"How shall Grace Poe see her place in the political sun of 2022?"
Hers was a story straight out of the movies, or a telenovela, even a Disney tale.
Supposedly, she was left abandoned in the pews of a church in Iloilo, taken cared of as an infant by a kind lady, and later adopted by Jesusa Sonora of Negrense parentage, also known as Susan Roces, the demure heroine of many a Tagalog movie.
Susan was married to the “King of Filipino movies,” Fernando Poe Jr., better known as FPJ, but theirs was a childless marriage. So they adopted the infant and gave her a name, Grace, as in “grasya mula sa langit.”
And so the foundling grew up amid wealth, even if she was a very private person, which is probably how the famous couple wanted their “unica hija” to be. The couple, though byword in movieland and known to practically every Filipino, were themselves reticent of the limelight, neither flaunting wealth nor fame, nor drawn into politics unlike FPJ’s friend, Joseph Ejercito, also known as Erap Estrada.
The latter entered politics as mayor of tiny San Juan while continuing to make movies as actor and producer. He parlayed that political debut into national fame, becoming senator, thence vice-president, and president. Through all his political battles, his friend FPJ supported him as crowd-drawer in humongous public rallies.
But President Erap fell from grace, in a bloodless coup d’etat falsely called the second people power. His followers were still legion, and so, while he was imprisoned in hospital suite followed by his grand Tanay resthouse, he and a powerful businessman-politician prevailed on the legendary FPJ to run for president against the “usurper” they accused of “stealing” the presidency.
Despite unprecedented popularity, FPJ lost that election of 2004, and the incumbent, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, daughter of a former president, won a controversial victory punctuated by a cheating “Hello Garci” scandal that almost lost her the presidency through another mutiny which failed. One tough lady is how Pres. GMA will be remembered.
In the wake of the unexpected defeat, in part the result of FPJ’s failure to convince outlier Ping Lacson to withdraw his own presidential candidacy, and the loss of the INC vote to GMA, the “King” withdrew into self-imposed isolation from public sight, and seven months after the elections, he succumbed to an aneurysm. Paroxysms of public grief followed.
Enter then the foundling. Already an American citizen, she returned for good to the Philippines when GMA’s term was about to end, and entered public service as Chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) as appointee of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III. She gave up her US passport and regained Filipino citizenship, a legal conundrum that was finally resolved in her favor by the Supreme Court in 2015, when she ran for President of the Republic.
Prior to this, she jumped from MTRCB to getting elected senator of the realm in 2013, where she emerged Numero Uno. And in a country which gives immense value to those who top any contest, whether the bar examinations, or beauty contests, or the senatorial race, she instantly became “presidential material”.
Pres. Aquino and his candidate for president in 2016, Mar Roxas, dangled the vice-presidential slot to Sen. Grace Poe. Not a bad career move for a first-term senator, but she dissed it and ran for president herself, along with friend and FPJ’s campaign spokesman in 2004, the articulate Sorsogon senator Chiz Escudero as her running mate.
The tandem of Grace and Chiz was the toast of political tinseltown from the time they launched her candidacy at the UP Bahay Alumni in September. Alongside that political foray, ABS-CBN regurgitated a previous FPJ movie, Ang Probinsyano, into a telenovela with the hugely popular Coco Martin in the lead and doyenne Susan Roces as character actor.
Their survey ratings hit the roof and by the start of the campaign in February 2016, the tandem was largely predicted to win the elections. But a mayor from the deep South who kept everybody in tenterhooks by denying his presidential run, slowly crept into the limelight, like a stealth aircraft with pre-computed trajectory. He shocked people with his foul language and unorthodox moves, but that attracted the populace more and more.
By April of 2016, Rodrigo Roa Duterte was leading the surveys, after three presidential debates where his rapier-sharp remarks and rebuttals elevated him in the public esteem. His “Tapang at Malasakit” theme presaged an era where “Change is Coming”. The Grace-Chiz tandem in contrast presented a vision of apple pie and peach cream, saying all the good things about everything under the sun. Mar and Leni presented their version of the by-now discredited “Daang Matuwid.”
Duterte won with almost 40 percent of the vote, with Aquino’s anointed, Mar Roxas a far second, Grace Poe third, Vice-President Jojo Binay fourth, and the feisty Senadora Miriam as tail-ender.
Ironically, had Grace Poe accepted the Aquino-Roxas offer of the vice-presidency, she would have easily become vice-president. As it happened, another lady, the widow Leni Robredo, through winsome smiles and demure personality, squeaked past Bongbong Marcos to become Numero Dos.
Flashback to 2004, when outlier Ping Lacson failed to accept the FPJ offer to be his second best, a combination that could have easily swept GMA out of Malacanang.
But Grace Poe was still senator with three more years left in her first term. And when she ran for re-election, as an independent supportive of the popular Duterte, she placed a strong second, with the uber-wealthy Cynthia Villar topping the race and an obscure Bong Go an amazing third.
Now all three of them are labelled “presidentiables.”
Who among them will take the plunge and throw their hat into the ring?
There is a “regla” in the presidential sweepstakes that so far has held fast—that one who runs for the presidency and vice-presidency, but loses, gets no second chance for the top elective posts in the benighted land. This is unlike the US of A where a Richard Nixon after losing to Jack Kennedy in 1960 became governor of California, and then tried once more and won the presidency, later to be disgraced into resigning by the Watergate scandal.
But, there is always a first time.
Her numbers are respectable, behind the presidential daughter, or statistically tied with the pugilist, the son, and Yorme. But these are early days. The political heat which normally should be on high by now, is still simmering low with Covid and the vaccine taking top spot in the public mind.
How shall the foundling see her place in the political sun of 2022?