celebrity deaths

In last phone call, Grace Poe and mom Susan Roces savor passage of foundling law

Mara Cepeda
In last phone call, Grace Poe and mom Susan Roces savor passage of foundling law

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. In this file photo, Senator Grace Poe is joined by her mother, veteran actress Susan Roces, in filing her candidacy for Senate reelection on October 15, 2018.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

It's an issue close to their hearts, as Senator Grace Poe is the adoptive daughter of the Philippine film icons Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr.

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe said it was “symbolic” that her final phone conversation with her late mother, renowned veteran actress Susan Roces, was the passage of the foundling law that both of them have championed for.

Facing reporters on the sidelines of her mother’s wake on Saturday night, May 21, Poe said she excitedly called her mother last Tuesday, May 17,  upon learning that President Rodrigo Duterte has already signed into law the bill recognizing foundlings as natural-born Filipinos. 

It’s a gut issue for the senator, a foundling who had to face an intense challenge to her Filipino citizenship when she ran but lost for president in the 2016 elections. Poe is the adoptive daughter of Roces and Philippine film icon Fernando Poe Jr., who also sought the presidency in 2004. Poe would later win her citizenship case before the Supreme Court. 

In her last phone call with her Roces, Poe recalled that her mother congratulated her for the passage of the foundling law. But she credited her mother for working tirelessly to ensure foundlings like her would be duly recognized as Filipinos. 

“Tapos sabi ko, ‘Ma, not congratulations to me alone; congratulations to you because if not for you and for this advocacy that you fought for, hindi ito magiging ganito. Hindi ako magiging nasa ganitong pagkakataon sa buhay.’ So masaya siya,” shared Poe.

(Then I said, “Ma, not congratulations to me alone; congratulations to you because if not for you and for this advocacy that you fought for, it won’t be like this. I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for you.’ So she was happy.)

Poe considered their last conversation to be “symbolic,” because it seemed her mother waited for the passage of the foundling law before bidding them goodbye. 

Soon after they dropped the call, Roces was rushed to the hospital as she complained about experiencing pain. 

Poe admitted she has been sensing something was wrong with Roces these past two weeks, as the usual hour-long conversations with her mother have been reduced to 10-minute conversations. Roces sounded like she was having trouble breathing over the phone. She was also barely eating.

Roces would later die of cardio-pulmonary arrest late Friday night, May 20. 

“’Yun na ang huling pag-uusap namin kaya napaka-symbolic nga. Parang inintay nya. Pero pagkatapos noon, noong dinala na namin siya sa ospital, parang wala sa sarili, tapos nagko-complain siya na may pain siya,” said Poe. 

(That was our last conversation that’s why it was so symbolic. It’s like she waited for it. But after that, when we brought her to the hospital, she wasn’t herself anymore, and she was complaining that she was in pain.)

Roces also told Poe to have their house in Baguio City fixed, so the grandchildren can visit. 

Though she is grieving the loss of her mother, Poe said she is also happy knowing Roces has finally reunited with the latter’s husband and parents. Poe said her mother had lived a full life

“Siyempre malungkot kami pero ‘pag inisip namin wala nang sakit, wala nang hirap, at higit sa lahat, kasama na niya ang mga magulang niya at saka ang tatay ko. ‘Yun talaga ang true love niya eh,” said Poe.

(Of course we are sad, but we’re also thinking that there’s no more pain, no more suffering for her, and most of all, she’s with her parents and my father now. He’s really her true love.)

Roces, real name Jesusa Sonora Poe, was born on July 28, 1941. 

She made her film debut in 1952, starring in the movie Mga Bituin ng Kinabukasan. As her acting career picked up in the ’50s, she earned the nickname “Queen of Philippine Movies.”

True to the title, she would continue to make films through the decades, starring in iconic Filipino movies such as Ang Daigdig Ko’y IkawGumising Ka MarujaPatayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara, and Mano Po.

Until her death, she played the role of Lola Flora in the long-running ABS-CBN series Ang Probinsyano.

Roces won several awards throughout her career, including multiple FAMAS Awards, the first being for her performance in the film Maligno.

Lawmakers honor Roces

Local celebrities, friends, and co-stars have been expressing their condolences to the family Roces has left behind, remembering her for her legacy in Philippine cinema and the kindness she has showed them when she was alive. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a comedian and actor before entering politics, penned a resolution on Sunday, May 22, seeking to express the chamber’s profound sympathy and sincere condolences on Roces’ passing.

“The passing away of a legendary movie star whose invaluable contribution to Philippine cinema is beyond compare and whose sincerity, warmth, guidance, and kindness had truly touched the hearts of her fellow workers in the film industry sector, particularly the young actors and actresses who have just began their movie careers, will be mourned by the Filipino people and the nation,” said Sotto. 

The Senate is expected to adopt this resolution when it reopens session this week.

Senator-elect Raffy Tulfo and his wife ACT-CIS Representative Jocelyn Tulfo are also pushing to nominate Roces to be recognized posthumously as a National Artist, just like her husband. 

Poe thanked her colleagues for suggesting to honor her late mother this way. 

“Siya talaga ay isang artist at hindi lamang ‘yun, isang artista na sa tingin ko ay nagbigay ng magandang ehemplo… Nasa kamay ang desisyon ng mga nasa posisyon kung ito ba ay maibibigay o hindi. Pero sa puso ng marami nating mga kababayan, hindi po siya makakalimutan bilang isang may integridad, mahinahon pero ‘pag hinamon ay hindi po umaatras,” said Poe.

(She truly is an artist, and not only that, an artist who I think showed a good example… It’s is now up to those in power to give this to her or not. But in the hearts of many of our countrymen, they would remember her as someone with integrity, someone who is calm but who would not back down from any fight.)

Roces’ wake is currently being held at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City. Public viewing will run from Sunday until Tuesday, May 24, from 10 am to 10 pm. Minimum health protocols will be strictly observed. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.