“I am Grace Poe, a Filipino, a daughter, wife and mother. And with God’s grace, I offer myself for the country’s highest calling as your President.”
With these lines closing her presentation, Sen. Mary Grace Sonora Poe-Llamanzares declared her candidacy for President in next year’s national elections, capping a well-choreographed gathering that featured a heady mix of show-business celebrities and politicians of various stripes.
In a lengthy speech delivered in Filipino, Poe presented her 20-point platform encompassing economic, social and cultural issues, including corruption, peace, education, infrastructure, tax reform, agriculture, the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute with China, labour and human rights.
Speaking on corruption, Poe took a dig at those excluding her from the administration’s daang matuwid (straight path) reform programme, even as she sang praises for President Aquino.
“No one man or group holds a monopoly on daang matuwid. President Aquino has done much to curb corruption and I am thankful that it has restored the people’s faith in an honest leader,” she said.
Poe, 47, styled her candidacy as a continuation of the journey of her father, the late movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), who ran for President in 2004 to help the needy and fight poverty but lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in a hotly contested race marred by allegations of fraud.
“When I first asked for your help, I said that I wanted to continue what my father FPJ had started,” Poe told her supporters at the jampacked Ang Bahay ng Alumni on the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.
She recalled that 11 years ago, FPJ announced his plan to run for President to “help the poor, fight oppression, and forge a prosperous and just society.”
“He often told me: Gracia, poverty is not a destiny because each one’s fate is in their hands,” she said.
“But to get out of poverty, one’s own hard work is often not enough. Everyone needs a helping hand. Shouldn’t this be the measure of a responsive government and society-how it uplifts everyone and leaves no one behind?”
Leaders of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) had opposed proposals to adopt Poe as presidential candidate because she was not a member of the party.
They avidly wooed her, though, to be the running mate of the LP standard-bearer, Mar Roxas, believing that her popularity would rub off on the former interior secretary.
But she spurned the administration’s overtures to make an independent run for Malacañang.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda issued a statement Wednesday night swatting aside Poe’s swipe at the LP having a monopoly of the straight path: “What is clear is we’re running on the platform of daang matuwid or of continuing the reforms President Aquino has undertaken.
They (Poe) are running on a campaign of bagong umaga (new day) or change. All the aspirations that have been enunciated have been implemented or in the process of being implemented. Having said that, we wish Sen. Grace Poe all the best.”
Sought for comment, Roxas said Poe sent him a text message on Wednesday to express her gratitude to him for patiently waiting for her to decide whether to run.
“She thanked me for my patience and understanding in considering her a running mate. I thanked her and wished her good luck,” Roxas said.
Poe said she took her inspiration from the ordinary Filipinos who triumphed over their daily struggles.
They include the multitudes who jostle for space on the MRT and run to catch public transportation to inch through gridlocked roads; the public utility vehicle drivers; the call centre agents who work graveyard shifts; the fishermen out at sea; the parents who leave the country to provide a better life for their children; the workers with calloused hands and bent backs; government workers, teachers, students, nurses, policemen and soldiers.
“I draw inspiration from each and every one of you. You give me the strength to pursue a higher calling for our country,” she said, a remark that drew applause and loud chanting of her name.
Poe also recalled the criticism her father received as a presidential candidate, and which he ignored to pursue his dreams of a better future for the Philippines.
Her father was ridiculed and belittled for his inexperience, Poe remembered.
“Yet he bravely faced the challenge and the opportunity to help change the lives of his fellow Filipinos for the better,” she said.
“His integrity, courage and goodness have become both my guide and inspiration. My mother also gave me sound advice. She said, ‘Child, amid the loud noise of politics, never ever lose yourself,'” Poe said.
She also made a brief reference to her origin as an abandoned child later adopted by her movie celebrity parents. ‘My life is an open book’
Her life origins have been questioned and have become the source of a disqualification case against her, anchored on the argument that with her true parentage unknown, she cannot be considered a natural-born Filipino citizen qualified to hold elective office.
“My life is an open book,” she said. “Who would’ve thought that a foundling would ever become senator? I thank you for giving me that opportunity.”
Filipinos are a loving, creative and resourceful people, she said, and called for unity in order to improve the country’s future.
“We should stick together, because one person cannot bring about this change. Anyone who promises he alone can do it is lying,” she said.
“The story of our future lies in all our hands. I hope you will join me in crafting a bright and meaningful future for our motherland, the Philippines,” she added.
Poe’s declaration of her presidential candidacy puts her at the centre of the exciting race for Malacañang that will pit her against veteran politicians -former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
To go by the latest polls, she is the most popular candidate among voters.
While she has styled herself as an independent because she is not a member of any political party, Poe herself is surrounded by old hands in politics.
She is expected to run with Sen. Francis Escudero, and to be adopted by several political parties.
The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) was represented at her announcement Wednesday night, with party president Giorgidi Aggabao and spokesmen Rex Gatchalian and Mark Enverga showing up.
Camarines Sur Gov. Miguel Villafuerte and father LRay of the Nacionalista Party (NP) also came.
Also present were House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora and son Francis, the incumbent San Juan vice mayor.
Former An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, a friend of the President, attended the gathering. He resigned on Tuesday as director of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to help in Poe’s campaign.
He said he had informed Aquino of the reason for his decision to leave his government job.
While criticised for her lack of experience, being a newcomer to politics has, so far, worked to Poe’s advantage, as supporters cite her untarnished record.
“Being ripe means near to rotting. Near-ripe is better,” said Malou Cayanan, a leader of informal settler families in Bagbag, Quezon City.
Most of the people who gathered at the alumni hall were brought in by local leaders from Muntinlupa, Mandaluyong, Quezon, Caloocan, Malabon, Parañaque and Pasay cities.
They wore shirts expressing support for Poe with such words as “Ampunin si Grace Poe” and “Ang Dapat Kahit Orphan Lang Puede Talagang Mangarap,” all alluding to Poe’s being an adopted child.
“We see that she’s the epitome of a leader. Unlike others, she’s a fresh face and not a traditional politician,” said Rab Medina of the UP Paralegal Society.
Members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (Palea) also came to show their support for Poe.
“I haven’t heard other politicians talk about workers’ rights. But Grace is talking about issues involving workers. Right now, she is the best alternative,” said Gerry Rivera, Palea president and vice chair of Partido Manggagawa.
Life and accomplishments
Before Poe’s speech, an audio-video presentation summarizing her life was shown to the crowd. It began with a voice clip of her father speaking of how he and his wife had done everything they could to have a child.
It ended with a listing of her accomplishments as senator and chair of the committees on public information and public order, and subcommittee on transportation, as well as key legislation that she had sponsored.
As Poe announced her 2016 journey, her family came in full force to lend her support.
Her mother, actress Susan Roces, arrived hours before her scheduled 6:30 p.m. speech, followed shortly by her husband, Neil Llamanzares, and children Brian, Hanna and Nikka.
Llamanzares told reporters that the family was proud of her and was behind her 100 per cent.
Before Poe’s announcement, Roces advised her daughter to live up to her name, and “be gracious in every way.”
She said Poe was no stranger to challenges, having faced them when she was growing up.
Roces also said she expected the 2016 elections to be a far cry from the 2004 race when her husband ran for President.
The lineup of candidates, the country’s situation, and the challenges the candidates would face are all different from what was in place 10 years ago, she said.
According to Poe, people should push for true reforms to achieve inclusive growth, global competitiveness and transparent government.
She also listed some of the key components of her platform, centering on the principle and belief that no Filipino and no region should be left behind.
For corruption, wrongdoers would be held accountable, “whether they be friend or foe,” she said. She vowed to push for the passage into law of the freedom of information bill at the soonest possible time.
She also said she would pursue peace with all groups fighting the government, as Filipinos should not be killing fellow Filipinos. She made a special mention of “Moro brothers” who, after a long and hard history, should be given equal opportunities and genuine assistance.
When it comes to territorial disputes, she asserted that the West Philippine Sea belonged to the Philippines. Her administration would protect what belongs to the Philippines through peaceful means and in accordance with international law. She would also beef up the military and the coast guard.
Infrastructure development would be a priority when it comes to roads, trains, airport, seaports and the Internet. The government would support the private sector in formulating an industrialization and IT plan, she said.
Traffic problems would be dealt with by building more roads and trains, with the project awarded to credible contractors.
Tax reform is another goal, and she aims to lower the country’s high income tax rates. People have the right to choose how to spend their hard- earned money, she said. But they should also do their part by paying the correct taxes. Workers should also get fair wages and benefits.
Poe also vowed to push for a faster Internet connection, a tool she said would help a wide spectrum of citizens, including students doing schoolwork and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who need to get in touch with loved ones back home.
For education, the country should maximise digital technology, expand scholarship programs and enhance the “study now, pay later” programme, she said.
For agriculture, farmers should get their own land and irrigation and mechanization should be improved. Fishing, farming and livestock programs should also be made profitable.
High power costs should be brought down, especially in Mindanao where power outages are a frequent occurrence. Renewable energy should be developed, she said.
When it comes to OFWs, they would be provided proper legal support, and the government would reduce fees and cut red tape that they have to put up with to get their papers processed.
Poe also vowed to keep a close watch on eliminating crime and illegal drugs, which she said was a “personal crusade.” As a mother, she said, she could not rest easy until all her children are home safe at night.
She said she would make sure the police had the proper skills and discipline to arrest criminals, and not just to report crimes.
When it comes to human rights, she said her administration would take care of people with disabilities, indigenous people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, and senior citizens.
People should be able to rely on PhilHealth, for health concerns and communities should have proper hospitals, staff members and equipment.
Arts, culture and sports would also be given the proper attention to develop the country’s talents. “We should never give up on our dream of an Olympic gold,” she said.
Department of Emergency
Climate change deserves special attention, she said. There should be a Department of Emergency Management that would focus on national preparedness, climate change and geo-mapping, she said.
Tourism would also be given greater attention, as it would create new jobs even in far-flung parts of the country.
The issues of children are also close to her heart, Poe said. They should receive proper nutrition through a shared lunch programme in public schools.
Balloons, banners and the beat of drums gave a festive mood to the gathering at Ang Bahay ng Alumni. About 5,000 supporters jammed the hall to listen to Poe’s announcement.
A group from Binondo performed a dragon dance, a symbol of luck in Chinese culture-With reports from Erika Sauler, Jerry E. Esplanada and Marlon Ramos