Grace Poe: Life as a senator and adopted child of FPJ
10 THINGS - Bianca Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2014 - 12:00am

Pinoy politicos don’t exactly have the best reputation right now. So what would drive an accomplished private citizen to join the roller coaster world of politics, and how does one go from working mom in the US to becoming the leader in the senatorial elections? Here are ten things you should know about Grace Poe Llamanzares.

1 On Senate life so far: “Five months feel like 10 years!”

When it comes to rating the difficulty level of being a senator from 1 to 10, Sen. Grace can’t quite put a number to it. “Adjusting to the work alone, for me, I can handle it. I have very good people working with me and this is what I want to do. When it comes to the personal, emotional side of it, it’s not as easy because of the issues that have come up. You have some people involved that you know personally. But then it’s never an issue of being torn about what we need to do. We know what we have to do. And that’s really to be true to our mandate. So whatever the truth is, whatever is just, that’s where we need to side.”

On making friends in the Senate, she shares she’s closest to Sen. Serge Osmeña and Sen. Chiz Escudero, but reveals she’s had “some very pleasant surprises.” When Sen. Bam Aquino and Sen. Koko Pimentel showed support for the FOI, she says, “that for me said, okay, I trust you and I support you.” She also admits to being intimidated by Sen. Miriam Santiago. “It almost feels like you are learning from a professor! I have not had the opportunity (to work with her closely), but I’m hoping that I won’t be on her bad side,” she laughs.

On how to really eliminate corruption: “I think people in government should be paid…. justly. I don’t know how to say it but they have to be compensated to make what they do worthwhile. Another is we should start convicting people who are involved in graft or plunder.”

On the absence of PDAF for the new breed of lawmakers: “At least now we can face our constituents with all confidence to say, ‘We are somebody you can trust.’”

2 One of her fondest memories of her parents was the time her mom made tampo with her dad, so FPJ got the Philharmonic Orchestra to play in their living room for Susan Roces.

She says she learned two important things from her parents’ marriage. “You have to give each other space, you have to allow the other to blossom. Another thing is, my mom always said, wag kong sasabayan ang galit. If you see the other is upset, don’t try to collide and assert your case,” she shares. 

“I could tell when my dad knew he did something wrong,” she laughs. “One time, inumaga na siya, I don’t know where he went. So picture this. Beautiful scene. It was 5 a.m., you have the Philharmonic Orchestra in the lawn, some in our living room, the doors were open, and National Artist Ernani Cuenco was playing the piano. My dad, who was a bit tipsy, wakes up my lola, the mom of my mom, and dances with her in the living room! So you have the complete orchestra, and him serenading my grandmother who said, ‘Wag ka na magalit, parang ano lang naman yan.’ Of course my mom couldn’t get mad at him! That’s how he would do it.”

3 On recalling the day of the presidential proclamation in 2004: “If there’s anything my parents were really good at, it was maintaining the normalcy at home.”

“I remember when they proclaimed GMA, it was before dawn, people were asleep. They were all there happy in Congress and I remember hugging my dad and just telling him, ‘Thank you for running, I know you are doing this for the future of our children.’ I was crying, and he was the one trying to console me. And that’s so typical of him, saying, ‘Don’t worry’. Maybe he kept a lot bottled up inside, and they say that’s what caused him so much stress. Deep in my heart I knew that there was more to be done.

“My mom, of course she was sad for my dad, but it was more like, ‘Life goes on.’ It was a relief for her, she didn’t have to be first lady,” she says laughing. “Actually she didn’t really like it. When my dad died, she would recount the time he decided to run. She was weeping when she said, ‘I thought we could finally look to our retirement and enjoy each other’s company more.’ She felt it was time taken away from her. You know, to be able to support any great person — maybe I’m biased but I found my father great — usually the family would sacrifice time with that person. And I think my mom has been doing that for him so that he would shine. As the wife, you have to be confident, you have to trust your relationship, it’s a huge sacrifice on your part.”

After the elections, Grace went back to her family in the US because her kids were still in school. “I had a heavy heart. The decision to run just happened a couple of months prior to the end of ‘03, so we weren’t even planning to move back (to the Philippines) yet, and like a whirlwind, he died before 2004 ended.

“My dad daw kept saying, ‘February, February,’ parang he had some information that something would come out. It was almost like the calm before the storm because everything was so artificially calm, that you know something will happen. I knew it wasn’t the end, I knew there would be some sort of protest.”

4 As a child, Grace would play bit roles in movies. “You wouldn’t believe this but one time I was the voice of Nora Aunor in a movie.”

“Because she didn’t show up for the dubbing! Can you believe that? I was 11 years old. Pa-extra extra ako, nobody really took me seriously because there were a lot of talented child actors at that time.” She’s played the role of a neighbor, the young babaeng Kidlat, but clarifies: “My parents really didn’t encourage me because they wanted me to have the opportunity they didn’t have, which is to finish education. Buti na lang, I realized later on in high school, because ang hirap din to be compared to them.”

Growing up, she admits she identified more with her dad than with her mom. “My games were more in the outdoors with my dad. We would go to Montalban, he would let me swim in the river, we’d go hiking in Bataan, we’d go to the sand dunes in Ilocos, and when we would play in the house it was more of chasing each other. From my mom, what I remember, when she would apply makeup, I would just sit down and stare at her. She’s a gifted artist so even yung kilay niya, perfect. We would exchange stories. I realized, ‘Ah, I can never be like this person, I can never look like this person!’ Although I admired her, I became more a fan of my dad. He was the hero in the story, and I felt I wanted to save the barrio, too! “

5 She agreed to have her life story featured on Maalaala Mo Kaya because she wanted everyone to know, before starting her campaign, that she was adopted: “I didn’t have to hide anything, it was liberating.”

“I wanted it already out, na hindi ko biological parents si FPJ and Susan Roces. This is the circumstance of my birth, para wala nang magsasabi ng ‘Eh, ampon lang yan.’ Sinabi ko naman, eh ano ngayon? Does it diminish everything my parents have done for me or how I value their love? I don’t think it should take away from that. In fact, it should be an advocacy also for other adopted children, that you can make something of your life. Because of the altruism of these two individuals, I was given this opportunity. And I would like to give back at least in giving honor to their name.”

She attended grade school at St. Paul and moved to high school in Assumption. “I remember (they said), ‘Oh, you’re the daughter of FPJ and Susan Roces,’ and this is how subtle they were. In other places they would just say, ‘O, ampon ka lang.’ There it was, ‘Hey, when’s your birthday?’ ‘Um, Sept. 3.’ ‘No, what year?’ ‘1968.’ Then they’d say, ‘When did your parents get married?’ Ganyan sila! Initially they teased me, but when they saw that I could take it, they became the best friends I have,” she says. “I don’t even count it as an imperfection, being adopted, it’s just that it wasn’t accepted in our society at that time, there was such a stigma to it.”

6 On the possibility of finding her real parents: “I am curious to know, but I have to be honest. I consider my parents to be my parents.”

“Even the family that first adopted me in Iloilo, they were so excited for me when I ran, they couldn’t believe that the child they found was (running for Senate). They were so proud and I really appreciated that,” she shares. “Now there’s DNA, so anybody who makes those claims, it would be easy to check. During the campaign I didn’t go on an active search. If there was anybody who was interested, I think they would have come out already.”

On getting to know her half-siblings: “I am decades older than her (actress Lovi Poe). We didn’t really grow up together and I didn’t know her till my dad died. I find her so beautiful, so strong, and a good representation of her generation. She is the daughter of FPJ but she has her own personality and character. I was so touched during the campaign when my survey numbers were low, she was one of the first to say, ‘I support my ate, I know that she can do it.’” She has met Ronian Poe, but says, “I don’t really get to talk to him. He’s a gifted artist not just for tattoos. I like his design concepts, the way he presents FPJ, which is not dated. It’s FPJ as seen now.”

7 When husband Neil Llamanzares was courting her, he didn’t know that FPJ and Susan Roces were her parents.

They met when she was 16 at a tennis class and got married when she was 22. “He didn’t know! When he went to the house, he saw the picture of my mom because there was this painting of her. ‘Parang this looks like someone familiar.’ Then, he saw my dad! Of course he knew my dad, but he wasn’t really a fan, didn’t know his movies, so it was more like he was stunned. He did not expect that they were my parents. He didn’t know much about my world, I don’t where he was hiding, but it was nice, it was more comfortable for me,” she recalls. “Of course he was always sweating buckets when he was in front of my dad! My parents naman respected also my being a teenager. My mom would always say basta ang importante, dito sa bahay mag-aakyat ng ligaw.

“He is kind of my polar opposite because he’s so quiet and refined and well-mannered! I’m so mahina in math, he’s so magaling. I can speak comfortably but he can write really well. I always say that it’s important that you choose a husband that is smarter than you! Or at least you think is smarter than you,” she advises. Neil and Grace are proud, hands-on parents (“My teenager says I’m strict, but I don’t think so!”) to Brian, 21, Hanna, 16, and Nika, 10. 

8 Grace and Neil started their family life in Virginia, and she reveals, “I cried probably in the first seven  years that I lived there.”

She took on different jobs including pre-school teacher (“I chose that because I had the same schedule as my son,”) and working in a sales company (“Because you don’t have to be there all the time and you can take calls from home.”) 

“It wasn’t not easy, but I was so blessed to have that experience. You wake up in the morning you are in a mad rush to get everyone out of the house. You have to put the leggings on your kid, and she’ll be pulling her leggings because she feels they’re too tight, she doesn’t like her hairpin, she wants to choose her own outfit. In the meantime, you have to prepare breakfast. So my husband and I would split — sometimes he would dress the kids while I prepared breakfast and lunch of the kids, then I would drop the kids off at school,” she recalls. “I remember picking up my son from school, but I couldn’t go home yet because I had work, so he would stay under my desk. But he enjoyed it because he thought it was camping, he would have a sleeping bag, his games, his Oreo biscuits there.

“It was hard, but after that I was so adapted to it. The US was home for me and the lifestyle I learned there was very rewarding,” she says of their 13 years living there.

9 Grace Poe in numbers:

30: Approximate number of white polos she owns, what has come to be her signature look.

14,400: Number of followers she currently has on Twitter, with her account @GracePoe2013.

39: Number of staff members in her office.

13: Number of bills filed as of press time, as well as 12 resolutions, that include (SB 79) the Free Lunch Program for elementary and high school students and (SB 78) the Film Tourism bill.

18: Age she first ran for any kind of election ever, where she won as UP Chairman of the Freshman Assembly, then Batch Representative later on.

10 On what kind of Philippines she is looking forward to for her children and the next generations: “I would like for them to have a country that they can really be patriotic and proud of.”

“What I want to have for them is a country that thrives environmentally, cleaner air for the kids, that there would be enough food, and basically opportunities for all would be available. I want them to really believe that they are proud to be Filipinos,” she exclaims. “And you can have that if you restore trust in our institutions. I think that change in government has already started but we still have to work hard to be able to achieve a certain form of transparency. That’s why it’s important, and magpluplug na ako, na may FOI tayo. So we can head towards that. Hopefully, we have six years. Yeah, we can do something.”

* * *

Our conversation ended with buzz about her and the 2016 Presidential Elections, talk that she would rather shrug off for now:

“Besides, there are a lot of magagaling ones who can run right now, I won’t mention who anymore.”

“You truly believe there are a lot?” I asked.

“Okay, not a lot.  (laughs) But then there are.”

So apparently like us, even politicians can be cynical about the world they move in. It goes to show that Sen. Grace, just as her father was to his legions of fans, is a reflection of us ordinary Pinoys. And she just happened to take that extra step to try to make our country a better place. 

* * *

Email me at askiamsuperbianca@yahoo.com or message me on Twitter @iamsuperbianca.

ALTHOUGH I DAD DIDN KNOW PARENTS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA REALLY SUSAN ROCES
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