Grace Poe: Emerging center of political gravity
What is happening to Senator Grace Poe is a rare political phenomenon reminiscent of Cory Aquino’s ascent to power in 1986. It appears as a sort of magic, as indicated by the growing but perceptible groundswell of support for her presidential run in 2016.
Although it is early to draw a conclusion from this, she appears to be at the height of her political popularity. As other perceived presidential bets scramble to generate steam, Poe looms as the emerging center of political gravity. She emerges as the new darling of Philippine politics.
Poe’s rise as the new political star does not appear to be a function of her ambition and volition. Humble, unassuming, and self-effacing to a fault, Poe is the reluctant presidential contender. Her aversion to a presidential run stems from her observations on the slash-and-burn nature of Philippine politics, the accompanying mudslinging and dirty plays.
The junior senator saw how movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., her father who ran for president in 2004, was subjected to the worst kind of mudslinging and massive cheating that resulted in the victory of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She is happy in the Senate, but recent political developments tend to push her to seek higher office.
Although she has yet to declare her presidential run, Poe’s entry in the 2016 presidential race assumes a degree of certainty as emerging political issues and realities tend to favor her. Although the next political exercise is 11 months away, latest opinion polls saw her overtaking Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was leading the opinion polls since 2011.
Moreover, Binay’s resignation as a Cabinet member indicates that President Benigno Aquino III would endorse somebody in the ruling Liberal Party-led coalition. Certain LP leaders, including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., tend to favor Poe over Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the presumptive LP bet, as the presidential candidate of the ruling coalition.
These political leaders want to keep the ruling coalition intact for the 2016 presidential elections.
In their judgment, an outsider, or a non-LP presidential candidate, has a bigger chance of bagging the presidency than an LP candidate, who would be likely Roxas. If the ruling coalition remains solid by 2016, they believe that its candidate would be a runaway winner.
Poe ranked higher than Davao City Rodrigo Duterte, whose advocacy for lost causes like federalism and vigilante justice did not gather steam among the respondents of the latest opinion polls, and Roxas, who appears too flat for the respondents, as he could not scintillate their political imagination.
Life in the US
Mary Grace Sonora Poe-Llamanzares is the adopted daughter of Ronnie Poe and movie actress Susan Roces. Although she was listed to have born on September 3, 1968, Poe was abandoned by her biological mother in a Catholic church in Iloilo City. A woman who found her gave her to the Poes, who took moves for her legal adoption. Until now, she has not known her biological parents, as no one has come forward to acknowledge her.
The Poes gave her a sheltered life; they insulated her from the cantankerous movie world, where they were known for their outstanding works. She finished her elementary education at St. Paul’s College in Quezon City; her high school at the Assumption College in Makati City. She studied for two years at University of the Philippines, but she later moved to the United States, where she completed her political science degree at Boston College in 1991.
She married Neil Llamanzares, whom she met in Manila, gave birth to three children, and led a quiet life with her family in Virginia. She worked for three years as a preschool teacher. She later joined two private firms in succession, where she worked as a procurement officer and product officer, respectively, until 2003, when she returned to help her father in his political campaign. After his loss and death in 2004, she returned to the country for good. She led an advocacy group for clean, honest and fair elections.
In 2010, the President appointed her as chair of the Movie and Television Classification and Ratings Board (MTCRB), a post that she led until she was drafted as one of the senatorial candidates of the ruling LP coalition in 2013. She topped the senatorial elections, garnering the most number of votes for a senator in the country’s political history. (READ: The independence of Grace Poe)
In the Senate, Poe has been championing the proposed Freedom of Information Act, the enactment of which has been stalled for more than two decades. She has taken a strong position against child pornography and official corruption. She has established a reputation for integrity and diligence.
Moreover, she has become a critic of the Vice President, who has been widely accused of acts of plunder and corruption, when he was mayor of Makati City, the country’s premier business center. This has endeared her to the huge segment of the voting population that rejects the Binays’ alleged corrupt ways.
As the emerging center of political gravity in the 2016 presidential elections, Grace Poe is fast becoming the rallying point of many political leaders, who want continuity and certainty in the pursuit of the President’s anti-corruption agenda beyond 2016.
Unlike Binay, she has not been identified with any scandal. Political leaders view her as unbeatable in 2016. They tend to look at her with the same magic that Cory Aquino had in the 1980s.
Political pundits could hardly explain her charm and charisma to voters. Perhaps, they view her as an extension of her father, who had created a reputation for professionalism as a movie actor. Perhaps her reputation for integrity and dedication works for her. She goes public wearing white clothes, projecting luster to her persona of honesty.
Moreover, Poe is seen as possessing the political glue that could keep the ruling coalition intact as it faces the Binay-led coalition composed of discredited political forces identified with former presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Fidel Ramos.
But not all leaders in the ruling coalition, particularly in the Liberal Party, are excited about the possibility of having Grace Poe as standard-bearer.
Since Poe is an independent and has remained unidentified with any political party, they view her as a political interloper, or even an opportunist, who would take the presidency away from any of the legitimate LP leaders, particularly Roxas.
The conventional wisdom is that if there is anybody who should have the first crack at the presidency under an LP-led coalition, it should be Roxas, who has been waiting in the wings to take his chance. But they are not ruling a Mar Roxas-Grace Poe ticket, which could boost further the chances of the ruling coalition.
Furthermore, Poe, as an independent, neither has the resources nor the political machinery to ensure political victory in 2016. This fact does not endear her to LP leaders, who look at Poet as one who would take advantage of the ruling coalition’s resources and political machinery. (READ: LP the party to beat in 2016)
Her close association with Senator Francis Escudero, whom she has described as her mentor in the Senate, is another factor for their resistance, as they view Escudero as responsible for the hybrid NoyBi campaign, which led to Binay’s slim victory over Roxas in 2010.
They view Escudero with a combined suspicion and disdain, as the latter could emerge as her “Rasputin” when she wins the presidency.
Limited political experience
Although she is the emerging darling of Philippine politics, certain political leaders are wary of a Grace Poe presidency because of her limited experience.
Her work experience in the US does not sharpen her political acumen. Neither does her limited experience here provide her with the overview that would enable her to cope with the demands and exigencies of the presidency.
The prospect of having another Cory Aquino who would face the daunting tasks of the presidency is a matter that political leaders abhor. For them, a series of errors and wrong judgments arising from her inexperience could open the floodgates to numerous political imponderables that would erase the gains of a restored democracy like the Philippines.
Certain political leaders, including Escudero, have taken the view that Poe would be better off if she runs for president as an independent. In their view, Poe, although independent, is certain to win given Binay’s political free fall, Duterte’s erratic statements, and Roxas’s lack of charisma. Moreover, Poe as an independent could be the new political magnet that could attract various political forces, including those from the ruling coalition and even the political opposition.
But experience does not support this view. In fact, independents are condemned species in Philippine politics, as no independent candidate has won the presidency. While they could figure prominently in the elections, they always run short for various reasons, which include the lack of logistical support.
Ergo, the compromise is to strike a balance between the conflicting forces in the ruling coalition.
A Mar Roxas–Grace Poe ticket could be the happy compromise, although Poe believers disagree and say it should be the other way around. It has been said that even the President is interested in this ticket, as he was reported to have been brokering it.
But the President appears holding his political cards close to his chest. He would likely make an important announcement in his last State of the Nation Address end of July. His SONA, where he intends to endorse his successor, is seen as the game changer that could alter the course of the political wind in the country.
Meanwhile, the infighting continues in the ruling coalition. Whom the gods would favor is the $64- question. – Rappler.com
Philip M. Lustre Jr. is a freelance journalist who covered the economic and political beats. He is now involved in book writing projects. Email him at email@example.com.