Confident newbie came well-prepared
INQUIRER.net revisits the first official presidential debate, held a week ago Sunday, with a behind-the-scenes look at each of the five presidential campaigns. This fourth part, out of five, focuses on Senator Grace Poe.—The Editors.
When freshman senator Grace Poe faced her rivals in the first presidential debate held in Cagayan De Oro City last Sunday, she came armed with hard work and prayers.
Weeks before the debate, the first sanctioned by the Commission on Elections in 24 years, Poe was already meeting regularly with her policy team.
“I had several briefings with my policy team once a week regularly. They include, among others, Ciel Habito, Romy Bernardo and Dean Tony La Viña,” she told INQUIRER.net. Habito, an Inquirer columnist, is a former economic planning secretary; Bernardo and La Viña, of the Ateneo School of Government, are former undersecretaries in finance and the environment.
“Preparations did not happen overnight. Whenever we go around the country, we meet with LGUs (local government units) and NGOs (non-government organizations) and ask them about the specific needs of their province, district, city or town. Many of them submit position papers,” she said.
The day before the debate, Poe said she reviewed her notes especially on the Mindanao Development Goals. She added: “I heard Mass at the Quiapo Church and left the rest up to God.”
On the morning of the debate, Poe took a commercial flight from Manila to Cagayan De Oro City.
A photo posted by one of her companions showed the senator holding and scanning some documents while on the plane.
She arrived at the airport past 9:00 a.m and went directly to Seda Hotel, which was just minutes away from Capitol University, the venue of the debate.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who arrived the day before, was also billeted in the same hotel; but unlike Binay, Poe was not seen greeting supporters and well-wishers at the hotel’s fourth-floor lobby.
Two hours before the scheduled 5:00 p.m. start of the debate, a van that will carry her to the venue was already positioned in front of the hotel. Some of her staff members and friends, who travelled all the way from Manila to give her support, came out first and boarded the vehicle.
While waiting for the senator, her friends said a prayer for her inside the coaster.
A banner that read “Grace Poe for President” was attached to the body of the vehicle, and the busy people going in and out of the hotel were already enough to catch the attention of some bystanders and people who were outside a mall just beside the hotel.
Their attention shifted to Poe when she emerged from the hotel in her signature white dress shortly before 4:00 p.m.
As some made their way to get near the senator and shake her hand, others took out their cellphones to get a picture of her.
Even her friends could not contain their admiration when they first saw the senator—fresh, all smiles and ready for the debate.
“Beautiful!” one of her friends exclaimed while watching the senator from the coaster mingle with the people.
When Poe boarded the coaster, she was welcomed by the expected cheers from her friends and staff members. She sat beside the window of the vehicle where she could easily wave at the people who lined the streets to see her.
As soon as she was seated, Poe chatted with her friends and even cracked jokes with them. It was then that she mentioned that she also went to a nearby church to pray after she arrived at the airport.
The trip to the venue took longer because of supporters and onlookers who inadvertently blocked the road just to see her. Even supporters of her rivals were seen waving and chanting Poe’s name when the coaster passed them by.
When she finally arrived at the venue shortly past 4:00 p.m, the senator was immediately escorted to a holding room where she was joined by La Viña, lawyer George Garcia, and some staff members.
She took a few bites of the food offered to her, talked with La Viña and Garcia and some people who entered the room to brief her about the mechanics of the debate.
Poe did not open any documents or briefers while she was at the holding room.
A few minutes before the debate, the senator was escorted to the back stage. She was seen drinking from a tumbler while talking to some reporters there.
“Matagal mo nang iniisip hindi naman sa kinabakabahan ka pero gusto mo na ring matapos di ba? Magkaalaman na,” she told reporters.
A well-prepared Poe entered the stage to face her rivals.
The senator, whose citizenship has been put in question, spoke in Filipino in her opening statement and throughout the debate.
She kept her calm even when she was already being attacked by opponents like former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas over her alleged lack of experience to lead the country.
Most of her arguments were also notably focused on the concerns of people in Mindanao, such as her proposal to give 30 percent of the national budget to the region and pursue “transparent, inclusive, at sustainable” peace talks with all groups, and not only with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.
Asked to assess her own performance after the debate, Poe started, “I think it was…” and then changed her tack. “Never mind. Just ask other people to rate it.”
Except for time constraints, she said she was satisfied by the outcome of the first presidential debate.
“Again time is really the constraint. Pero ang maganda doon, naging very cordial ang lahat,” she said when asked about the debate during a press conference in Baguio City the following Tuesday.
“Sa debate hindi naman ako ninenerbiyos sa topic. Ninenerbiyos siguro ang isang tao dahil iyon ang kauna-unahang pagkakataon na magkakasama kaming lahat. Ayun lang naman pero naging maganda naman,” Poe added.
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