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MANILA, Philippines – It was a huge jump that caught many, even Grace Poe, by surprise. In a month’s time, the former censors chief picked up 32 percentage points in a survey of senatorial preferences, putting her in the winning circle.
Poe credited the significant rise in rankings to the same reason she gives for running in the first place: her father.
And precisely because her father is late well-loved actor and presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr, her political affiliation in her Senate bid has raised questions in the mind of fans and voters.
Poe filed her candidacy as an independent, but is clearly part of President Aquino’s Liberal Party-led slate.
Why is Grace Poe not running solely with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), the coalition that traces its beginnings to FPJ’s 2004 presidential bid and subsequent quest to uncover alleged massive fraud by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?
Listening to Grace Poe, one would realize the right question should instead be: Why was she not initially invited by UNA that’s headed by her father’s best friend former President Joseph Estrada, political ally Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile?
Rappler found out that the possible explanation—which can be traced to the 2004 polls—has proven to be touchy.
‘The President came first’
Of the 3 common candidates of UNA and LP, it was Poe who immediately and unequivocally said from the beginning that she would heed the President’s directive for the common bets not to join the sorties of or appear onstage with the opposition’s slate.
She told Rappler, "UNA didn’t invite me initially. The President really came first."
She also said she sees herself and values more "in line" with LP than UNA.
Poe was "really flattered" when she was offered to be part of the President's slate for something, she felt, was more than just her surname.
"The President appreciated my work (at the MTRCB) so he invited me. Of course the factor that I’m FPJ’s daughter, I’m sure there’s some goodwill to that," she said.
She and Aquino had several meetings discussing the possibility of her joining his slate, until she finally said yes.
In comparison, she said: "UNA didn’t call me, not once, to talk to me about including me in their party. They just said we’ll adopt you, once the President already announced."
"Erap and Binay, when they found out about this, they were like, 'Hindi naman puwedeng hindi ka namin isu-support kasi best friend namin ’yung dad mo.' So it was like, either way UNA was going to get me because my dad was their friend," she said.
"With the LP, it was, 'Wow, maganda reputasyon ng tatay niyan at saka matino ’yan magtrabaho.' So at least, with the LP, it was a little bit because of the job I had done. With the other one, it was just more because of my dad."
It’s her word against her father’s allies. UNA secretary general Toby Tiangco told Rappler that it is "beyond imagination that UNA would not invite her."
He said: "I cannot believe that she was not invited by UNA. If you look at the history of UNA, UNO, the united opposition was born because of the cheating of FPJ. FPJ ran under KNP (Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino) that’s why UNA was formed was to be the united front to protest the cheating in 2004. It was borne out of hope for her father."
Tiangco said Poe in fact called him to ask why she wasn’t invited by UNA. “So after that, I asked around and someone told me she was invited. She was not an afterthought.”
Tiangco wouldn’t say who supposedly invited Poe to be on UNA’s slate.
Who abandoned who?
Sources in political circles said an uncomfortable distance might have been created between FPJ and Estrada because:
Sen Serge Osmeña, who is helping Grace Poe’s campaign, confirms the first reason -- that FPJ distanced himself from his friend as recommended by his "handlers" -- but doubts the second reason.
Tiangco also denies that Estrada withdrew his support from FPJ. In fact, said the Navotas congressman, he was with Estrada when the former President gave instructions to immediately sell a property so he could funnel funds to FPJ’s campaign during the crucial last week before Election Day in 2004.
“That is one thing I can swear on is not true. Erap, even in jail, supported FPJ all the way. I know that Erap did not only support him in terms of calling political supporters, I know that Erap spent personal funds just to support FPJ until the end,” Tiangco said.
“If they only knew how much Erap spent. I know for a fact how much he spent, it’s not a small amount of money,” he told Rappler, but said he didn’t have the authority to disclose the amount.
Grace herself said Estrada didn’t withdraw his support from FPJ.
On the supposed instructions of FPJ’s handlers for the latter to distance himself from Estrada, she said: “My Dad wanted people to understand that he ran to help restore trust in the government, aside from the major programs he wanted to implement to uplift the lives of the marginally oppressed. He believed also that Erap deserved a fair trial. Others would speculate that he merely ran to save Erap unconditionally. FPJ has always stood by what he believed was fair and he would not compromise his principles to gain favor. He loved Erap but he knew that a fair trial would restore Erap's credibility and not a pardon from him.”
FPJ lost to Arroyo by 1 million votes in what was believed to be a rigged election. He died in December 2004—beside then Makati Mayor Binay and opposition spokesman Chiz Escudero in a party—while his election protest was pending.
The following year, it was exposed that operators for Arroyo had replaced the election returns that were being kept in the Batasan Complex for the protest hearings. They had feared that FPJ’s wife, actress Susan Roces, would pursue the protest even after FPJ died.
Aligned with Aquino
Poe is comfortable with the LP camp anyway. In fact, she speaks like a Liberal, praising Aquino and the work he has done—specifically holding Arroyo accountable.
"I admire the President. I really do. Not to be a suck-up or anything, of course nobody’s perfect, but I know that when he says something, his motive is not to steal. His motive is not to put one over us," she said.
She compared the two coalitions, and said one difference is she had made a "serious commitment" to the President, something she never did with UNA. She admitted she felt more aligned with Aquino's team.
"I’m in the coalition of the President because I think that we’re in line with the same things. Liberal is very clear. Liberal, the coalition, is clear. Tuwid na daan. So transparency, honesty in government, and credibility," she said.
"On the other hand, UNA, they included certain people whom I went on the record saying I’m not comfortable with…. In the past, I’m totally against electoral fraud and I think there has to be some justice done with those who were victimized by that."
Poe continued on to say she was surprised with UNA's move to drop an "amiable person" (clearly referring to Koko Pimentel) for "this other person" (clearly, Migz Zubiri), who was found to have taken Pimentel's senatorial seat through electoral fraud.
Poe admits she’s also uncomfortable with the inclusion of a "very intelligent" woman who was "an apologist for the last administration," clearly Arroyo ally, Zambales Rep Mitos Magsaysay.
Despite her reservations, Poe said she didn't opt out as UNA's guest candidate because she was grateful for their support, and needed all the help she could get.
Ready for politics
Critics say Poe, 44, has no real political experience except for her two years at the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).
She was a Montessori pre-school teacher at one point, a procurement liaison of scientific equipment for a year, and a product manager, also for a scientific company, for 3 years, all in the United States—where she was happily based and settled with her family.
Until her father died.
Grace returned to Manila temporarily in 2004 to campaign for her father, then went back to the US. When Fernando Poe Jr died from a stroke, 7 months after the elections, Grace came back for good. She managed PFJ’s film outfit and became active in the electoral reform advocacy group Kontra Daya.
In 2010, she was appointed in the MTRCB by current President Benigno Aquino III where she served until 2012.
Poe is married to her low-profile husband, Teodoro "Neil" Llamanzares, who is a Chief Information Officer at San Miguel Corporation Telco and with whom she has 3 kids. She has a BA in Development Studies from the University of the Philippines Manila, and a BA in Political Science from Boston College.
But Grace is convinced that her various experiences—of being a parent, of instituting change in the MTRCB, of having lived abroad—have armed her to enter politics.
She prides herself in being honest and effective, which she said she exhibited during her stint at the MTRCB, where she instituted policies that further protected the welfare of child actors, gave incentives to independent filmmakers, and introduced new classifications to protect young ones from inappropriate content in TV shows and movies.
And while she said she may have gotten the MTRCB job because of her parents, she said she proved herself to be trustworthy in that position.
While she acknowledges that a Senate bid is a “public endeavor much wider” than being censors chief, she said “I intend to prove myself in a way, as a daughter of FPJ whom basically FPJ raised to be honest and so far I can safely say that I am."
Her own path
Back in November, Poe admitted to Rappler she was surprised to have been asked by the President to run for senator, knowing "there were some considerations about the survey" in selecting candidates.
She talked about being told by Senators Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda, who topped the 2007 race, about having been ranked in the 20s when they first filed their candidacies.
"They’re telling me these things that there’s of course a possibility but we can’t deny the scientific methods of the surveys… So all of these things could encourage you but it’s more of lesson you should learn from that. Don’t be too complacent. Don’t be too overconfident."
Just two months later, she herself sits comfortably in the Magic 12.
Poe's ratings are expected to rise, with a recently aired episode of her life on Maalala Mo Kaya surely helping out. But she remains vigilant, attending engagement after engagement to introduce herself, saying she will sleep only in May when it's all over.
If elected senator, Poe wants to focus on alleviating poverty, creating opportunities for the youth and children, and continue her crusade towards electoral reform.
For the youth, she wants to have a standard job matching program wherein local government units and the national government can help graduates find a job that matches the course they took. She also wants students to be able to take out loans from banks, as they do in the United States, to be able to pay for their education. She wants paid internship programs for students to give them experience before they work fulltime.
She said she doesn't mind the removal of the pork barrel. She supports the Freedom of Information Bill. And she believes the answer to poverty alleviation is good governance: "We need honest people in government… If corruption exists, then poverty exists."
Grace Poe is her father's daughter, but it is clear she wants to make a name of her own. - Rappler.com
Other profiles in our series on senatorial candidates: