Grace Poe: A Record of Independence

I

On November 25, 2012, Rappler published an article by Patricia Evangelista entitled  “The Independence of Grace Poe”.[1] The date of publication-November 25, 2012- is significant. It is just one month after the filing of candidacy for the May 2013 elections and several months before Grace Poe would surprisingly top the 2013.  At that point, Grace Poe was hovering around rank 14-18 in the November 2012 Pulse Asia Survey.[2]

Thus, Ms. Evangelista’s article offers us a unique view of a time before “Grace Poe” became a household name among political pundits and spectators. It gives us a retrospective view of a political phenomenon that was yet to unfold, a chance  to see if nearly 3 years in politics has “changed” Grace Poe.

 II

 Independence- specifically Sen. Grace Poe’s independence- is the main theme of Ms. Evangelista’s article.  Ms. Evangelista notes that while Sen. Grace filed as an independent, she was still “tied” to her father and to the two parties at the time, UNA and LP. Ms. Evangelista writes:

“Grace Poe is an independent. She filed independent, she is running independent… And yet Grace Poe is not independent. She runs with the ghost of Fernando Poe Jr. and carries the baggage of two political parties she has allowed to claim her as their own… She is a bright new voice, only that voice seems to be reading from the same old script”[3]

Sen. Grace responded to Ms. Evangelista’s queries regarding her independence. On “run(ning) with the ghost of Fernando Poe Jr.”, Sen. Grace said: “In high school, I realized I don’t want to be like my parents, because I’m going to be forever compared to them. So I didn’t want to be in show business, because they would be such a difficult act to follow.”[4]

On her ties to both UNA and LP, she responded: “I guess my statement, my public commitment is that I will sort of keep my independent stand when it comes to choosing who I feel would be effective for our country is by filing independently. That’s it. I filed independently.”[5]

 III

 Many events occurred between the date of Ms. Evangelista’s article and now. For one, UNA dropped Sen. Grace from its slate. Two, Sen. Grace has been in politics for nearly three years now. What has changed in between? How has Sen. Grace practiced her independence?

On the partisan side of things, Sen. Grace has never let her political ties prevent her from pursuing causes she finds worthy. First, she immediately prioritized the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, a measure which only received “lukewarm” support from the administration. An article dated July 25, 2013- one month after Sen. Grace won as Senator– entitled “Grace Poe to prioritize FOI bill despite lack of Palace support reads: “There is no denying that it is not the priority… Gusto ko talagang dinigin ito. Lagi kong sinasabi na ito ang backbone ng public information.” [6]  Less than a year later, on March 10 2014, the Senate passed the FOI bill.[7]

Let’s move forward to July 08, 2014. The Senate was conducting an inquiry on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program. Once again, it was Sen. Grace Poe, (along with Sen. Nancy Binay), who stood independent from the Liberal Party, and demanded that the DAP funds be held accounted for: “Hindi lang ang Pangulo ang may pananagutan diyan. Lahat ng tumanggap niyan ay may pananagutan sa bayan at kailangan nila maipakita kung saan nila ginastos ‘yan“.[8] An opinion article on the hearing by THE Rigoberto Tiglao of THE Manila Times (who is usually hard to impress) stated: “Except for Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay who asked very revealing questions, all the senators proved to be mouthpieces of Abad and Aquino.”[9]

 IV

 Sen. Grace also established her independence during the MRT and PNP hearings. In the former, she grilled the DOTC Secretary Abaya about the pitiful state of the MRT. In the latter,  However, it was Sen. Grace Poe’s performance during the Mamasapano Incident which established her independence from President Aquino. Malacañang at the time was desperately trying to spare President Aquino of the political fallout from the PNP-Board of Inquiry’s report that he was accountable for the mess in Mamasapano There was speculation that Sen. Grace’s committee report would absolve President Aquino- she was an ally after all, a member of the LP coalition. However, Sen. Grace Poe stood independent and said:  “As President, he is ultimately responsible for the Mamsapano mission.”[10]

V

 Those skeptical of Sen. Grace Poe used to have a favorite weapon: she hasn’t spoken about the allegations about Vice President Jejomar Binay’s corruption. They would speculate that it was because Sen. Grace wouldn’t dare touch Ninong Jojo out of utang na loob for his support of FPJ’s campaign in 2004.  In fact, Sen. Grace Poe’s supposed silence quipped JoeAm, a blogger and erstwhile fan of Sen. Grace Poe, to quip:

“…the attack on Chief Purisima, versus a complete silence on Binay and the plundering senators, is very different. … My thinking is that Grace Poe is very likely not independent. She is a trapo, a traditional politician, dealing in power and favor, debts and personal advantage . . . over her mandate to take care of citizens… Would acting on the public’s behalf threaten her relationship with the Binay clan? Is she coddling a personal relationship? Returning a favor?”[11]

All of that speculation was rendered null and void by a few words:  Para sa akin mapapatunayan lalo ‘yan (honesty) kung magpakita siya at i-esplika niya ang mga paratang laban sa kanya hindi lamang yung mga tagapagsalita niya.”[12]

Sen. Grace would then sign the committee report recommending further investigation by the Ombudsman. “As in the PDAF inquiry, I join my colleagues in seeking further investigation by the Ombudsman of the matter and the consequent filing of the appropriate criminal complaint which in this instance appears to be plunder.”[13]

One may of course speculate on why Sen. Grace only spoke about the issue now. Sen. Grace stated that she wanted to hear Binay’s side in the hearing itself: “Ang hirap din um-attend ng hearing kung ang mismong pinaparatangan, hindi sumasama.” Perhaps this was more a matter of style than of content. After all, Sen. Grace Poe’s style of inquiry- seen during the Mamasapano hearings as well as the MRT, PNP and FOI hearings- is not as brash and confrontational as that of Senators Pimentel, Trillanes and Cayetano.

VI

 In going against President Aquino and Vice President Binay, Sen. Grace Poe emphasized that she was doing it despite her friendship with both of them. On Mamasapano, Sen. Grace said that she found it awkward to go against the President: “The President is a friend, so it was hard for me to say he was ultimately responsible for the Mamasapano incident.”[14] The same was said with regard to the Vice President: “Kahit ako hindi mapapagkaila na may pinagsamahan kami, kaibigan namin siya pero hindi rin namin siya nakakausap tungkol dito. Gusto rin namin malaman.[15]

Those sentences highlight the meaning of independence. Independence, after all, is the opposite of dependence. It implies an end to dependence. Specifically, it implies that Sen. Grace Poe is no longer dependent on PNoy or Binay. The ties that bind no longer bind her.

 VII

 This brings us back to where we started: Grace Poe’s supposed “dependence” on FPJ, her “running the ghost” of FPJ. Her detractors challenge her: “Be your own woman! Drop ‘Poe’ and run instead as ‘Mary Grace Llamanazares’ and we’ll see how you will do!”

It is this assumption- that Grace’s dependence on Poe will be her undoing- that remains unquestioned, which remains the unassailable “logic” of the pundits and the political observers. They do not understand a simple distinction: Poe will always be the source of Grace Poe’s political capital. But it is not the source of her political skill. The name Poe is her inheritance (and her burden), yet it is her independence that has allowed her to win political battle after political battle.

In this regard, Sen. Grace is vastly different from President Aquino. President Aquino uses his parents’ names as a crutch. He depends on them- on the ghosts of martial law, on the sacrifice of his father. Sen. Grace, on the other hand, relies on her name only during the campaign and relies on her own skills when the hard work begins. It was not Fernando Poe but Grace Poe that pushed FOI, demanded accountability for DAP, held the President responsible and signed the recommendation of plunder for the Vice President.

It is Grace Poe’s independence, more than her surname which has allowed her to shine. In contrast, P-Noy is far from independent. His reform-mindedness is constantly undermined by his friends- the loudness of Kris Aquino, the indebtedness to Mar Roxas, the political baggage of Secretary Butch Abad and Executive Secretary Ochoa, the incapability of his Cabinet Secretaries.

On November 25, 2011, an article by Patricia Evangelista read: “(Grace Poe) is a bright new voice, only that voice seems to be reading from the same old script”. It now has to be corrected: the script may be old, but the performer is new, filled with a toughness that no one expected, a new, rejuvenating voice in a familiar garb.  In this regard, she has fulfilled her promises from 2012- to remain independent, and to push beyond her parent’s name while still remaining faithful.

[1] Patricia Evangelista. “The independence of Grace Poe” Nov. 11, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/16443-the-independence-of-grace-poe

[2]

[3] “The Independence of Grace Poe”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kimberly Jane Tan. “Grace Poe to prioritize FOI bill despite lack of Palace support” GMA News (July 25, 2013).  More from: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/319075/news/nation/grace-poe-to-prioritize-foi-bill-despite-lack-of-palace-support

[7] Rappler.com (March 11, 2014). “Senate Passes FOI bill on final reading” http://www.rappler.com/nation/52636-senate-foi-bill-third-reading

[8] Rouchelle Dinglasan. “Grace Poe dares Aquino, fellow senators to account for DAP funds”  More from: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/369234/news/nation/grace-poe-dares-aquino-fellow-senators-to-account-for-dap-funds

[9] Rigoberto D. Tiglao. “A shameless Senate licks Abad’s boots” Manila Times July 24. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.manilatimes.net/a-shameless-senate-licks-abads-boots/113943/

[10] Amito. O. Legaspi. “PNoy ultimately responsible for Mamasapano massacre- Senate panel” http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/453777/news/nation/pnoy-ultimately-responsible-for-mamasapano-massacre-senate-panel

[11] JoeAm. “Is Grace Poe Just an Ordinary Trapo?” (October 02, 2014). Retrieved from http://joeam.com/2014/10/02/is-grace-poe-just-an-ordinary-trapo/

[12] Amita O. Legaspi. “Grace Poe to Binay: Face Senate, answer allegations” More from: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/489154/news/nation/grace-poe-to-binay-face-senate-answer-allegations

[13]Rapppler.com (May 29, 2015). “Grace Poe confirms signing plunder report vs. Binays” Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/nation/94679-grace-poe-plunder-binay

[14] Patricia Lourdes Viray. “Poe: Hard for me to say PNoy was ‘ultimately responsible’” Philippine Star (March 19, 2015). Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/03/19/1435298/poe-hard-me-say-pnoy-was-ultimately-responsible

[15] “Grace Poe to Binay: Face Senate, answer allegations”

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