Susan Roces: Show biz queen’s rage echoes in PH politics

Rivai H Tukimen

STAR POWER COUPLE | Presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. gets some help from his wife, Susan Roces, as they go stumping in Pasil, Cebu City, in this March 2004 file photo. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

MANILA, Philippines — Susan Roces, fondly regarded in her industry as the “Queen of Philippine Movies,” had a brief but dramatic performance, so to speak, in the country’s political scene, about a year after she was drawn into that arena in 2004 when her husband, Fernando Poe Jr., ran for president.

“Da King,” as Poe was popularly referred to in his long and prolific film career, introduced his wife (real name Jesusa Sonora Poe) as “Inday” to reporters covering his campaign, and Roces had her own star quality in the couple’s foray into politics—which alas ended with Poe’s defeat to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the May polls that year.

Poe died suddenly from cerebral thrombosis seven months later. But this chapter in politics was not over for Roces, who asked to be named petitioner in her husband’s protest before members of the Supreme Court convening as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

High drama

By April 2005, the PET junked Roces’ petition to substitute for her husband, as it noted that she was not the “interested party” in the electoral protest.

Two months later Roces held a press conference demanding President Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation, after she went on national television on June 27 to confront “the issue of the tape recordings [which] has spun out of control.”

Amid the scandal which erupted at that time over taped conversations between Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and a woman whom many believed to be Macapagal-Arroyo, the President made her broadcast to acknowledge that she “had conversations with many people, including a Comelec official” whom she did not name, even as she maintained that “My intent was not to influence the outcome of the [2004] election.”

Still, she said “I recognize that making any such call was a lapse in judgment. I am sorry.”

The transcript of that address is available in the Official Gazette.

Roces’ press conference two days later was an occasion of high drama, complete with memorable lines, as she rejected Macapagal-Arroyo’s apology to the nation, accused her of “destroying your countrymen’s trust” and concluded from the President’s address that “Obviously you have no love for your country.”

“Mrs. Arroyo,” Roces said with a pause, shaking her head, “as I was watching you, … I could see in your eyes that your [plea] does not come from your heart.”

“We have a saying in Filipino: The liar is kin to the thief.”

“The gravest thing that you have done is that you have stolen the presidency, not once but twice!”

Roces’ speech, as many observed then, rattled the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency throughout that scandal, and this combative stance inspired the opposition to seek her leadership.

But she was reluctant to assume that role, after that fiery appearance on the political stage.

It wasn’t until 10 years later that Roces reemerged in the political limelight, this time to defend her daughter, Sen. Grace Poe, who as a presidential candidate was contending with several disqualification cases over questions about her citizenship.

“Grace is our daughter! She still had her umbilical cord when she was found in a church in Jaro, Iloilo. I don’t know what their standards are. What’s their right to dismiss what we fought for in court so she could have a birth certificate,” Roces said with that familiar indignation.

“I never called her adopted or a foundling. How dare they use that word!”

Roces died on Friday night, just five days after President Duterte signed into law a measure providing “greater protections” to deserted and abandoned children with unknown parents—a matter very much related to Senator Poe’s case in 2016.

‘Beloved icon’

Malacañang extended its condolences to Roces’ family, friends and colleagues.

“Ms. Roces was the Queen of Philippine Movies and her death is truly a big loss not only to the local entertainment industry but to all the people whose lives the beloved icon had touched and affected,” acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said in a statement on Saturday.

Some lawmakers also paid tribute to the veteran actress.

Pangasinan Rep. Christopher de Venecia urged the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) “to spearhead a Susan Roces Film Festival wherein her films and other restored Filipino classics can be screened for the general public to appreciate her “legacy, or be made available through the FDCP streaming platform.”

The congressman— w hose grandfather, movie mogul Jose Perez of Sampaguita Pictures, discovered Roces — hailed the actress as a “national treasure.”

“We will continue to honor Tita Susan through the pursuit of policies and reforms for the audiovisual sector, particularly strengthening workers[’] welfare, empowering the creation of more quality Filipino content and paving the way towards the successful return of Filipino films to cinemas everywhere,” De Venecia said.

Senior Citizens Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes also said Roces’ films should be screened once again in movie theaters and on television.

House Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera said the actress should be named national artist in recognition of her contributions to Philippine cinema.

—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, NESTOR A. CORRALES AND INQUIRER RESEARCH

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