By Perry Diaz

A Man Without A Country

Fernando Poe Jr.

Fernando Poe Jr.

There is a story that God recently asked Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, to go back to the Philippines and try to solve its political problems, particularly the forthcoming presidential election.

On his way to the Philippines, Rizal dropped by hell to have a chat with Satan.  “Man, I am telling you, I wouldn’t touch those guys running for president with a ten-foot pole, especially that smart little woman,” said Satan.  “Why?” asked Rizal. “Well,” Satan started to explain, “That actor guy is a friend of deposed president Joseph Estrada and if he wins he’ll release Estrada from prison and they’ll have a hell of a good time running the country.  Then there is that other guy who was accused of the Kulatong Baleleng gang’s demise.  When the Kulatong Baleleng gang members came to hell, they warned me about him.  But what really worries me is this smart little woman who is running for reelection.  She really scares the hell out of me!”  Rizal was stunned and asked, “Why are you scared of her?”  Satan looked around and said, “Look, she is a friend of George W. Bush.   If you look at what Bush did to Afghanistan and Iraq, you wouldn’t mess around with this lady.  I just heard that Saddam Hussein has gone bananas and…”  “That’s enough!  That’s all I want to hear,” Rizal said and ran out of hell as fast as he could.  He decided to skip the Philippines and went back to Heaven.  “Wow!  That’s a record time to finish a complex assignment.  Tell me, what happened?” asked God.  “Lord,” replied Rizal, “Please don’t let any of them come to Heaven.  They’ll take over your kingdom if they ever get in.”

“Takeover” has always been the trademark of Philippine politics.  From the time of the 1896 Revolution, transition of power has always been in the fashion of a “takeover.” Manuel Roxas, the first president of the republic, died in office of heart attack in 1948.  Elpidio Quirino, the Vice President, succeeded Roxas but lost in his reelection bid in 1953 to Ramon Magsaysay.  Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957 and was succeeded by Vice President Carlos P. Garcia. Garcia lost in his reelection bid to Diosdado Macapagal in 1961.  In 1965, Macapagal was defeated in his reelection bid to Ferdinand Marcos.  Marcos was reelected in 1969, the first president to be reelected.  In 1972, following a series of bombings in Manila, Marcos declared martial law due to an “imminent communist takeover.”  In 1986, Marcos was deposed by the People Power revolution and Cory Aquino was installed as President.  Fidel Ramos succeeded Aquino, who was precluded from running for a second term under the new constitution, in 1992.  In 1998, Joseph Estrada, a political rival of Ramos, was elected president.  Within 18 months Estrada was deposed by another People Power revolution.  On January 20, 2001 — the same day that George W. Bush was inaugurated as US President — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the opposition party and the Vice President then, was sworn in as President.

The presidential election on May 10, 2004 could be the most important political event since the People Power revolution of 1986.  What makes it interesting is the entry into the race of Fernando Poe, Jr.  FPJ, as he is referred to these days, is the most popular actor in the Philippines today.  However, his candidacy has opened a closet full of skeletons that have suddenly come to life to haunt him.

Fernando Poe, Jr.  — “Ronnie” to his friends and associates — was born Ronald Allan Poe on August 20, 1939 in Manila.  When FPJ became an actor, he used the name of his brother Andy — the real Fernando Poe Jr. — for his screen name.  Andy died several years ago, long before his name was embroiled in the current controversy.

FPJ’s father was Fernando Poe, Sr., a famous actor-producer. He died of hydrophobia in 1951 when he let a rabid dog lick a wound he sustained during the filming of a movie.  His mother was Elizabeth Kelly, an American citizen.  Born in the Philippines, she visited the US for the first time only when she was 50 years old.  She died at the age of 81 in 1999.

FPJ’s dilemma is his father’s citizenship and marriages.  Poe Sr.’s father, Lorenzo Poe, or Pou as it was originally spelled, was born in Majorca, Spain.  FPJ claimed that his grandfather became a naturalized Filipino citizen after he settled in the Philippines.  Lorenzo Poe’s wife, Marta Reyes, was a Spanish mestiza; that is, half-Spanish and half-Filipino.  I would assume that she was born in the Philippines.  It was also determined that Lorenzo Poe owned land in San Carlos, Pangasinan.  Philippine law allows only Filipino citizens to own land.  That being the case, it would be reasonable to presume that Poe Sr. was born to Filipino parents.

However, the key to FPJ’s citizenship controversy is Poe Sr.’s marriages to two women.  It was alleged that Poe Sr. was first married to a certain Paulita Gomez, a Spanish citizen, at the time of FPJ’s birth.  Since Poe Sr. was already married to Gomez, his later marriage to Elizabeth Kelly was bigamous and illegal.  Therefore, since FPJ was born out of wedlock, he was illegitimate.  Philippine law states that an illegitimate child takes the citizenship of the mother.  Elizabeth Kelly being an American citizen, FPJ is therefore an American at birth.

The question is: What is FPJ’s citizenship today?  The legal arguments claim that he is not a Filipino citizen because of his illegitimate birth.  If he is not a Filipino citizen, is he then an American citizen?  Not necessarily.  If I am not mistaken, I think that American citizens born in foreign countries, in which one parent is not an American citizen, have to claim their US citizenship when they reach 18 years of age.  However, granted that he is still an American citizen, didn’t he lose it when he declared to run for President of the Philippines?  Sounds like a Catch-22 situation.   If FPJ is not a Filipino citizen or an American citizen, is he then a state-less person — a man without a country?

That is intriguing, isn’t it?  How can a person who is born and raised in the Philippines, with all the intrinsic values, habits, and idiosyncrasies of a Filipino, who speaks Filipino, spent 100% of his adult life acting in Filipino movies; wake up one day and realize that some people think he is not a Filipino?

On Friday, January 31, the Commission on Election dismissed a petition to disqualify FPJ from the presidential race due to his citizenship.  Barring further legal actions by FPJ’s political enemies, the May 10th election looms as a battle royale pitting incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — a seasoned politician and member of a political family — against political neophyte Ronald Allan Poe, aka Fernando Poe, Jr.   May the best man… oops! person wins.   




Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *