Why Grace Poe quickly rejected Roxas’ call for unity talk

MANILA, Philippines – On the eve of the elections, the camp of Senator Grace Poe explained why the presidential candidate quickly rejected the call of administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II for unity talks against poll front runner Rodrigo Duterte.

In a Rappler interview on Sunday, May 8, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, referred to a “supervening event” prior to Poe’s decision – a radio interview of Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice of the Liberal Party urging the senator to give way to Roxas.

“Right after Secretary Roxas said, ‘Mag-usap tayo (Let’s talk) – and I’m going to go on the record for this and you can check the timelines – Congressman Erice, the spokesman, suddenly comes out in the open and I think it was in dzMM, if I’m not mistaken, and he said 'Grace, bata ka pa. Kailangan magsakripisyo ka pa (Grace, you’re still young. You still have to sacrifice),” said the Poe campaign spokesman.

“That’s what triggered us to immediately say no. Because, look, from the way we see it, your spokesman pretty much laid down something that you couldn’t say. Either you were sugarcoating it, but that’s what that presscon was all about: 'Grace, back down,'” Gatchalian said.

He said that when Poe decided to run for president, it is to “give a voice and a place on the table” for Filipinos left behind by the country’s vaunted economic growth.

“This is not about her anymore. It’s not as simple as ‘Yes, I’ll back down.’ It’s not about her,” he added.

Responding to questions, Gatchalian said Roxas’ call caught everyone in the Poe camp “off guard.”

“I think nobody saw that coming,” he said. “The headlines were the good Secretary asking her for unity talk, but it wasn’t that. That may have been sincere but the people beside him triggered something in the middle.”

Gatchalian added that when Poe rejected the call, the Roxas camp later “twisted” the issue and criticized her for not even considering the appeal.

“It’s not about unity. It’s about the principle of fighting this out because of what you believe in and let’s talk about numbers. She’s still the number 2 candidate there and she poses the strongest challenge to Mayor Duterte. She’s the number one second chance of everybody…. If she did entertain that thought, how do we know those votes will go to him if the survey says it will not go to him?” he said.

The final round of surveys released by polling firms showed Poe and Roxas either statistically tied for second place or at second and 3rd place, respectively. 

In a separate Rappler interview, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Erice was not with the group of Roxas when he decided to appeal for unity talks with Poe.

“I can tell you for a fact that Cong Erice wasn’t with us when the decision was made, when the plan was being done. It has always been the sentiment of Cong Erice that, and also, with due respect to the Grace camp, that we felt that Mar was really the better candidate,” Lacierda said.

Final pitch

Asked about the final stretch of the campaign, Gatchalian said, “For the past one week we have harped on appealing to our voters, ‘We understand your frustration, we know your frustration, but we really have to quantify and taper off the type of demands we are looking for.’”

“It’s not okay when you suddenly say you’re going to shut down every institution of the country. It’s not okay when you don’t respect other people. What we’re trying to say is the next 6 years will be defined by our vote tomorrow. And it shouldn’t be about soundbites that are nice to listen to, but it should be quantified change,” he said.

Gatchalian reiterated that while Poe has not served in government as long as other candidates, her “sincerity” allows her to understand the plight of common folk.

“For Senator Grace Poe, tomorrow we’re appealing to people that this is the type of candidate that is non-establishment, that will break the status quo, that does not conform with what should be in other establishment candidates, that she’s offering sensible change – change that is correct, change that respects, change that actually makes a lot of sense,” he said. – Rappler.com