Press Release
September 2, 2015

Senator Grace Poe's Keynote Address
13th Philippine Global Consultation on Child Welfare Services
September 2, 2015

I welcome the opportunity to speak to you about adoption, not least because I myself am adopted and therefore have intimate experience of the topic. It is nice to be able to talk about adoption to professionals from government and civil society, advocates, and prospective parents -- to people who care about the topic as much as I do.

I believe the government should take strong action to ensure that every child, from birth, shall be able to develop and reach their full potential, and have a fighting chance to live a life of dignity and happiness. The process of Adoption would certainly have a role in this plan of action.

I congratulate ICAB for being on pace this year to equal the number of inter-country adoptions that were completed last year. The good you do -- matching children without families to the families that want them -- cannot of course be measured in numbers. Every child placed, every parenting wish fulfilled, every family united -- each individual adoption success -- is a triumph of human good will that goes beyond statistics, and carries more than its weight in any index of happiness.

However, looking at these figures another way, I will say that they indicate that there is still a huge number of unwanted children in our country. There is a multitude of reasons why parents give up their children, and in a developing country like the Philippines, poverty is surely number one. Yet as legitimate a reason this is for some Filipinos who struggle to feed themselves, let alone another mouth, I cannot help but find this truly tragic--because it underlies a willingness to keep the child if the parents or parent only had the means to do it.

It cannot be overemphasized again and again that children are the most in need of advocates to act on their behalf. First, children are politically disenfranchised as they can neither vote nor lobby. Politicians and the highest cabinet officials do not even include children in their political and executive agenda because they do not count children among their constituents, or among the potential voters who will ensure their continued stay in office. Second, children are economically disadvantaged. They have no independent financial power or control over substantial funds. Government officials do not even listen to their grievances because the sad thing is that they don't have economic power.

By the newlyborn infant who was captured on television news--who was repeatedly slapped, mauled and punished by a mother, and the best decision, really, of the DSWD is to assess parenting and to be able to give them the support that they need. Fourth, because of their relative vulnerability due to their tender age, lack of experience and their lack of maturity, children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by our adult governed culture--including the abuse, neglect, and exploitation by many.

This is why we should find ways to afford our people with decent and gainful employment support and protection. This will ease the financial burden of raising children. Ultimately, my hope is that no Filipino should give up a child out of economic hardship. Who knows? That might have been my story, too.

My life, the stuff of movies

For those of you unfamiliar with my life story, I wasn't just adopted -- I was a foundling, abandoned shortly after birth and left in a church. This is the stuff of movies, you might say, and in an instance of cinematic foreshadowing that proved to be true, I did end up being adopted by two movie stars. But at that moment, as a newborn alone in that church, I was simply one tiny human being on the planet with the least agency and without help. I was at the complete mercy of destiny and dependent on the kindness of strangers. The slightest stroke of ill fortune could have rewritten my life story into something much different and perhaps less happy.

This, in a way, is the situation of most children you are trying to place for adoption. The children awaiting families to claim them, raise them and love them are mostly helpless and alone in their yearning, like me in that church years ago. I was fortunate in that a Good Samaritan named Sayong Militar providentially heard my cries, found me in the church fount where I was left, and set me on a path towards my eventual adoption by my parents.

This is the same role you are called upon to play in the lives of these children: to provide the agency they lack, to act as their advocates, and to facilitate their journey from an unwanted childhood to one united with a family that every child deserves to have.

Hope for a productive and fuller life

What you offer them, in short, is hope. We all know too well that children who get adopted have a far greater chance at a full, productive life than those who don't. Thus, in our laws and in particular, our Civil Code and Family Code, adoption has been described as having a social and moral purpose - to extend to the child the protection of society in the person of the adopter. The objective of adoption is to secure permanently for the adopted child a normal home life.

Child protection should be an important objective and guidepost in the process of adoption. Adoption must always be done in accordance with the best interest of the child. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a treaty which the Philippines is a signatory to, determining the best interest of the child means that child's views shall be given due weight, but in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. Furthermore, in all questions regarding the care, custody, education and property of the child, his or her welfare shall be the paramount consideration.

On the topic of inter-country adoption, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, provides that the State parties shall "ensure that the child concerned enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption." Since inter-country adoption may have considerable implications on citizenship and statehood, perhaps there should be a process to clarify and establish which state shall be responsible for the protection of that child once adoption is completed.

Streamline the adoption process

Certainly, as part of its general responsibility in protecting the welfare of children, the government should endeavor to attend to their needs promptly. As I understand , in one of the problems areas faced by ICAB is the lack of information in the description of a child or the lack of significant documents.

To this end, I have introduced Senate Bill 2892, aimed at further strengthening the system of birth registration of Children in Need of Special Protection (CNSP).

"Children in Need of Special Protection" (CNSP) refer to all persons below 18 years of age, or those 18 years old and over but are unable to take care of themselves because of physical or mental disability or conditions; who are vulnerable to or are victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation, cruelty, discrimination, violence (armed conflict, domestic violence), natural calamities, man-made disasters, and other analogous conditions prejudicial to their development, at any given time.

While Memorandum Circular 2004-01 includes abandoned children under this term, existing issuances (Administrative Order No. 01 Series of 1993 and Memorandum Circular 2011-5) provide for a separate registration structure for foundlings. This has often resulted to both confusion and discrimination of the child. It is in this wise that foundlings, as defined under AO No. 01, is sought to be embraced in the term CNSP and thusly be accorded the same registration process under this Act.

As a vulnerable and disadvantaged group, CNSPs are in greater need of the State's protective arm. The non-registration of their births makes them more invisible to the State's developmental radar that could otherwise include them in priority programs on health, nutrition, education and protection.

Timely birth registration is a fundamental right of every child, and the act of registration is both a conferment and a safeguard of the child's right to a name and nationality, and to be taken care of by parents or by temporary guardians.

The Certificate of Live Birth -- the principal document of birth registration -- is this almost magical key that unlocks access to so many things the child would need now and later in life. It opens access to basic services such as health and medical assistance, and education. It ensures fundamental rights such as the right to vote and be voted for; the right to seek employment and to access social security benefits; the right to own property; the right to inherit; and the right to secure other documentary identification, like a driver's license or a passport.

My parents had to go through this process. In 1968, it wasn't very clear what the process should be. And my father, at that time, was quite traditional, would say "Why do we even need to have to go through this process of adoption? She is our child and we love her." And my mother insisted that eventually, it will be important to have a document to prove that because while they know that they love me and I know that, the state does not easily recognize that. Whenever I go to school, they would ask for a birth certificate. And a certificate that I always had to show was a foundling certificate. Not a birth certificate. And not everybody understood that. So it was a process that they undertook--from the time that they took me in that commenced many years later--at least 3 more years later--and so that adoption certificate became my birth certificate.

And even then there was much discrimination about it. Because every time you enroll in a school, instead of showing a birth certificate, what you had to show was an adoption certificate. So early on, even if I didn't feel any less as a child of their own from my parents, society sometimes made me feel so.

Most relevantly, for our purposes, it is a necessary document to establish family ties and better opportunities for the child through the process of adoption.

This bill ensures that the adoption process is streamlined, and not impeded by red tape. It stipulates that any child who is found and classified as a CNSP should receive, within 48 hours, whatever support is needed, be it documentation, medical attention, temporary custody, or other. Our aim is to transition as swiftly as possible any CNSP into a child that you can soon help place in adoption. Our deeper hope is that any trauma suffered by the child be quickly healed and forgotten, especially when the child is integrated into a system of care, preferably one that comes from the adoptive family.

What compels strangers to adopt?

Allow me now a word about your other clients, the prospective adoptive parents. As a mother of three children, I understand how fierce the biological imperative of mothering and parenting is, because I have felt it myself. Your own children are truly extensions of yourself, and the urge to nurture and protect them is absolute. There is nothing you wouldn't do for them, and their welfare comes even before your own.

But what depths of altruism and compassion could move people to want to raise children who are not theirs, who are not related to them, and who would even be complete strangers to them in any other circumstance? Adoptive parents have no genetic imperative of perpetuating their DNA, nor any egotistical incentive to endow the world with the fine qualities that their offspring will inherit. There is no reward to adoption other than the child itself and the privilege of loving it. The commitment and responsibility to nurture any child can sometimes be overwhelming -- yet prospective adoptive parents assume these with a fullness of heart and generosity of spirit that I find very inspiring.

When I was adopted by my parents, there was no question that they were acting out of any other motive rather than that of pure love. My advocacy of adoption therefore a homage to them--a love letter of returning a love that cannot even begin to equal the love they have hand forth on this foundling, from the start. Which left no doubt in my mind that I was unquestionably, unconditionally, and truly their daughter.

And this goes for all the children who are adopted.

Lastly, let me comment on the aptness of the theme: Adoption, a Lifelong Journey and Commitment--which underscores just how life changing your work is. For the people you touch. Every successful adoption you complete, has a lifetime of consequences for at least three people: the child, and the adoptive parents, and the beneficial effect of lives made fuller, richer, and more mindful, should ripple through society, enlightening everyone's journey.

I would like to thank those who are present here today: the advocates of adoption, and the rights and welfare of children--Sec. Dinky Soliman, members of the Church who are present here, the diplomatic corps, ICAB, my friends from the MTRCB.

The focus of my work has always been inclusiveness for children, for the most defenseless in society. I thank each and every one of you again for the work that you do. It is not easy--most of you here are biological children. But you chose to adopt a child even if you had your own biological child--to take care of another child in need in society.

But I would like to tell other non-biological children that you are your parents' children, and there are many ways in which you can ensure your parents that they indeed made the right choice. And that your life is not just for yourself, but for the many others that you can help in society. And that your life can be a positive force in society, not just for your parents but those other lives that you touch. But let us not forget that we are here today because of the altruism and love of people who did not think of themselves, but who thought of the defenseless, helpless child.

And I think now, that I appeal to our countrymen, to members in government, to respect and honor this same love. Thank you.

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