The phenomenal rise of Grace Poe in the senatorial race is as amazing as her life story that is stranger than fiction.
During the campaign, Grace happened to sit beside a priest on the plane to Iloilo. After exchanging pleasantries, the priest told Grace that a lady named Sayong, who was on a vacation in Iloilo from Canada where she had been living for years, wanted to see her. Grace gave the priest her celfone number to give to Sayong, and vice-versa.
When they met, Sayong told Grace a story that confirmed an early chapter in her life. Sayong said that years ago in her hometown Jaro, Iloilo, she went to church very early in the morning and when she dipped her finger into the font, she was surprised when she touched not holy water but something solid. Yes, it was a nicely-wrapped infant in sweet slumber. That baby was Grace, left there by an unknown woman.
Sayong then entrusted the infant to the parish priest, Fr. Jaime Sin who would become a cardinal years later. After baptizing the baby, Fr. Sin entrusted her in the care of a prominent family in Jaro whose matriarch happened to be a friend of Susan Roces.
“And that’s how Grace came into our life,” recalled Susan Thursday night at the Legends Chinese Restaurant (back of Star City) during the thanksgiving/victory dinner Regal Matriarch Mother Lily Monteverde hosted for Grace who was proclaimed earlier that day with five other senators-elect.
“You know,” added Susan, “we’ve been looking forward to meeting Grace’s real mother,” which has also been Grace’s long-time wish. “We were hoping for her to show up during the campaign pero wala, hindi siya nagpakita.” Grace grew up knowing Susan and the late FPJ as her parents.
Still euphoric over her topping the senatorial race, Grace admitted that when the results started coming in, she felt that she was in “a good, safe spot” but she never expected that she would be No. 1. “Even if you place No. 1 in the partial counting, there’s always the possibility that you may go down but still you are already assured of a spot in the next 11 slots.”
Before going to the PICC for the proclamation, Grace and her mom Susan, together with Grace’s husband Neil Llamanzares and their three children (Brian, 21, recently graduated from Ateneo; Hanna, 14; and Nika, 8) visited FPJ’s grave at the North Cemetery.
“Before everybody else,” said Grace, “I whispered thank you to my dad. I said, ‘This is really for you!’ I know that people wouldn’t vote so overwhelmingly for me if not for the Poe surname. I’m not even a fraction of what my dad symbolizes to them…a good guy who really helped them. I’m sure that where my dad is, he’s happy for me.”
Tomorrow, Grace and her family are taking a two-week break abroad so that she will be recharged when she comes back in time for the oath-taking on June 30. While Grace lost more than 12 lbs. during the campaign, Neil gained twice that much. “I wasn’t home most of the time, so ‘yung hindi ko nakakain sa bahay, napupunta sa kanya,” joked Grace.
The other night, according to Grace, she told Nika, “Anak, because of your sacrifice, Mommy made it.” She said, “What sacrifice? I did not sacrifice.” I told her, “Yes, you did. Because Mommy didn’t have much time for you…” Then, she said, “No, that’s not a sacrifice.” She left the room but returned posthaste and said, “But you know what, accompanying you to your events, that was a sacrifice!”
The road ahead is not easy, admitted Grace who has to bank on her own sterling credentials after the “Poe Factor” propelled her to victory.
“The biggest challenge is that, even if you are well-intentioned and you work hard, you still have to be able to convince your fellow lawmakers to support your bill(s).”
First on her agenda is a bill for a Standard Lunch Program in every public elementary school — you know, the “nutribun” program that Arnold “Igan” Clavio remembers so fondly during her grade-school days in Tondo.
“I know it’s not easy,” added Grace, “because, you know, where will we get the funding for that? But that was already done during the administration of Pres. Marcos.”
Grace has more bills to file, one at a time, so she bears in mind what her mom Susan was reminding her in the TV endorsements, “Pagbutihan mo!”
“Promise Poe,” assured Grace.