchalian; all his ancestors, including his parents, were born in China. The Supreme Court has already ruled that they are Filipinos. Though opponents continue to question their status, Win is currently a senator, his brother Rex is the secretary of Social Welfare, and another brother, Wes, is mayor of Valenzuela City.

Two other cases include the late Perfecto Yasay and Erwin Tulfo. Both served briefly as Cabinet secretaries and whose appointments were rejected due to vague citizenship, both being American citizens. Despite this, both were able to hold other positions: Yasay served as Securities and Exchange Commission chairman and even ran for vice president in 2010. Tulfo is currently a party-list representative. Despite having had their citizenship questioned, both were able to file their candidacy unencumbered.

Many think Mayor Guo could be a Chinese spy. While prohibited under international law, it is a reality that countries spy on each other. British political scientist Professor Anthony Glees wrote that “every embassy in the world has spies.” It is thus understandable that China would be interested to monitor events in the Philippines, considering their territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea. But so does America. Since America colonized and freed us, they have continued to meddle in our affairs. So the question that everyone should ask is: how sure are we that politicians whose American citizenship were brought up and used to disqualify them, were not, in fact, also spies for America? Most probably weren’t, but in this crazy world we live in, who can really tell?

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