Will Ex-U.S. Citizen Become Next Filipino President?
Grace Poe has always been the frontrunner in the contest to become the next president of the Philippines. Now it’s official. Disqualified by the nation’s Commission on Elections last December, Poe was re-qualified by its Supreme Court yesterday. But she had never stopped campaigning. She knew she would be allowed to run. There is a real possibility she could become the next Filipino president.
The ruling could provide the momentum to carry Poe to victory at the polls in May. Other contenders for the country’s highest office, Jejomar Binay and Mar Roxas, say they are disappointed. But no one should be surprised. In a nation where one’s connections trump rule of law, not even these Filipino power players could have expected a different outcome.
Poe is a celebrity in the Philippines. Found abandoned in a church as a baby, she was adopted by Fernando Poe, Jr. and Susan Roces, two famous Filipino movie stars. And as every Filipino knows, a movie star’s fame is as good as an invitation to elected office. The joke in the Philippines is movie stars become politicians when the public stops watching their movies.
But Poe is not a movie star. Also, she was, until 2010, a U.S. citizen. She lived in Virginia for more than half her adult life. She only became a permanent resident of the Philippines five years ago, which was the reason for her initial disqualification. She did not meet the requirement of 10 years of continuous residency in the Philippines.
Furthermore, due to the circumstances of her mysterious appearance as an infant 47 years ago in front of a church in Iloilo City, 400 miles south of Manila, it was not clear where Poe was born. Like the U.S. and other countries, the Philippines has a law that only a person born on its soil has the right to become president of the country.
Poe, by virtue of her adoptive family’s movie star status, has privileges others in the Southeast nation of 100 million do not. Three quarters of the population barely has enough food to eat each day. Poe was the frontrunner before being disqualified. She had expressed confidence her candidacy would be validated in the end. How did she know?
Surveys of Filipinos throughout the country have revealed Poe as the favorite among voters. Perhaps the voice of the people swayed the judges of the Supreme Court.
It is possible that a former U.S. citizen will be the next president of the Philippines. Although Binay and Roxas expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling, Rodrigo Duterte, another leading candidate in the race to Manila’s highest office, is more philosophical. The charismatic mayor of Davao City, the fourth largest city in the Philippines, is popular enough to have a chance to win the election on May 9th. But he knows he lacks an elite pedigree. And it is exactly such elite status which allows its holder to win elections in the Philippines.