LITTLE did Grace Poe realize that two years after she entered politics, she’d be joining an elite league of politicians: the presidentiables. And whether she’s willing to run for the nation’s top job, there is no turning back for her – she’d be in the limelight of public scrutiny for a long time to come.
Mary Grace Sonora Poe-Llamanzares was a relatively obscure housewife who took up residency in the United States upon completing a degree in political science in 1991 from Boston College where she took postgraduate studies. She moved to Fairfax, Virginia after her graduation where she led a quiet life with her family. In 1995, she worked as a preschool teacher for three years at a Montessori School. Afterwards she took several other jobs including product manager with a local company specializing in scientific equipment.
Then in 2003, her whole life changed when her father, the admired movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. -- popularly known as “FPJ” -- decided to run for president of the Philippines. Grace returned to the Philippines to help in her dad’s campaign to unseat then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Arroyo narrowly won reelection amidst allegations of electoral fraud.
After the election, Grace returned to the US, but it must have been fate that brought her back home when FPJ had a fatal stroke on December 14, 2004. It was then that Grace and her family decided to return to the Philippines for good in order to be with her widowed mother, the popular movie star Susan Roces. The following year Grace was made Vice President and Treasurer of her dad’s film production company, FPJ Productions.
Grace started getting involved in politics amidst allegations that FPJ was cheated in the 2004 presidential election. In the 2010 presidential election, Grace became a convenor of Kontra Daya, a poll watchdog organized to prevent electoral fraud.
In the 2013 senatorial elections, Aquino included Grace as an independent guest candidate in the administration’s senatorial slate. She was not doing well in the early days of the campaign season. But she surprised everybody when she finished with the most votes of any single candidate! Her star began to cast a bright shadow across the nation.
It was then that circumstances about her birth came to light. According to an ABS-CBN News report, a woman named Sayong Militar found the infant Grace on September 3, 1968 in Jaro, Iloilo, abandoned in the holy water font of the Jaro Cathedral.
Sayong took and cared for baby Grace. But she decided to pass Grace to her friend Tessie Ledesma Valencia, an unmarried, childless heiress of a wealthy sugar baron from Bacolod City. Valencia was also a good friend of the movie stars Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces who eventually adopted Grace after efforts to search for her biological parents failed.
But the mystery of Grace’s birth reached the apex of power. Rumor has it that Grace was the daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos from an affair with movie star Rosemarie Sonora. The fact that Rosemarie was a sister of Susan Roces helped fuel the gossip that she was the love child of Marcos and Rosemarie.
But Grace said that her mother Susan Roces had denied the story. When Grace was asked if she would consider taking a DNA test to disprove that Marcos was her biological father, Grace said, “I’d rather not and I just hope that the people will accept the truth that I am stating.” That was then.
Recently, ABS-CBN News reported that Rose Militar Cordova, a daughter of Sayong Militar revealed during an interview that she remembers the day her uncle Edgardo Militar – Sayong’s brother-in-law -- brought the baby to their house in Jaro. Rose was 12 years old at the time.
Rose’s story was supported by Edgardo’s daughters, Imelda Militar Hofilena who is now living in Canada, and Zilda Militar Demaala, who is based in Guam. They said their father brought the infant home straight from the cathedral. After three days, Edgardo – who worked at a cockpit – realized that he couldn’t provide a good life for the baby and decided to turn the child over to his brother Emiliano and wife Sayong, who was earlier identified as the person who found the baby. And as mentioned earlier, the baby was passed on to Tessie Ledesma Valencia and eventually adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces.
Rose’s story is further supported by the fact that Edgardo’s name appears in Grace’s “certificate of foundling” as the person who found baby Grace. But Grace, who is aware of this fact, said she was made to believe that Edgardo merely processed the certificate but was not present at the cathedral when the baby was found. However, during a recent visit to Jaro, Grace said that at least two persons told her that Edgardo was her biological father.
But when Rose was asked if Edgardo – who passed away over 30 years ago – or one of the Militar men was indeed Grace’s biological father, she said she honestly does not know. And neither did Sayong, who is now 89 years and living in Canada. They also don’t know anything about Grace’s biological mother either.
While Grace’s biological mother may never be known, Sofia Mijares, a former househelp of FPJ, told GMA News that Edgardo told her that he was Grace’s father. He also told her that the biological mother was a student of De Paul College, a Catholic school near the Jaro Cathedral. Frightened of the consequences, the young college student left her baby inside the Jaro Cathedral where Edgardo was to pick her up.
Recently, Edgardo’s granddaughter Victoria Militar said that according to Edgardo, he only found the infant inside the cathedral and gave her to Sayong because he could not afford to care for her. However, Victoria also said that Edgardo had Grace baptized as “Maria Gracia Natividad Militar.” Is it then fair to presume that Edgardo giving the baby the surname “Militar” is tantamount to admission that he was the biological father?
But to put a closure to this speculation about Grace’s biological father, Edgardo’s daughter Zilda offered to travel to the Philippines from Guam to take a DNA test to prove -- or disprove -- if Grace was a Militar by birth. Likewise, her sister Imelda was willing to take the test too if it would help Grace. Grace welcomed the offer, saying: “Whatever will shed light on the truth. I’m willing to take that test.” Yes, as the old adage goes: “Veritas vos liberabit” – the truth shall set you free.
At the end of the day, should Grace decide to run for president, she may have to take a DNA test to prove once and for all that she is indeed a “natural-born Filipino,” which is a constitutional requirement for President and Vice President. With Grace gaining popularity in recent surveys, her winning – or losing -- the presidency could come down to one issue: a question of parentage.(Perry Diaz)