Grace Poe

The Once and Future King

Nicole Curato, Patricia Evangelista

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

The Once and Future King

Paulol Marcos

Amazing Grace, they call her, the unknown hero born from unknown roots, drafted into reluctant service by fate and circumstance, her heart pure, her courage vast.

This compilation was migrated from our archives

Visit the archived version to read the full article.

Illustrations by Geloy Concepcion Design by ANALETTE ABESAMIS and DOMINIC TUAZON

The Imagined President: The Idealized

Rappler’s series of presidential profiles begins with the idealized candidate. Here, in the first of a three-part series, we present the narrative we believe best embodies a candidate’s ideal self. Our portrayal of the imagined candidate is based on how the candidates – and their supporters – project themselves. No candidate is perfect, but by parsing out the idealized narrative, we hope to prompt reflection on which virtues of leadership, at least in principle, appeal to us the most.

The story begins, as most epics do, with the birth of a foundling. Her parents were unknown. Her name was borrowed. She was left, 47 years ago, on the steps of the Parish of Jaro.

At 5 years old, she was adopted by royalty – or as close to royalty the Philippines can provide. Mary Grace Natividad Sonora Poe, adopted daughter of Fernando Poe Jr and Susan Roces, king and queen of the national box office, grew up under the klieg lights of her celebrity parents. It was an auspicious beginning, but it would have ended quietly when she left at 23 to marry a Filipino-American and swear allegiance to the American flag.

“I was living in the States, peacefully,” she said. “I was very content with my life.”

Then her father died, and she came home. Grace Poe is the daughter of the man the people call The King – to understand her is to understand him.



The last crusade

Fernando Poe Jr’s epic role as Flavio the blacksmith – Ang Panday – made him the archetypal hero in the national imagination. Servant of heaven, chosen of the people, armed with the flaming sword he hammered out of shooting star, Flavio saves his people from the evil Lizardo, his celluloid victories punctuated with speeches rolling with the echo of God’s own thunder. He starred in dozens of films over a long and storied career, always playing the same man – the hero, come to save us all.

In 2001, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency after the overthrow of matinee idol Joseph Estrada. Poe, a lifelong friend of Estrada, cast himself as the hero to Arroyo’s villain.

The real and imagined collided on the political stage, when The King announced he was running for the presidency of the republic. 

“My dad was an unlikely candidate,” said Grace, who was in the United States during her father’s campaign. “He felt with a very strong administration at that time, and a personality that is so, I guess, oppressive, you needed a popular candidate. People were convincing him that he was that popular candidate.”

(READ: The independence of Grace Poe)

“A lot of people ridiculed him,” said Grace. “They said, ‘He’s just an actor, he knows nothing.’”

He stood, coiffed and grave, on a podium before his adoring people. The words rolled out in the rasping voice so familiar to the cheering crowd. His campaign used the same rhetoric as his action films. He promised an end to poverty and victory against the corrupt. His government would be a government ruled by compassion.

It was not an easy fight. The mythology of the hero competed against another narrative – that of a college dropout with delusions of grandeur.

“A lot of

It would be The King’s final crusade. Fernando Poe Jr lost in an election rife with reports of cheating and heavy payoffs. Months after Arroyo began her second term, Fernando Poe Jr. collapsed from a stroke, slipped into a coma and died.

The King was dead, but his story became prelude to the rise of another hero.


The avenging angel

When Grace Poe returned, very few outside the industry knew who she was, or that she existed at all. She filed for dual citizenship. She sent her children to local private schools. She renounced her American citizenship. She accepted a minor government post. She was a blank slate, with none of the baggage of her political contemporaries and all of the advantage of her father’s history and loyal clique of friends.

In 2013, she ran for the Senate. Her rationale was an unabashed attempt to secure justice her father. Vote for her, and you vindicate him.

“I want to prove that FPJ, the person they ridiculed, was able to raise somebody like me, who is taking after maybe him in a way, but also continuing his legacy.”

Amazing Grace, say the magazine profiles, the unknown hero born from unknown roots, drafted into reluctant service by fate and circumstance, her heart pure, her courage vast.

When she won, shooting to the top of the senatorial ballot, Grace Poe filled a deficit in compassion left by the Aquino administration. The yellow army may have been virtuous, but it demonstrated a striking inability to relate to the grief and suffering of a troubled people. She promised that no one would be left behind.

There was no pretension of being one with the poor, only that she knew them, understood them, felt for them. Poe travelled quietly to Tacloban to listen to weeping mothers, while interior secretary Mar Roxas made headlines trading insults with the mayor. She took the train when traffic clogged the metro, while the transportation secretary reduced the tangled mess into a tasteless joke. She held her ground at the Mamasapano investigative panel, commiserating with widows, while the President chose to appear at the launch of a Mitsubishi plant instead of standing at the tarmac to salute the coffins of his dead soldiers.

The run for the presidency was almost inevitable. She was courted by the ruling party. She was the darling of the news media. She was the candidate of choice among a middle class concerned about corruption and young voters in search of inspiration. At campaign rallies, the loudspeaker booms the same music that played for her father more than a decade before. 

She is a small woman, barely over 5 feet, campaigning in jeans and a white shirt as her father did. She shakes hands with pearls at her ears and her mother by her side, shiny hair pulled in a ponytail, smile ready, a figure of quiet refinement and gracious goodwill.

Hers is a narrative that arcs perfectly into the classic hero myth, far more than her father’s cinematic legacy. She is the fatherless Skywalker taught the ways of the Jedi by the martyred Obi-Wan. She is Joan of Arc, charging into the battle under the banner of God. She is the Christ, born in a manger, the only begotten son. 

Amazing Grace, say the magazine


The hero’s journey

In the story Grace Poe tells, she is proof that in a democracy, the smallest can emerge triumphant. Her victory is the people’s victory.

“Who would’ve thought,” she said in her acceptance speech, “that a foundling would ever become senator? I thank you for giving me that opportunity.”

Yet in the run-up to 2016, she has seen her candidacy struck down twice by the Commission on Elections. She awaits a decision from the High Court. Her nationality has been questioned. Her intentions have been called opportunistic. Her numbers have seesawed. Her moniker has become the American President. The National People”s Coalition, the party that once supported her father, has held back on her endorsement because of her disqualification case.

“They say I am not a Filipino because I am a foundling and I do not know my real parents. But that is not fair. What we”re fighting for here is real change for our country,” she told OFWs in Hongkong

The hero has many names. Pendragon, Potter, Poe, once upon a time, many times over.

The attacks against her, she says, are par for the course. Her “critics will use any excuse to exclude” her, much like they did when her father ran for president. 

Grace Poe will take up the sword and fight the battle that killed her father. She has answered allegations of inexperience – the same criticism her father faced – with a bullet-point agenda that promises salvation. In the roiling circus that has marked the lead-up to May 2016, she continues to smile with equanimity, temper in check, unfazed and undaunted.

In the hero myth, the quest begins with an untried hero. The dark is rising, the center crumbling, the fate of the world at stake. Off goes the hero, down the yellow brick road, through the looking glass, past the storm troopers, into the gardens of Gethsemane, straight into Mordor and the heart of Mount Doom.

The hero has many names. Pendragon, Potter, Poe, once upon a time, many times over. The King’s daughter asks for–

(Editor’s note: All quotes have been translated from their original form to English).

Patricia Evangelista is Rappler’s multimedia manager. She is an international fellow of the Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship for Trauma Reporting and was awarded the Kate Webb Prize for exceptional journalism in dangerous conditions. In 2016, she received The Outstanding Young Men award for the field of journalism. Tweet her @patevangelista.

 Nicole Curato is a sociologist from the University of the Philippines. She is currently a Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellow at the Center for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance based in Canberra. In 2013, she received The Outstanding Young Men award for the field of sociology. Tweet her @NicoleCurato.




Rappler”s presidential profile series maps the narratives presented by both candidates and critics in the campaign for 2016

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI