Once upon a time, Senator Grace Poe was dismissed as having no other qualification but the prominent last name of her movie-star father.
We are used to such hand-me-down fame. How many local and national public officials have earned their posts the same way? Way too many.
But then the surprises started pouring in. Ms. Poe placed first in the 2013 senatorial elections. In earlier Senate hearings, she displayed a quiet authority and sensibility, a departure from the grandstanding antics of her peers. Her questions were simple yet incisive, and she did not feel the need to raise her voice to call attention to herself.
When the situation demanded it, she scolded officials who displayed a lack of regard for the investigative function of her committee.
The public got a sense that she knew what she was doing, and that she did her homework. Always.
At the height of public outrage over the deterioration of the public transport system, specifically the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3, Senator Poe showed her colleagues in government how to really take public transportation—sans express lanes, umbrella-carrying aides and special coaches. Instead, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, she fell in line and waited a long time for her turn at the platform. When she got into the train, she stood like an ordinary commuter.
These early gains have led the public to consider the senator as a viable candidate for higher office next year. She has been coy about her plans.
And when the Senate probe on what really happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, where 44 members of the Special Action Force were killed after trying to arrest a terrorist, began, the public was almost thankful it was Poe moderating the process. The hearings, as we have seen, highlighted the vain attempts of men around President Benigno Aquino III to protect him from the fallout of the policemen’s deaths.
But despite the President’s men’s attempts to obfuscate the events of that day, this much we can piece together, because we are not as dumb as they make us out to be: that President Aquino knew of the operation, that he knowingly and willfully gave instructions to a suspended police official, his friend and longtime protector General Alan Purisima, and that the swiftness of the response of the military to the SAF’s calls for help was tempered by the fear of offending the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with whom the government was talking peace.
Aside from the public hearings, there were also executive sessions. General Purisima was, after all, wary of answering very simple questions such that he said he had to seek the President’s permission before doing so.
Now that the Senate has wrapped up its probe, a committee report is expected soon. This will determine how the findings could improve the senators in crafting related laws. More to the point, however, the committee report will tell us who is to blame, and how liable the President is for the tragic consequences of that operation.
Or it will not.
This early, there are reports that the President’s allies will do anything to leave him out of the mess. Blame will be pinned on the police officials who supposedly made the call to go ahead with the operation despite the risks, and for feeding Mr. Aquino the wrong information. Meanwhile, the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, being questioned because of constitutional infirmities and the apparent lack of good faith on the part of the MILF, will be rushed in time for Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address in July.
We wonder how Ms. Poe’s sensible touch will come into play in all these. On one hand, she is an administration ally; on the other, she is a neophyte senator, one of considerable potential, who has to prove her judiciousness and independence above all.
These are tough times, but we trust that the senator would not allow herself, or her committee, to be part of any scheme or cover up. We hope she does not crack.