The Giant

Grace looks straight at the camera. The room is quiet. She tells her story, she says, again and again, to anyone who will listen. “It’s not always a happy ending, because the story is always continuing. It’s important to tell the story, because we have our own lives, our own lessons, and we can’t live each others’ lives to learn each others’ lessons.

“I am Grace Padaca. I share my story because I know there are many who are like me, not big people, not rich, not strong. I know there are many like me whose strength is inside.” — Patricia Evangelista, Inquirer

As it happens, I am sitting on the floor of a Makati hotel room, flush against a row of red and green cardboard boxes, each box marked and labeled and stuffed with printed pages and faxed letters and folders-within-folders. I am told the governor never travels the seven hours from Isabela without bringing along the workings of the capitol. There are newspapers piled haphazardly on a suitcase, along with four tissue-wrapped, beribboned bouquets the size of small trees blooming with white and orange and red, red blossoms. Adonis, my gaffer, sets up the redhead lights by the big open window. Fresh tapes are handed to the two men handling the cameras. I sit on my square of floor, beside coils of cable, and watch the small, smiling woman in the black-and-white striped T-shirt make her ungainly way across the room, her crutches making small round marks on the carpet.

She tells her story after the cameras begin rolling. Her name is Grace Padaca.

Grace contracted polio in 1966, three years before the vaccine became available to the public. Polio is a viral disease, paralyzing muscles, holding hostage limbs, stopping growth even as the rest of the body grows and develops. In the governor’s case, her legs are smaller, her right arm weaker.

“I always wanted to have a job in radio. I knew if I had a radio job, people would hear me and not see me.” For 14 years, Grace became known as Bombo Grace.

In the year 2000, during the Y2k hype, when the world was talking about new beginnings for the new millennium, Grace quit radio that year, and for the first time practiced her profession as an accountant. She was working as an auditor for the Commission on Audit when she decided to run for Congress.

“We always tell our people that one thing is wrong, but where’s their alternative? If this is wrong, where is right?”

Filing for candidacy meant automatic resignation from her government job. When it became public that Bombo Grace was going to be running for office, donations began to trickle in. Here are the images: A photocopied poster, asking the public to throw in their lot with Bombo Grace. A grinning Grace, short legs a foot from a dirt path, riding on a makeshift hammock slung over a long length of bamboo carried by men with skin burned by years of sun. Grace, pink shirt with her name emblazoned in blue, laughing with the crowd. Grace, in a red shirt and a white baseball cap, sitting on a wooden cart pulled by a carabao while her supporters walked behind her. Yellow-shirted, smiling Grace, leaning on crutches at the foot of a bus, smiling while cameras flashed and hands in the crowd rose in approval.

“I didn’t have my own color. You know how other candidates would have their own—if you saw this candidate walk by in blue, you’d know who he is. The one in red was always in red. I didn’t have a specific color, because I’d take whatever color T-shirt would be donated.”

The members of the ruling dynasty began to talk notice. “They laughed at me,” she says, and shakes her head ruefully. “And I didn’t blame them. Who is this Grace, this cripple who cannot walk but insists on running? I’m not surprised they laughed, my situation was really funny. They didn’t mind me until the day of the counting. Then the votes poured in for me. At the last minute they changed the votes. I can say that right now, before the whole country—they changed the votes. And I have the documents of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal to prove that. I made it all the way to Manila to fight for my case even if I didn’t have money.

“We reached the point where it came out that the votes were changed, because when my rival was proclaimed, Faustino Dy the Third, Congressman for District Three of Isabela, he was supposed to have had 1,200 votes ahead of me, but when all the votes were counted again, and the ballot boxes were all opened, those 1,200 votes became 48. But they didn’t count in my favor 150 ballots, because the name my people put down was the name ‘Grace.’ The tribunal had me on technicals. They said that my name was Maria Gracia Cielo. Nothing in that name says Grace. The nickname I put down was Bombo Grace, because that was my name in radio. So when people wrote down Bombo Grace, they said it was wrong, it should have been Bombo Grace. It was stupid, who else is Grace? Is Grace similar to Bodjie, who is Faustino Dy the Third? Should there be a confusion whether that vote should be for Bodjie or Bombo Grace? They found a way.”

What was left of the Isabela opposition took heart in her recent almost-victory. In 2004, Grace ran for governor reluctantly. The patriarch of the Dy family, Faustino Dy Jr., the older brother of the man who had beaten her in the congressional elections, was again running for governor. To have Dy run as governor essentially meant, according to oppositionists who were convincing her to run, that all other local positions would also be captured during the elections. Dy had no competitors. “It meant he would win automatically, even a dog voted for him, even if one person voted for him, even if just his housemaid voted for him, he would win as governor.”

She knew she was bound to lose. She had already received a scholarship to study in the United States from Ford Foundation. She was willing to lose 45 days of her life campaigning to give Dy Jr., a fight enough to distract him from the rest of the opposition who wanted a chance at the other positions. Grace went back to the campaign trail. “I knew I was going to lose—but then, I won.”

The streamers were carried to the streets. “Isabela, you are now free.”

Grace won by 44,000 votes, a number she says would have been impossible to cheat. The Dys took another tactic, and tried to stall her proclamation as governor. They said she was part of the New People’s Army. It was a long time before she was proclaimed.

In 2007, Grace ran again, this time winning by 17,000. “It was less than what I had, but I’m prouder of this victory than of the 2004 elections. The first time, they voted for me, it was a gamble on their parts. It was a protest vote against the reigning dynasty, whoever went up against it would have that vote. It was not me. Then there was the telenovela effect—“Poor Grace, crippled and still fighting.” When I was governor, I was the most powerful woman in the province. I was no longer the underdog. I had three years to be judged.”

Grace beat the dynasty again.

Grace looks straight at the camera. The room is quiet. She tells her story, she says, again and again, to anyone who will listen. “It’s not always a happy ending, because the story is always continuing. It’s important to tell the story, because we have our own lives, our own lessons, and we can’t live each others’ lives to learn each others’ lessons.

“I am Grace Padaca. I share my story because I know there are many who are like me, not big people, not rich, not strong. I know there are many like me whose strength is inside.”

She laughs. When the cameras stop rolling, Bombo Grace picks up the phone to continue the business of running Isabela.

Source: Evangelista, Patricia. “Rebel without a Clue: The Giant.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04 October 2008. http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20081004-164631/The_giant. Accessed 26 July 2009.

One response to “The Giant

  1. Alberto Lustestica

    Grace story is so touching. I can’t hold back my tears. For the oppressed people of our country who continue to believe that they are helpless in the face of grinding poverty. For myself, for feeling often times helpless over the hopelessness of our country. Here’s one woman who cannot walk, yet she’s mightily running against the oppressors. Her story liberates us from age old and crippling beliefs that changing the world is beyond us.

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