Estrada endorses Grace Poe as ‘The next…’
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada climbed the stage and acknowledged the presence of his bosom friend’s daughter, Sen. Grace Poe, saying, “The next…”
“President,” the crowd shouted, finishing the sentence for him, then let out a lusty cheer of approval of his apparent endorsement of the front-runner in the voter preference polls for the 2016 presidential election.
“Thank you,” Estrada said, adding, “You really know.”
It was the 76th birthday of Estrada’s late best friend, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., but politics was palpable in the mood of the crowd at the commemorative event at Manila North Cemetery on Thursday as FPJ’s daughter tried to decide whether to run for Malacañang or stay in the Senate to steel herself for the job then go for it when the right time came.
She had earnest supporters. “Takbo Poe” (Run Poe), they said on the banners that decked the white tent in front of FPJ’s mausoleum.
There were also streamers with pictures of FPJ and Poe with a message thanking “Da King,” as the actor was also known, for his daughter and a cryptic but clear notice of action to come: “GP2016 race.”
And there was a tarpaulin banner signed by people who want Poe to run for President and Sen. Francis Escudero for Vice President.
Poe took the encouragement modestly, telling reporters later that her family, friends and supporters were there to remember her father, as they did every year.
“I am not denying that there is much interest now because of the 2016 (elections), but this day is for FPJ, a [continuing] remembrance of him,” she said.
At the event were FPJ’s widow, actress Susan Roces, and friends led by Estrada, a former President of the Philippines and one of the founders of the current opposition party, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), whose presidential candidate next year is Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Until recently, Binay led the voter preference polls for the presidential election. But a long-running Senate investigation of corruption charges against him and plunder charges filed against him in the Office of the Ombudsman brought him down.
Poe, who topped the 2013 senatorial election, surged to the front, leaving Binay in second place, followed by either the ruling Liberal Party’s Interior Secretary Mar Roxas or Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Estrada’s presence at FPJ’s birth anniversary was expected, as he was a friend of the Poe family, but his incomplete acknowledgment of Senator Poe as the next President of the Philippines indicated that he was torn between the daughter of his late friend and Binay.
But Estrada now seems to be distancing himself from Binay. He did not show up when Binay launched UNA as a political party in July, although his son, Sen. JV Ejercito, was there.
In his short speech, Estrada paid tribute to FPJ, whom he described as his “friend to the end.”
He said FPJ had been his constant companion not only in the movies but also in politics, with FPJ joining him in his campaign from the time he ran for mayor of San Juan City, as senator, Vice President and ultimately President.
“Erap will die but will never be able to repay his debt of gratitude to (FPJ),” Estrada said, referring to himself by the nickname derived from the word FPJ used to address him. “Erap” is “pare” (buddy) spelled backward.
FPJ himself ran for President in 2004, but lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He protested his defeat, but died in December that year.
In his homily, Fr. Larry Faroan urged Poe to go for the presidency, like her father who, he said, was elected the 14th President of the Philippines but was cheated of his victory.
“I know (FPJ) is watching over Susan and Sen. Grace Poe who will continue his legacy,” Faroan said.
“To all those who are here, there is a new morning that is coming,” Faroan said, quoting the line from FPJ’s presidential campaign.
Faroan also defended Poe against the challenge to her citizenship, saying that even if a child were adopted, she is lucky because she was picked by her new parents.
“Senator Grace is not an adoptee. She was chosen by her parents. She was chosen by Susan and Da King,” Faroan said, adding that Poe was also chosen by the people as senator and “will also be chosen in 2016.”
Faroan urged the people to be vigilant in 2016 and not to allow those who were “forcing someone to be second when he can be first,” apparently referring to Poe, whom the Liberal Party is pressuring to come down from her lead in the polls to become the running mate of Roxas.
Asked about Faroan’s statements, Poe did not give a direct answer, saying only that her family chose him to celebrate the commemorative Mass because he was “very light and in touch with the pulse of the people.”
Poe also played down Estrada’s seeming endorsement of her as well as his presence there, saying he was a good friend of her father as well as the mayor of Manila, where the cemetery was located.
Asked whether she would follow in FPJ’s footsteps, she said: “I always try to follow him, not necessarily in all his decisions but at least his inspirations. The kind of person that he was, his sincerity, his humility, his generosity.”
She thanked her father’s supporters for continuing to remember him and said she would not be in the Senate today if not for him.
Poe also thanked her supporters for their faith in her job in the Senate and for supporting her possible run for Malacañang.
“If they are organizing, I recognize them and humbly thank them all,” she said.
She said she found encouraging the actions of groups that were putting together movements to help her in case she decided to run for President, but stressed that making the decision required “introspection on one’s objectives to help better the lives of the people.”
During the short program that followed the Mass, Poe praised her father for teaching her to be a good daughter and person and to have a higher purpose in life.
She also thanked her parents for taking care of her from the very start when she was brought to the Poe home as a curly-haired toddler suffering from skin disease.
Aside from Roces and Estrada, also present at the event were Poe’s husband, Neil Llamanzares, and son Brian; former Rep. Roilo Golez; former Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes; Batangas Vice Gov. Mark Leviste, as well as Manila councilors and show-business personalities.
Ending her speech, Poe quoted some lines from FPJ’s movies, saying the words reflected Philippine society, where there are oppressed people and people who want to fight back and rise from oppression.
“There is a line in FPJ’s movie ‘Aguila’: ‘Do not mislead yourself, child, in your journey just to say you need me. What you are searching for is meaning,” she said, adding that everyone should find their purpose in life and learn how to help other people.–With a report from Jodee Agoncillo
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