Susan Roces, or Jesusa Sonora Poe, was not just the “Queen of Philippine Movies.” She was also political royalty. As the wife of former presidential contender, the late Fernando Poe Jr., and mother of Sen. Grace Poe, she was like a dowager queen of sorts, a quiet force in the background but an inspiring one as well.
In fact, Grace once told me she credits a landmark measure she co-authored — the Foundling Recognition and Protection Act — that became law three days before Susan passed away on May 20 to her beloved Mama Susan.
Grace, a foundling legally adopted by FPJ and Susan, was gifted by Susan with all the love, support, and the necessary legal documents for her to fulfill her best potential — and how!
Grace said, during her 50th birthday four years ago, that without her mother Susan, “I don’t think I would’ve stood a chance anywhere.”
In past interviews, Susan said she never called Grace “adopted.”
Loved by FPJ and Susan as if she came from Susan’s own womb, Grace had never been encumbered by lack of documents, went to the best schools here and abroad, and had a future of choices ahead of her. Unfortunately, as a foundling, her citizenship was questioned in 2016 (eventually resolved by the Supreme Court in her favor)—something that will no longer happen to any foundling now that the Foundling Recognition and Protection Act has been passed.
According to Grace and her cousins, Joseph and Jeffrey Sonora, who were with Susan when Grace called her to tell her the foundling law had been passed, Susan was very happy and quietly whispered “Congratulations” to Grace.
And Grace told her, “No , Ma, Congratulations to you. Dahil sa iyo ito.” (This is because of you.)
Seven years ago, also on Grace’s 50th birthday, Susan said: “Ronnie and I are truly blessed having you as our daughter. You have brought so much joy, love, honor, and pride to our family. Thank you, Grace. God bless you. Continue your hard work and be happy. I wish you the very best in the coming years. I love you.”
I think, aside from her almost seven-decades-long fruitful movie career, Susan is a National Treasure because she was also a “Queen of Second Chances and New Beginnings.” With her unconditional love for a foundling who would be elected senator on her first try with a record-breaking number of votes in 2013 and whose laws would benefit millions through the years, Susan’s love has changed the world.
“She (Susan) was the one who really taught me the basic foundations of what I believe in, of what should I do, how should I act. Thank you, Mom, for your courage, thank you for showing by example that you should always be compassionate but you should always be wise,” Grace said.
Grace was my student when she was in junior year in high school at the Assumption Convent, and I had the privilege and the thrill of meeting her parents when they got her report cards and during PTA meetings.
Recalls Malu Gamboa Lindo, Grace’s former classmate and BFF, “Tita Susan was a constant presence since my high school years since Grace entered Assumption in first-year high school. She would be present in Family Council events, parent-teacher meetings, and would often host our get-togethers in their Greenhills home. She was the most beautiful woman we all had ever seen, and we were so thrilled that she was a mom of ‘one of us.’ During our Silver velada, Tita Susan surprised us all as she came up on stage to provide her superstar power, and gave words of comfort and inspiration to me as I just lost my mom around that time. It was then that I started calling her Mama Susan.”
I paid a visit to Susan in her Spanish-style stucco Greenhills home in 2006, the home she and FPJ shared since 1979. It had just been over a year since FPJ’s death—the man she called “the kindest man I have ever known.”
From the lawn, she led me to the main living room. An Amorsolo portrait of her commissioned by FPJ for one of their first movies hung on the wall behind the grand piano. There were other masterpieces on the wall, and Susan told me then that FPJ also painted.
She told me that when FPJ, whom she would sometimes refer to as “Mr. Poe,” told her he had decided to run for president, she felt “guilty.”
“I felt guilty that I myself had not done as much for the poor,” she sighed. At the time, she was also planning to write her autobiography.
“I would never be the same again without Ronnie. There is that pining and somehow you realize that it’s a pity we’re not complete anymore,” she would later tell PeopleAsia magazine in 2008, in an interview with Greggy Vera Cruz.
And yet, she seemed acutely aware that the present is all we are ever assured of, that the past is a memory while the future remained an undelivered gift.
“We cannot live in the past but we have to make do with what is present and make the most out of it. As far as I’m concerned, forget about the future because tomorrow is another day. Yesterday was a memory; today, you have to enjoy,” she said.
“I’ve gone through so many hard times, having been born (July 28, 1941) just before World War Il broke,” she told PeopleAsia. “Maybe it’s about time I enjoy playing with my grandchildren more and bonding with my friends of the same age.”
Grace said during her mother’s wake that the latter was the original “plantita.”
Indeed, she told us in 2008 that she found gardening, as well as frequenting weekend markets in search of plants, therapeutic. Susan was also into farming, traveling to their rest house in Lipa City, Batangas where she took pride in her mango orchard, with calamansi, malunggay, and other vegetables as intercrop produce.
Till her death, Susan was still active in showbusiness as the unforgettable “Lola Flora” in the long-running hit series Ang Probinsyano.
As she told PeopleAsia’s Greggy Vera Cruz, who is probably now interviewing his idol Susan in heaven as well, “I just want to be successful with what I’ve started and reap the fruits of my labor. This is the tomorrow I prepared for, because my tomorrow is now.”
She had indeed reaped what she had sown, and the seeds that she had planted — whether in Lipa or in the laws she had inspired — are the orchards of her legacy.