Can Grace Poe relive FPJ magic in Zamboanga City?

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Zamboanga City was pivotal in the political career of the late action hero Fernando Poe Jr. – but could his daughter, presidential bet Grace Poe, recreate that victory in the city?

Twelve years ago, there was no doubt the city and Mindanao in general were solid for FPJ. The political scene now, however, is far from simple.

LP ALLIES. Presidential bet Mar Roxas is welcomed by Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco and Vice Mayor Cesar Itturalde in September 2015.

Photo by Zamboanga City government

Key local officials such as Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar and Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde are aligned with the ruling Liberal Party.

LOBREGAT. Zamboanga 1st district Representative Celso Lobregat with Roxas.

Senate file photo

Zamboanga City 1st district Representative Celso Lobregat, who is running for reelection under Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), is supporting administration standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.

NPC BET. Senators Poe and Escudero with sole NPC bet in Zamboanga City, former priest Crisanto 'Monsi' Dela Cruz.

Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler

The Nationalist People’s Coalition, the party backing the tandem of Poe and Senator Francis Escudero, is only fielding one candidate – former priest Crisanto “Monsi” Dela Cruz for first district representative.

Low ratings in Mindanao

Aside from the complicated political scene in the city, Poe has to contend with low survey ratings in Mindanao.

In the recent February Pulse Asia survey, Poe got 15% in Mindanao, trailing behind Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte with 45%, who hails from the island group, and Vice President Jejomar Binay with 21%. 

Poe associated it with their limited campaign in Mindanao. She, however, remained positive they would be able to keep up in the coming months. She also repeatedly mentioned her father’s name in her rounds in the city. (READ: Grace Poe tells Zamboanga: FPJ’s fight ‘not yet over’

“Kung titignan nyo ang aming sortie schedule, dito kami pa lang di pa masyado nagpupunta sa Mindanao, kahit sa Visayas. Importante na makapunta kami. Mahaba pa kung iisipin mo yung ilan araw pa na pwede ikutin ang ating bansa - 66 days. Kaya mapupunuan pa natin ang pagkukulang sa ibang lugar,” Poe said in a press conference on Friday, March 4.

(If you will look at our sortie schedule, we have not been to many places in Mindanao, even in Visayas. It is important that we go there. If you think about it, there are still many days to roam the country – 66 days. We can still make up in other areas.)

Poe’s campaign manager Ace Durano, meanwhile, said the Poe-Escudero tandem will continue to reach out directly to both local leaders and voters until May 9, election day.

Durano said Bem Noel, the head of the political group, continues “to network” with politicians even if they have declared support for other candidates.

“In areas where we feel we can do better, Senator Grace and Senator Chiz will continue to reach out both to political leaders and directly to the voters. Aside from this, we have members of the campaign group that works with multi-sectoral groups who are supporting Senator Grace and Senator Chiz and our senatorial candidates. We will continue to reach out up to election day,” Durano told Rappler in a text message.

Pulse of Zamboangeños

Poe had been to the 7th most vote-rich city at least 3 times since 2015, a move seen to consolidate her forces in the so-called FPJ country.

In the 2004 presidential election, FPJ won in Zamboanga City with 142,236 votes over Arroyo’s 61,705 votes. He, however, lost to Arroyo overall in the elecion widely believed to have been rigged.

In 2013, Zamboangeños proved its loyalty to the King of Philippine movies when Poe emerged as the top senator here with 144,058 votes.

In the same year, the city was at the center of a siege and month-long clashes between government forces and the Nur Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberal Front.

The Zamboanga siege, as well as the post-Yolanda crisis and even post-Bohol earthquake response, are the considered sore points for the campaign of Poe's political rival Roxas.

Virginia Bellizar, 65, who sells fishballs near a village affected by the clash, recalled how she had no earnings for her family for 2 months.

“Syempre wala kami rito, nagtago kami sa bahay namin. Mga 2 months kami di nakatinda dito dahil sa giyera,” Bellizar said.

(Of couse we were not here, we hid at home. For almost 2 months, we were not able to sell our products because of the war.)

While she remained thankful they were not in the middle of the war, she said she saw the impact of the clashes on her friends in the affected areas.

“Ang tagal nila sa evacuation center at natigil din yung buhay nila,” Bellizar said. (My friends stayed at the evacuation center for so long, and their lives came to a standstill.)

Asked who is her presidential choice, she said: "Si Grace Poe for president, kasi babae sya, mas reliable. Okay si Poe, mabuti siguro sya magdala kasi since parehas sila ni Cory Aquino na babae."

(Grace Poe for president because she's a woman, more reliable. Poe is okay, maybe she is good in managing since she's a woman like Cory Aquino.)

Adelina Aripin, 46, lives in Sta. Catalina, one of the affected areas of the siege. She recalled how difficult it was for them then.

“Nahirapan kami. Doon kami sa grandstand na evacuation center. May binigay sa amin mga bigas, mga food pack at saka pera mula sa Red Cross,” Aripin told Rappler.

(We had a difficult time. We evacuated to the grandstand. They gave us rice, food packs and money from Red Cross.)

Asked whom she will vote for in May, she said she has no final choice yet.

“Pag-isipan [ko] po muna. Mag-uusap pa kami ng asawa ko kung sino yung maganda magdala ng tao,” she said. (I will think about it first. My husband and I will discuss first who among the candidates is good at managing people.)

Like Aripin, Jesse Tau, 78, was among the evacuees during the month-long clashes. “Until now, what's happening to us is not good," Tau said in Chavacano.

Asked for his presidential bet, Tau was quick to say: “Grace Poe for president... kasi idol ko si (my idol is) Fernando Poe [Jr], favorite ko si FPJ.” –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email