“Foundling” might as well be declared the word of the year in the Philippines, thanks to Senator Grace Poe. The national government defines a foundling as a “deserted or abandoned infant or child found with unknown facts of birth and parentage.”
Most Filipinos have by now heard that the oft-repeated account that the senator and 2016 presidential candidate was supposedly found abandoned inside the famous Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo in September 3, 1968. Poe’s political opponents allege that she is not eligible to run for national office because foundlings are not considered natural-born citizens.
Her critics also allege that she has not met the ten-year residency requirement set by the 1987 Constitution for presidential and vice presidential candidates. Two divisions of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) have ruled against Poe on both cases, but the final judgment will be determined by the Supreme Court.
As a non-lawyer, I will not attempt to discuss the merits of Poe’s case. Nevertheless, we can talk about the practical implications of a possible ruling against the senator. In a previous post, we noted that if the Supreme Court affirms that Poe is not a natural-born citizen, then she will not only be disqualified from seeking the presidency in 2016. She will also lose her Senate seat and face perpetual disqualification from seeking national office as long as the 1987 Constitution is in place.
However, the implications of the case won’t end there. Any decision made by the Supreme Court will have precedential value for decades to come. In other words, the issue of whether a foundling or an abandoned newborn can be declared a natural born citizen of the Philippines and hence eligible to seek national elected office goes beyond Senator Poe’s 2016 presidential bid.
Foundlings and illegitimate children cannot be prohibited from enjoying their full political rights just because of circumstances beyond their control. Prominent family law expert summarized the situation perfectly: “If a foundling is not presumed natural-born then no abandoned child can ever aspire for national office. It’s terribly discriminatory.” And as retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban explained, “It is not their fault that their parents have abandoned them.”
It is understandable for a lot of people to think that Poe is not yet prepared to be president since she’s only been in public service for about five years. However, it should not blind people into seeing the bigger issue at stake here – the ability of foundlings to enjoy their political rights without any discrimination.
If the Supreme Court indeed rules that foundlings are not natural born citizens, it will have wide-reaching and lasting negative implications on a group of people that are already facing a lot of discrimination in the first place (e.g. being labelled a ‘pulot‘ or ‘putok sa buho‘).