(STAR) By Christina Mendez (Photo - FOSTER MOM: Sen. Pia Cayetano plays with Rene Lucas. MANNY MARCELO) It was not love at first sight. But the way he looked at her caught her heart.

This is how Sen. Pia Cayetano describes her new love: Rene Lucas, a toddler whom she has recently taken under her care.

“When I met him, it was already unforgettable and we had a connection, kasi tinitigan niya ako nang tinitigan (because he kept staring at me),” Cayetano told The STAR at her home in Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa.

She found Lucas this year during one of her sojourns in a foster home supervised by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). They have since been inseparable.

“When I carried him, for about an hour, I had this feeling that I don’t want to put him down,” says Cayetano, lawyer, tri-athlete, and mother of two.

As she was being interviewed, the senator played with Lucas, named after the Cayetano patriarch, the late Sen. Rene Cayetano.

“For a baby, he is already so full of character, he was just staring at me and parang mayabang siya (he looks confident). I was mesmerized... I was attracted to him because he really looked like my (late) son,” she says.

At a tender age, Lucas understands a mix of Filipino and English languages, even Spanish because the senator uses it in her daily conversations with him. The family has requested that his age be withheld.

The boy is adored by the Cayetanos. Even Cayetano’s mother, Sandra Schramm Cayetano, takes time to drop by Pia’s home to play with Lucas. “There’s nothing in our hearts that makes us think that he is not my own child,” she says as Lucas plays in a small playground in the living room which the family has set up for him.

Filling an emptiness

After her last child, Gabriel Rene Sebastian, passed away nine years ago, Cayetano says she longed to have another child. Gabriel, who lived for only nine months, died of a rare disease called trisomy, a type of chromosomal disorder.

The family, however, celebrates his birth anniversary every year by helping unfortunate kids, and by promoting sports activities.

“I miss my son every day of my life. But so much goodness has come out of his short life,” Cayetano says in an entry on her blog called When Lucas came into her life, she says the emptiness in her heart was somehow filled.

“Yes. I truly believe you can never replace a loved one. I lost my father, I lost my son. You can never replace them so when I try to console friends who lost a loved one, I always tell them not to expect that pain to go away. It subsides in time but it never goes away,” she says.

Lucas, to her, became another reason to be happy and optimistic about life because she has discovered that she has more love to give. “In my case, finding another child to love... to me that really fills me with so much happiness,” she says.

Cayetano did not have another child after the youngest passed away because she then separated from her husband, sportsman Ari Sebastian. It also took some time before her two daughters agreed to her desire to adopt a child.

“At some point, there are some people who are not open to adoption, but I am open to it ever since,” she says. She also intends to tell Lucas of his true identity someday. Once he reaches the legal age, she will also give him the option to discover his roots.

“I have no intentions of hiding the fact that he is not my biological child. It is so public that I did not get pregnant recently,” she says. “That’s okay. I am very proud of the fact that Lucas is my child.”

The senator has, in fact, included a chapter on Lucas in her biography, My Daily Race, which she plans to launch this month. Cayetano intends to formally adopt Lucas later on.

Republic Act 8552 also known as the Domestic Adoption Act of 1988 and RA 8043 otherwise known as the Inter-Country Adoption Act of 1995 cover adoption cases in the country.

Foster Care Act

Cayetano is also the chairperson of the Senate committee on youth, women and family relations which sponsored before the plenary the Foster Care Act of 2010. Under the proposed law, the State recognizes that in most cases, a child benefits more from foster care that institutional care. Toward this end, the state shall systematize and enhance the foster care program in the country.

Once approved into law, it shall ensure that the foster family shall provide a wholesome environment for the foster child. Foster care is also seen as an important step toward the child’s return and reintegration to his biological parents and placement with an adoptive family.

Cayetano believes providing care for foster children is in itself an investment because “the cost of lost opportunity to rear a productive Filipino is so hard to compute.”

“But what will it cost us if this individual becomes a gang member or a drug addict?” Cayetano says.

The proposed law also aims to protect the rights of the biological child of the foster family, and ensure that he will not be disadvantaged as a result of the placement of the foster child. Those who shall be eligible for foster care are: children who are abandoned, surrendered, neglected, dependent or orphaned; those who are victims of any form of abuse or exploitation; those with development or physical disability; those whose family members are temporarily or permanently unable to provide for him; those awaiting adoptive placement; and those whose adoption has been disrupted.

An applicant for foster parenting should be of legal age, must have good moral character and emotional maturity, are physically and mentally capable, have resources that are able to provide for the family’s needs, must have a healthy and harmonious relationship with each family member, must have genuine interest in parenting, and is able to provide a family atmosphere for the child. They must also be willing to be trained to enhance their knowledge, attitude and skills for childcare. A foreigner who possesses the same qualifications, and who has resided in the Philippines for at least six months may qualify as a foster parent.

There are provisions for assistance and incentives for foster parents under the proposed law, but it also includes penalties for any foster parent found to be committing any act of neglect, abuse, cruelty or exploitation against the foster child.

Inspiring others

Cayetano advises couples or individuals who want to become foster parents to take in a child if they want to consider their foster child as one of their own.

“I felt that. I also know the feeling of uncertainty, whether to adopt or not. So I also tell that, that mine goes from experience. Go for it. It’s the best feeling and in my case, I cannot distinguish (between) my girls who were borne of my own flesh and my son, who is adopted,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano considers her family lucky in having Lucas with them. “Many friends will tell me, ang suerte naman ng batang yan (That child is so lucky). I say, kami ang ma-suerte (We were the ones who got lucky). He brought so much joy to our home like any child, like my kids,” she says.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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