Fil-Ams, Grace Poe and the US election

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Voters in the United States (US) trooped to polling places during last week’s midterm elections to decide the direction their government will be heading to. The Republican Party kept its hold on the Senate, but lost its grip on the House of Representatives.

That means US President Donald Trump, a Republican, will have to rethink his controversial policies for the remaining half of his term, that is, if he wants to get reelected in 2020. It also means the Republicans, including those who are not exactly comfortable with Trump, have no choice but to work closely with the incumbent tenant at the White House, if they want the grand old party to win in the next polls.

Weeks before the elections, the news media in the Philippines featured stories of Filipino-American or Fil-Am politicians in the US.

Quite a number of Fil-Am politicians seeking election to public office at the federal and state levels in the US were interviewed by Filipino news correspondents in major American cities.
Their common mantra was the need for Filipinos to be represented in the mainstream of the American government. They also stressed the need for Filipinos to be heard on important policy issues.

Many Fil-Ams who were voting, but not running in the elections, also expressed the same sentiment. The interviewees spoke with an American accent, and some of them even used traditional American expressions like, “You know…” and “Kinda.”

What was surprising was their reference to themselves as Filipinos rather than as Americans.

Equally surprising were the commentaries of Philippine news media channel reporters who referred to the Fil-Am politicians as “kababayans” and “countrymen” who should be supported in their quest for public office in America. One Philippine-based reporter even suggested that the Fil-Am politicians bring pride to the Philippines.

Good grief! Who are they fooling? It’s the Grace Poe syndrome all over again.

Under the Constitution of the United States, only American citizens are eligible for elective public office and to vote. Thus, those Fil-Ams who voted in the elections or ran for office are American citizens. Years ago, they have taken a pledge of loyalty to the US. In other words, they are Americans. They may look like Filipinos and may have Filipino heritage, but they are Americans.

Being Americans, the Fil-Am politicians in the US have no business referring to themselves as Filipinos seeking better Philippine representation in the US government. If they do get elected to public office, they serve the American people and whatever accomplishments they may have while in office will redound not to Filipinos but to their fellow Americans.

Those Fil-Am politicians should not be referred to as “kababayans” or “countrymen” precisely because they are Americans. The oath of allegiance taken by American citizens explicitly requires full and complete “allegiance to the United States and the republic it stands for.” In other words, one cannot embrace American citizenship and at the same time profess to be a Filipino.

How can Fil-Am politicians bring pride to the Philippines? Their decision to stay in America and to embrace American politics dilutes any pride, real or imaginary, they may bring to the Philippines.

This brings us to Grace Poe, the former Filipino turned American and turned Filipino again, whose hollow and fragile claim to being a natural-born Filipino citizen is based on a controversial Supreme Court (SC) decision that is anchored more on statistical inference and physical features rather than on what the Constitution expressly provides.

Decades ago, Poe left the Philippines to seek greener pastures in the US. She also renounced her Philippine citizenship to become an American. Exploiting the sympathy Filipino voters had for her deceased father, box-office king Fernando Poe Jr., who was manifestly cheated out of the presidency in 2004, Poe returned to the Philippines and ran for the Senate in 2013. After landing first place in the Senate derby, the opportunist in Poe set her sights on the presidency in 2016. Fortunately, she lost to a real natural-born Filipino, President Rodrigo Duterte.

Legal experts say Poe’s citizenship may still be challenged in the SC because her qualification to run for the Senate was the only issue resolved doctrinally in jurisprudence. In other words, Poe’s qualification to run for president is still an open issue. Besides, the SC ruling may be possibly revisited in view of the new composition of the justices of the High Tribunal.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Poe told the news media that her husband was preparing his documents for his naturalization as a Filipino citizen. After Poe lost, nothing was heard from her American husband and from her American children. The senator herself is conveniently silent on the issue.

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