The Poe-litics of Grace; the focus of Cynthia; the loyalty of Leni

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

In an election that was widely touted as fair and accurate, political neophyte Grace Poe made history: She garnered the most number of votes ever obtained by a senatorial candidate, not just a female senatorial candidate. (With 20,331,327 votes, she bested Sen. Bong Revilla’s record of 19,513,521 votes in 2010 and Mar Roxas’ 19,372,888 votes in 2004).

A feat by someone who shyly admits she didn’t aim to be No. 1 in the polls, who didn’t rank No. 1 in pre-election surveys and who, three weeks after she filed her candidacy, wanted to quit because a survey firm put her at No. 28.

Sen. Grace Poe says her topping the senatorial race is not just vindication for her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ); it is an affirmation of his victory in the 2004 presidential polls and his presence in the 2013 race.

“It took nine years. We seek justice but we don’t know how and when it will be given to us,” Grace tells me as we have a Filipino-themed lunch at the Escolta of The Peninsula Manila. “I remember this short story I read by Leo Tolstoy, ‘God sees the truth but waits’.”

On our way to and from the buffet tables, Grace, who didn’t have a single bodyguard, is politely stopped by several diners. They ask to have their photos taken with her, and she obliges each time. Most of them tell her, “I voted for your father, too.” Or, “We are fans of FPJ.”

Her first bill is a reflection of her father’s “Poe-litics.” When I asked “Da King” in 2003 why he was running for President after years of evading the clamor, he pointed at the street urchins outside the wire fence of the FPJ Studios in Quezon City. “Because of them,” he answered.

Grace has her father’s heart. Her first bill is pro-poor, a lunch feeding program for poor grade school students.

“According to official statistics, there were 12.4 million poor children in 2009. Children ranked third (after fisher folk and farmers) in the incidence of poverty among the basic sectors. I am deeply concerned about the impact of poverty on children because poverty can destroy their future and bind them to a life of misery,” Grace emphasizes.

As she begins a new chapter in her life, Grace is immensely grateful.

“I am grateful for my father’s legacy, I am grateful to have found out who my real friends are, I am grateful for God’s guidance,” says the newly minted senator.

Grace will use her maiden name as senator.

“As a legislator and a public servant, I’d like to use ‘Poe’ as a tribute to my dad. But my everyday persona, my being a mother and wife, is a tribute to my husband Neil (Llamanzares) and our children.”


Cynthia Villar, unlike Grace, is not new to politics. She not only was a congresswoman representing Las Piñas, her father  Filemon Aguilar and her husband Manny Villar were once public servants and her son Mark is now a congressman as well.

But Cynthia is known to have made her mark in the corporate sector in real estate and banking. Listening to her last Tuesday at the Bulong Pulungan lunch forum at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, you see why she’s good at what she’s doing. She’s smart and focused.

“I don’t want to focus on too many things, I want to concentrate on one big project,” she told someone who asked if she would also go into medical missions aside from her livelihood projects. She is giving out awards on Aug. 2 for successful social enterprises.

She’s pooling her energy and the resources available to her as senator to help Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). She’s authoring a bill that will create a Department for OFWs, reasoning that if there’s a Department for Tourism, there should also be a Department for OFWs, “because they bring in more money than tourism does.”

Ideally, she says, Filipinos should be able to choose between wanting to work here or go abroad. “But being an OFW is often a function of poverty, so we cannot discourage people from seeking greener pastures abroad.”

The proposed department will create satellite offices in the provinces, where a lot of OFWs hail from. The new Senator Villar also wants government to make repatriation compulsory for all distressed OFWs, including undocumented ones. She also plans to author a bill that will boost irrigation facilities (“Since the country is predominantly agricultural still”); a bill that will outlaw the no-tuition, no-exam practice; and a bill increasing incentives to investors.

She plans to simplify the Kasambahay Law at the request of many middle-class housewives, who have no accountants that will enable them to comply with many of the law’s requirements. (She brought a copy of the measure to the forum in order to enlighten more people about it, upon the request of the law’s main author Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.)

Asked how it feels to be the “Senator Villar” in their family now, Cynthia flashes a big smile and says, “Manny is so happy with his independence now as a private citizen. He feels liberated!”


Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo wears a locket around her neck day and night, even while she sleeps. You see, it bears something priceless: her husband Jesse’s ashes.

Almost 11 months after the former Interior and Local Government Secretary’s death in a plane crash, Leni remains utterly devoted to him. Even her legislative agenda is inspired by him.

On her first day in Congress, Leni filed the Full Disclosure Bill, requiring all the government offices to fully disclose their financial status and transactions even without a request for their disclosure.

“It’s a bit different from the FOI (Freedom of Information Bill) in the sense that in FOI, you have to request. And the bill I filed is limited to financial management of government money.”

Why was it her first bill?

“Because it was an initiative done by Jesse at DILG, but it was never made into law. He issued a memorandum circular to that effect. In my bill, the idea is to institutionalize it,” Leni explains. She reveals that she plans to author other measures that promote good governance and people participation in government — the legacy of her husband, a recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.

Leni feels that by continuing with his work, she keeps herself connected to her husband of 25 years. Her decision to run for congresswoman, after saying she was 200 percent sure she wouldn’t run for public office, was indirectly influenced by Jesse.

“The reason I ran was not romantic at all,”  she begins, then elaborates, “When people are made to run, they say it’s because the people need them. But for me, it wasn’t that. At first, it was purely political, I have to be very honest. The day that I decided to run, it was because our party (the Liberal Party in Camarines Sur) was crumbling in the district. If I did not run, it would have spelled ‘doom’ for the party. Para sa akin, yung feeling na may mission ako, that the people need me, parang it came after. It came after I started going around already. But if you ask me what was the driving force why I ran, it’s purely political. Nakakahiya mang aminin, pero it was that. Kapag tinatanong ako, ‘have you thought of the people who will be pinning their hopes on you?’ Sabi ko, ‘no’ eh. I have always believed that I am not indispensable, at least as a public servant. But on the political side, at the time, I was indispensable. If I did not step in, the party would break. And if it broke, number one, sayang naman the people na inalagaan ng asawa ko and these are political supporters who have sacrificed so much for my husband.”

For lawyer and now congresswoman Leni Robredo, immersing herself in Jesse’s line of work makes her feel he is still very much around. In death, they didn’t part. (You may e-mail me at [email protected].)

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