My issue with Grace Poe

Ruby Clemmons
Here's a little piece from me, a former Filipino, to you, a former American: renouncing one's citizenship is a major decision.

First, let’s get one thing straight – I don’t have a dog in the fight (in the upcoming Philippine polls). 

I am merely an observer reacting to Senator Grace Poe and her televised pronouncements on why she flip-flopped on her citizenship choice.

That’s right, my issue here is why the 47-year-old Poe, the eager presidential candidate, doesn’t find anything wrong with what she did: embrace a foreign citizenship (US) and then pitch it in the garbage and immediately proceed to retrieve the citizenship (Philippines) that she first ditched because an opportunity to run (and win) for public office came up. (READ: Timeline: Grace Poe citizenship, residency)

I am in awe of her because she makes it look like it’s no big deal; that it’s so ordinary. That picking up and ditching a citizenship, twice over, could be done with relative ease. That instead of vilifying her actions, both occasions must be perceived as selfless acts – a sacrifice for the good of others. Thus, her actions are justified. 

Poe said in an interview that she acquired her American citizenship (2001) for the love of her family – her husband and three children (who are all currently carrying both US and Filipino passports). “It was all for love,” she declared.

 Later on, in (2005), she abandoned her American passport for a Filipino one. This time  she said it was for the love of her mom, who was grieving from the death of her adoptive father, Fernando Poe, Jr. “She needed me,” she articulated in the televised interview.

And so while still an American citizen she ran for the Senate and won. She says the public loves her and needs her and she’s giving in – now it’s time to set her sights on the highest position of them all: The Philippine presidency. And again, it’s all for love: For the love of her country. 

In her own words: “It is a bigger challenge and privilege to serve the nation. I will not turn my back on this call to service, because this is an opportunity to help so many among our people… It’s just simple… being a Filipino is more than what’s on paper and name. It’s living an honorable life, our values, and another thing, honest service.” 

While watching her tell this narrative to reporters, I couldn’t help but notice Poe’s tone as she tried to lace her message with copious amounts of a certain feeling, which I would attempt to describe as that of “reluctance.” Yes, she’s one loving wife and a dutiful mother who had to apply for an American citizenship, albeit reluctantly. 

She went on: “You know, when my husband and I started, that’s really love. I was with my family, my husband, we lived there (US). It’s true, I thought…as a mother, [it’s really to] support my family and my husband that we stayed there. It’s not like I lacked love for the country (Philippines). 

And did I really hear her say “values?”  

Not a matter of convenience

Okay I’ve had it.

So Senator Poe, here’s a little piece from me, a former Filipino, to you, a former American, and who just like you is also a loving wife and a dutiful mother: renouncing one’s citizenship is a major decision.

It’s not a matter of convenience. Not even a matter of love. When your birth mother gave you up when you were a baby and disappeared without a trace, leaving you undocumented, that was not your choice; that was not your fault. I’m on your side on that one and Pinoy “birthers” should  just shut up and move on. But guess what, when you left the Philippines for the US and embraced an American citizenship, that was your choice; that was your fault. And yours alone! 

You see Senator Poe, for some of us embracing an American citizenship is a long, painful process. It takes us a long time to decide because we also ask ourselves if we are already that prepared to accept the responsibilities required of an American. You see we just don’t take. We also want to bring something to the table. We have to contribute to help shape the country that took us in; and I don’t just mean by paying taxes and observing traffic rules. I am talking about honoring, respecting and defending the true core values of the United States. And taking them seriously.

So it took me 15 years to arrive at the decision to embrace US citizenship (and just for the record I entered the US legally through my father, who’s an American) and even my  love for my daughters and my husband was not enough for me to hurry up and surrender my Philippine passport for a blue one.

If anything it was my husband’s love for me that made it possible for me to take my time. As a rocket scientist working with NASA in its space science missions, it would have been preferable for him if his wife were not some registered alien from a country with a steady stream of terrorism flare-ups. 

But he understood why I wasn’t ready yet. And he respected my need for time in order to make a firm decision. I needed time to prepare myself. And he, too, was ready to do what was necessary as a result of this preparation – to fill out forms and take tests every time there was a need to blot my name out as a national security threat (due to the nature of his job). 

I am not saying that my decision to wait was worthy of accolades or that I am better than the others who grabbed at the first opportunity they got to become naturalized Americans.   

My point is that switching citizenships is a painful, very personal process and that very day, when I took the oath of allegiance to the US flag “without reservation,” was gut-wrenching, to say the very least. I was sobbing in the process. 

Your camp, however, made a mockery of this very serious, sacred act by releasing a statement saying that you took a pledge of allegiance to the US “only as a necessary condition” for your naturalization.

Huh? That statement was really offensive. I felt like the whole exercise was made so simplistic, it’s like you put on a pair of sneakers, pound the streets of Boston in it for a bit and then took them off, ditching them straight into the trash bin because it has already outlived its usefulness. And because a new pair of sneakers with a more playful design has caught your interest!

The oath of allegiance to the US states: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”


Now I wonder how you really felt when you spoke those words at your US citizenship rites. Or did you? –


Ruby Clemmons is a former Manila-based journalist. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their two girls, ages 11 & 8

















































































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