A day after unofficial election results showed her ahead in the Senate race, Grace Poe evaded a television reporter who wanted to shadow her, received business cards handed to her staff by strangers and had Pad Thai noodles for lunch.
“I love Thai food,” she said as she scanned the menu of a Makati restaurant owned by a close friend.
“Nalokah (crazed),” was how Poe described herself in a solicited text message upon learning that she was No. 1 in the partial and unofficial tallies aired on television hours after voting precincts closed on Monday.
“I was very surprised, I was blown away,” she said.
Poe had slept at 3 a.m. Tuesday and was awake three hours later.
“It’s difficult to take even a nap. When the votes were counted in 2004, my dad was leading that night before we went to sleep. But when we woke up the following day, the results were already different,” she recalled.
Poe referred to her father Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential run against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Widespread accusations of massive and organized cheating marred that political exercise. Before the year was over, the elder Poe died of a stroke. His fans claimed the man everyone called “FPJ” died of a broken heart.
Sen. Loren Legarda, FPJ’s running mate in 2004, said the daughter’s successful senatorial bid was a vindication of the father’s loss nine years ago
Poe was at her parents’ house when the unofficial vote count began at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“For me that was very symbolic. I was in my mom’s room when the first tabulated results came in. There were only 4,000 votes and then I became No. 1. My mom was so happy. It was a good start,” Poe said.
So much was her mother Susan Roces’ excitement that she had to remind herself that one cable channel was only reporting the results of a radio station-sponsored exit poll.
As of press time, Poe led second placer Legarda by 1.3 million votes.
Poe admitted praying during the campaign that if it were God’s will to make her win, “at least don’t make me No. 11 or No. 12. That would be so nerve-wracking.”
Apparently, God wanted to be more generous to the Poes this time.
For lunch on Tuesday, the new Senate topnotcher wore a simple white dress and hardly any makeup. There was no cordon sanitaire around her, only son Brian who served as her campaign coordinator and Cat, a young aide who answered her phone calls.
Poe arrived in the restaurant unobtrusively, but necks turned as she searched for a table. Diners got up and shook her hand. Soon, everyone asked her to pose for a photograph. When her order arrived, even the waitresses whipped up their cameras. Poe smiled all the time.
She still has to get used to the attention, Poe admitted. Before she ran for senator, it was dad and mom everyone wanted to pose pictures with.
And then there were the endless phone calls, the most memorable of which were those from Senators Francis Escudero (“I owe him so much”), Legarda (“She’s happy”), Bong Revilla Jr. (“He helped me in Cavite”) and Jinggoy Estrada (“He teased me”).
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters that Poe “carried herself very responsibly, respectfully, very wisely” during the campaign. Roxas noted that while the elder Poe got about 11 million votes, his daughter proved herself better by getting more than 14 million so far.
As expected, Poe’s supporters from show business were jubilant. Movie producer Lily Monteverde called to congratulate her. “Give a blowout,” publicist Lolit Solis demanded. The text messages from President Aquino and her campaign manager Sen. Sergio Osmeña III were more sober.
Champion of the poor
Poe realized during the campaign that people wanted a closure to her father’s death. She said these people saw her “as the image of FPJ in defense of the oppressed, the champion of the poor” in his movies.
“We need to pray for leaders who claim to do that but who don’t actually deliver. Check out the lifestyle or what they actually delivered and it’s contrary to what they claim or stand for,” she said.
Would her ranking in the Senate race add to the pressure of people’s expectations of her as FPJ’s daughter? Yes, but first comes a much-needed holiday. She had planned a vacation with her children months ago.
“I have to fulfill that promise. I need to rest. I’m only human,” she said.
Poe said her 8-year-old daughter had already asked her, “When will this senator thing end?” She said she told her once mommy started to work, “it would be like the MTRCB,” the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board of which she was chairperson before Aquino included her in the Team PNoy senatorial lineup.
“I’ll leave in the morning and hopefully come home at a decent hour, not like this,” she assured her kid, referring to the grueling campaign that separated her from her daughter for most of the past three months.
She dismissed talk of a run for the presidency in 2016.
“It would be so conceited and presumptuous of me to even plan anything at this point. I need to prove myself first and, honestly, I’m not sure how three years would be able to help me achieve that,” she said.
“I would like measurable, concrete achievements that can be felt by the poor. That is my goal. There are a lot of good lawmakers but I would like to be remembered as somebody who made a difference, specifically for the poor. This is what my dad would have done if he were blessed with the chance to actually assume office.”