MANILA, January 12, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - If only one of them said so, it could be out of denseness. But with all three of them parroting the line, it can only be sly deception. Reacting to questions about his citizenship, the three spokesmen in Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential bid - Rod Reyes (Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino), Rufus Rodriguez (Puwersa ng Masa), Tito Sotto (personal) – chorused Friday that "FPJ is definitely a Filipino." As proof, they cited "the fact that the foreign office had issued him a Philippine passport."

It was a masterful deflection of the issue. In asking the Commisson on Election to disqualify Poe, lawyer Victorino X. Fornier did not so much dispute the candidate’s citizenship at present than what it was at birth. The question thus is not whether Poe is a Filipino today, but if he was so when he was born on 20 Aug. 1939.

Citizenship is a crucial qualification for the presidency. The 1987 Constitution states in Art. VII, Sec. 2: "No person may be elected president unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election."

Fornier, in his petition, presented proof that Poe was born American. Sadly, the evidence also opened a painful possibility that Poe was born illegitimate. For, Fornier also questions the truthfulness and accuracy of certain entries in Poe’s birth certificate.

The certificate states that Poe (real name: Ronald Allan Poe) was born to married spouses Allan F. Poe, Filipino, and Bessie Kelly, American. Poe’s father Allan could not have been Filipino in 1939, says Fornier, because of yet another document. He presents a marriage contract, dated 5 July 1936, of Allan and one Paulita Gomez in Manila. Signed by the newlyweds, the contract states that both Allan and Gomez were Spanish. Too, that Allan’s parents, Poe’s grandparents Lorenzo Poe and Marta Reyes, were also citizens of Spain.

Defending Poe before inquisitive reporters, Sotto pooh-poohed the marriage contract as having been superceded by the 1935 Constitution. That charter states in Sec. 1: "The following are citizens of the Philippines:

"(1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of the adoption of this Constitution;

"(2) Those born in the Philippine Islands of foreign parents who, before the adoption of this Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippine Islands;

"(3) Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines;

"(4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship; and

"(5) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law."

Sotto inferred that the third item is applicable to Poe, going by the birth certificate that states his father Allan to be a Filipino. Yet even with the express provision in the 1935 Constitution, Allan still asserted his Spanish citizenship in the 1936 marriage contract with Gomez. No document in 1935 could have superceded something that had yet to occur in 1936. Fornier also told reporters Friday he will submit Allan’s Spanish birth certificate once he gets a copy.

Fornier says that even if father Allan was a Filipino, Poe would still be American. Citing jurisprudence at that time, United States vs Ong Tianse, 1915, illegitimate children automatically take on the citizenship of their mother. Under this assumption, Poe thus followed the US citizenship of Bessie Kelly.

Allan could not have been legally married to Kelly when Poe was born in 1939, Fornier says, because he was then very much married to Gomez since 1936. To bolster his claim, he presents a complaint filed by Gomez against Allan for bigamy and concubinage. It is dated 13 July 1939, just five weeks before Poe was born, and executed in Spanish.

Gomez swore in the complaint: "After a short period of courtship, Allan Poe and I decided to marry, acquiring marriage license No. 51524, given by the municipality of Caloocan, celebrating the holy sacrament of matrimony in the Convent of Santo Domingo in Intramuros on 5 July 1936, officiated by Fr. Modesto Mata, O.P., a close family friend... It came to my knowledge a few months ago that my husband is now living with another woman, an American named Bessie Kelly. I have just found out that my husband already has a one-year-old daughter with her. Moreover, I am told that this woman is again pregnant by Allan, about to give birth any time, and that she now presents herself as Mrs. Allan Fernando Poe."

Poe appeared on television for a short minute Friday night to say he would disprove Fornier by presenting his parents’ marriage contract. A lawyer says it would have to be valid, that is, following a legal annulment of Allan’s first marriage to Gomez.

Pandering to emotions, the KNP asks why Fornier filed the case only now that Poe is leading all the surveys. The latter ignored the non sequitur. In truth, the citizenship issue had been raised as far back as November. Sotto dismissed it at the time, saying that "FPJ should even be considered a hero for being the only one among his siblings to elect to be a Filipino." The word "elect", denoting naturalization and not natural-born, must have alerted Fornier to research the matter.

The question arises: who benefits from Poe’s disqualification, if ever? Fornier, a graduate of San Beda law school, claims to be working for no other presidential contender, only for the implementation of the law. The usual suspect is, of course, the administration candidate. But Poe is hampered as well by two other opponents, both of them splitting his opposition forces.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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