ILOILO CITY - Amid questions surrounding her origins and its implications on her possible candidacy for higher office, Senator Grace Poe visited the place where her life story began: the centuries-old Jaro Cathedral.
It was in that church where, as the story she has been told goes, she was found abandoned in 1968.
Jaime Cardinal Sin, then Archbishop of Jaro, baptizes baby Grace, held by Sayong Militar. Tessie Ledesma Valencia (second from right) was among the godmothers.
"It's an emotional visit," she told reporters. "[It's] going back to your roots, and that's the closest to my roots that I have."
She said she last visited the cathedral more than a year ago. But unlike her previous visits, her trip on Friday had a significance greater than her personal search for answers on who her biological parents are.
As Poe continues to rise in pre-election surveys, questions have been raised over her Filipino citizenship and thus her eligibility to be in public office. Some have claimed that because she does not know who her birth parents are, there is no certainty she is a natural-born Filipino--a requirement for being in a government position.
Before visiting the church, the senator had breakfast with friends and some local officials in Iloilo, during a trip her office described as "personal." She said two of them told her who her father is.
"Apparently, 'yong pumirma ng foundling certificate ko, at least dalawa na ang nagkumpirma na 'yon ang alam nilang tatay ko (At least two of them confirmed to me that the one who signed my foundling certificate was my father, as far as they know)," she said.
Senator Poe was referring to the late Edgardo Militar, an in-law of Sayong Militar, the woman who found her at the cathedral.
Sayong passed her on to sugar heiress Tessie Ledesma, who then gave her to her would-be adoptive parents, Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces.
The story Poe heard on Friday contrasts with what Sayong had told her growing up. She had always known that it was Sayong who found her, and that Edgardo was only made to sign the foundling certificate.
She remembers her adoptive mother telling her, however, that Edgardo's family paid them a visit some time in the 1990s before migrating to Canada. She was not home then.
"'Yong iyak daw ng pamilya tuwing pinag-uusapan ako, sabi niya, 'Parang nararamdaman ko, baka isa ka talaga sa kanila (Because of the way the family cried when they talked about me, my mom told me, 'I felt you could be one of them')," Poe said. "Parang napakabigat sa kalooban nila to give me up (It seemed too hard for them to give me up)."
Poe said she is thinking about the offer of Edgardo's children to have a DNA test.
She added, however, that her situation is not simply about tracing her origins and proving she is indeed a natural-born Filipino.
"I think there's a bigger purpose to this. Whether I find my real parents or not, the purpose is to fight for the equal rights of children," she said.
"I don't think you should discriminate based on the circumstance of birth, especially when it is so ridiculous to assume that the child is a foreigner born in the province, in Iloilo no less, and with physical attributes that are obviously Filipino."
Poe thanked the opposition for bringing up the issue.
"Importante na malaman ng ating mga kababayan kung ano ba talaga ang isyung ito. Makukumpara nila. 'Ah, ito ba ang issue kay Senator Poe, teknikalidad, at ito ang issue sa ibang mga nagbabalak ding tumakbo' (It's important that our countrymen know this issue so they can compare. This is the issue Senator Poe is facing, a technicality, while others who are thinking of running are facing that issue')," she said.
Poe had said in earlier interviews that she would rather face questions over her citizenship than face charges of plunder, an apparent reference to Vice President Jejomar Binay, the only possible 2016 candidate to have so far declared an intention to run.
Poe said she came to Iloilo not only to search for answers, but to thank the people who have come forward to speak on what they know about her.
She also said she has been going around the country as she continues to discern whether she would seek higher officer or not.
"Hindi ko naman sasabihin na gusto kong hikayatin ako ng mga tao dahil pagdating sa dulo, ang puwede mo lang tanungin ay handa na ba ako sa mga problemang naharap ko at kung makakayanan kong mapagaan ang buhay, maibsan ang kahirapan ng ating bansa (I won't say I want the people to encourage me to run because in the end, the only question you can ask is if I am ready with all the problems I have faced to improve life and overcome poverty in our country)," Poe said.
"'Yong mga nagsasabing, kasi tinulak ako ng mga taong tumakbo, sa tingin ko kulang 'yon. Kailangang nasa sarili mong handa ka talaga dito (To say I ran because the people pushed me, I think that's not enough. You have to have it in yourself that you're ready for this)."
READ THE FULL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT OF GIGI GRANDE:
Part 1: A foundling named Grace
Part 2: The Curious Case of Grace Poe
Part 3: Finding Grace, finding closure