Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Race to Halalan 2016: The Genealogy of Grace Poe

Senator Grace Poe (from www.gracepoe.ph)
Family identity and issues of nationality and statehood appear to be a recurring pattern for the families, both families, that adopted 2016 presidential candidate Grace Poe. Digging into the family trees of both her adoptive mother Susan Roces-Poe, born Jesusa Purificacion Sonora, and her father, the late Fernando Poe, Jr., born Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, one can actually see this interesting pattern that only appears when one tries hard to dig into the genealogies of a certain family. This article is not an exoneration for Grace Poe's issues or an attempt to disprove her critics false. It is very important to see how family ties and how aspects of one's family history, even an adopted family history, can actually influence and even manifest in one's life.

Many people have said that someone who has at one point in her life had renounced her Filipino citizenship is not fit to become president. Senator Grace Poe has, time and again, insisted that while she did become an American citizen, her love for her country and her desire to serve the Filipino people made her become a Filipino once again.

People have had a field day debating Senator Poe's sincerity. Some say she only became a Filipino citizen again due to her presidential ambitions. Yet Poe has remained steadfast in her insistence to become the next president of the Philippines.

The question that only Grace Poe can answer is: is her desire to serve the Filipinos real?

Of course this article does not have the answer. What this write-up intends to do is to look at patterns in the genealogies of the adoptive parents of Grace Poe and try to relate these to the current issues besieging the lady senator.

A previous article in this blog explained the idea of psychohistory, which believes that the human family is an emotional system. It is believed that this system is a continuous flow, thus, emotions and psychological behaviors, not just physical traits, are passed down in the family tree. It is believed that if one traces his or her family tree back to even just three generations, one would discover why he or she is what he/she is today. Though these passed down emotions and behaviors are more pronounced in biological descendants, the theory of psychohistory does not exclude adopted children, especially those raised from birth. This is where the pattern applies to Senator Grace Poe.

Both the families of Fernando Poe and Susan Roces figure prominently in Philippine history. In Fernando Poe's case, there is a clear parallelism between FPJ's experience when he ran for the same position as his adoptive daughter is also trying to run for now. FPJ's citizenship was also questioned by petitioner Victorino Fornier who filed a case with the Commission on Elections asking the body to disqualify FPJ on the ground that he was not a Filipino citizen, although the Philippine Supreme Court eventually ruled in Fernando Poe, Jr.'s favor in March of the same year

In FPJ's case, the petitioner alleged that he made misrepresentations when he filed his certificate of candidacy because he claimed to have been a natural-born citizen when in fact his father, Allan F. Poe, was supposedly a Spanish citizen and his mother, Bessie Kelley, was an American citizen. It is interesting to note that the ruling of the Supreme Court, though in FPJ's favor, still ruled so with a bit of caution, to wit: "...while the totality of the evidence may not establish conclusively that respondent FPJ is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, the evidence on hand still would preponderate in his favor..."

This is the earliest "connection" with issues on nationality in Senator Grace Poe's family tree. Allan F. Poe's father was a man named Lorenzo Pou, said by some researchers to be an immigrant from Spain. Imagine this man, supposedly a renowned playwright from Majorca, Spain, giving us his Spanish heritage to live and die in the Philippines. Like many men before him Lorenzo Pou (later Poe) fell in love with the Philippines and in fact married a mestiza Filipina, Marta Reyes. Because there are no records to show when he arrived in the Philippines the Supreme Court had no choice but to assume that he was Filipino because Lorenzo Pou's death certificate listed him to be residing in Pangasinan and it was clearly indicated there that upon his death he had already identified himself as a Filipino, not as a Spaniard.

FPJ's mother, Bessie, was the daughter of American Auther E. Kelley and Kapampangan Marta Gatbonton. Like Lorenzo Pou, Auther E. Kelley decided to make the Philippines his home. And while he retained his American citizenship and it does appear his children did as well, there is no denying that he and his family made the Philippines their home.

From the American and Spanish connections on her adoptive father's side, we go to her adoptive mother's French roots. Once again, the story of Susan Roces's ancestors' arrival in the Philippines is not the immigrant story from the early colonial years of the Philippines; this is very much more recent, in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Believed to be the first Jews to land in the Philippines, Susan Roces's great-grandfather Adolphe Levy and his brother Charles arrived in Manila in 1873 after a six-month sea voyage that started in San Francisco, although the brothers were born in Alsace, France. They left their homeland to escape the aftereffects of the Franco-Prussian War. Their ancestry runs deep in region of France and can be traced up to Adolphe and Charles's great (3x)-grandfather, David Dafiele Levy. As is the Jewish nature, the brothers and their associates prospered and later intermarried into local prominent families. A granddaughter of Adolphe, Purificacion Levy, married Dr. Jesus T. Sonora and one of their children is Susan Roces. 

This discussion is by no means an exhaustive presentation of the genealogies of the adoptive parents of Grace Poe. Instead, this write-up simply wanted to show the inter-relatedness of the experiences of FPJ's and Susan Roces's ancestors and Grace Poe in relation to statehood and nationality.

Click to enlarge family tree
In hindsight, the detractors of FPJ (and Grace Poe's) who questioned his nationality were the ones who did not understand the concept of nationhood and love of country. FPJ's Spanish grandfather, Lorenzo Pou, could have returned to Spain after 1898 but instead he remained in the Philippines and died as a Filipino, as listed in his death certificate. On his mother's side, FPJ's American grandfather, Auther E. Kelley, could have returned to the United States after the US gave back our independence. Instead, he decided to remain in the country where he had served in the army since at least 1910. And if those detractors could have looked back into FPJ's American ancestry, they would have seen the amazing traits of his bygone ancestors: men and women who braved the unknown and harsh new world to start a new life, later becoming respectable ministers and founders of churches, and then much later fighting for their country in various wars throughout their nation's history. Added to this, Susan Roces's own Jewish French ancestors could have returned to France or even to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state yet they decided to remain in the Philippines which gave them shelter after they fled their war-torn motherland.

Imagine a child, growing up with all these stories and inter-generational experiences of statehood and nationality. Grace Poe may have given up her Filipino citizenship to start a new life with her husband (another Filipino but with an American citizenship). Who is to say that she easily gave up her Filipino identity? And yes, she decided to return to the country for good and gave up her green card. Some say she did this for political purposes. But again, who is to say she did not truly mean her re-acquisition of her Filipino citizenship?

Like the concept of family, which does not just refer to biological relationship but also emotional and other connections, the idea of nationality and statehood can have many meanings. In the end, I still believe that we are all linked to our ancestors - whether by blood or adoption - and many things that happen to us today are sometimes reflections of things that happened to our own forebears.

For more on FPJ's family history, click here.


  1. Dear Todd, What a beautifully written genealogy. One that I enjoyed most in a very very long time! Thank you so much for this breath of fresh air.

    1. Thank you for reading and appreciating. My goal is always to make genealogy interesting and not just an accounting of names and dates. Thanks again!