(I have never met Grace Poe. Any similarity between what follows and the real person is therefore possibly coincidental.)
Grace was the bright spot in what otherwise was a family affair.
Grace’s topping the Senate race was surprising but should not have been. She had the vote of FPJ, Pnoy, Erap, and Binay supporters, the religious groups, the young, the women, the gays, the marginalized, the Forbes Park lot, the intelligentsia and show biz. With the possible exception of the 9 UNA candidates, everybody loved Grace.
(When asked to comment on Grace leapfrogging her, Loren Legarda said her victory vindicated the FPJ-Legarda ticket in 2004. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them.)
Grace was born in Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968 (44, Virgo). She was adopted -and told so -by Fernando Poe and Susan Roces at an early age. She studied in Assumption, attended UP, then moved to the U.S. in 1988 where she graduated from Boston College and worked as a teacher and in the corporate world. She returned to Manila in 2004 upon the death of her father. While playing tennis, she met her husband, Neil Llamanzares, who currently works in San Miguel Corp. They have 3 children, Brian, Hanna and Nika.
What strikes outsiders about Grace are her incredible manners, sincerity and (yes !)sense of humor. There is nothing to dislike about her. When I asked Malu Gamboa, one of her closest friends, to define Grace she said simply: “Grace is the daughter of FPJ and Susan. She will never do anything to embarrass her parents.”
People ask why the offspring of a private non-political family of sufficient means would run for elective office. Some claim it is to vindicate the legacy of her father. That, I suspect, would be selling Grace short. Certainly FPJ gave her an 11 million headstart –which having been cheated was at least the number of votes he garnered in 2004- but it is more the ideals her father represented rather than his persona which drove her to run. It also helped the President extended her an invitation.
Grace has many parallels with PNoy which may explain their bond. They are both children of iconic parents who in Cory and FPJ were reluctant Presidential contenders. They were bred into privilege but were raised on the principle that with privilege comes responsibility especially when the country calls. Both bear the family torch. Both stepped into the arena with few political accomplishments, but as we now know from the President, prior experience is not necessary for the job.
Grace’s ideology could be described as Catholic New England liberal. She ran on a platform of poverty alleviation, youth opportunity and electoral reform. She is anti-abortion but believes in the woman’s right to choose. She favors the RH bill as an educational exercise and Government support for planned parenthood. She does not agree with same sex marriage but favors protecting gays many of whom are in caring relationships. Grace is open to divorce but not yet.
She considers herself an independent who allegedly accepted to join Team Pnoy because it examined her track record while UNA looked only at her being the daughter of FPJ.
How did Grace become Numero Uno? She credits Chiz, the President and Sen. Osmena. The latter developed her message which connected the FPJ brand with concern for the poor. This mirrored the PNoy 2010 message –which Serge also had a hand in- of linking the President’s honesty with poverty alleviation. Grace’s “OPoe” ads were a take on a similar one of Noynoy and Cory. When I asked Serge what makes Grace special he replied: “Let me pass. She is now my colleague. But give all credit to Grace. She ran a smart and disciplined campaign.”
Grace was one of the few Kris Aquino agreed to endorse. Kris told me:” Grace is gracious and sincere, she had a sense of humor all through the campaign. She has a caring heart.”
Grace will be entering the Den of Lions, sorry the Senate, with high public expectations. Already there is pressure on her to take on controversial bills like the Freedom of Information Act. Will she have the courage, confidence, capacity and conviction to lead or will she ease into her position and chill out? The Senate is a collegial body and it might be unwise to spend her political goodwill on issues she cannot deliver. She will be patronized by colleagues wishing to bask in her glory even as some nurture unkind thoughts. Already there is talk of Grace and the Vice-Presidency in 2016. This will not help with those vying for the spot.
Grace’s biggest challenge is not to disappoint. In an election where family dynasties and other usual suspects are back in business big time, Filipinos see in her the hope that things are changing, that there is and can be a wave of promising leaders uncompromised by greed who can make a difference.
Her friends say she has the confidence and instincts to see through things. But she will need help. So, Grace, when in doubt or distress retreat to God but also return to the people for they are your strength. Know, Madame Senator, the nation has your back.