A birthday greeting sent via text message, followed by good-natured ribbing about a possible blowout, landed presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe a personal invitation to President Aquino's 56th birthday celebration on Monday.
This was the backstory gathered by the Inquirer from several sources who squashed speculations that Poe gate-crashed the party held on the eve of the proclamation rally of candidates running for the country's top political posts.
A Palace source said Poe texted the President a birthday greeting on Feb. 8, and followed this with the usual teasing between friends: "Hindi ka ba magpapakain? (So, are you giving a treat?)"
In response to Poe's text message, Mr. Aquino invited her to his party that night, his last as the country's chief executive.
Poe herself shrugged off the buzz about her being at Mr. Aquino's birthday bash, and said they remain good friends despite being from rival political parties.
"I went to his party because we're friends. Whenever there are special events in the Palace, he would always invite me," Poe told reporters in a press conference in Toledo City, Cebu province, Wednesday morning.
The birthday party, held at the Presidential Security Group (PSG) compound in Malacañang, featured Japanese food and entertainment provided by the PSG band.
Present at the celebration were the President's sisters, their families and relatives, as well as close friends, Cabinet secretaries, key government officials, Mr. Aquino's anointed, Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Mar Roxas, and his running mate, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.
When Poe arrived, she greeted the President and shook his hand but did not join him at his table, the source said, adding that Mr. Aquino and the senator did not really talk much at the party.
Roxas did not seem to mind his rival's presence at the party. "He just enjoyed the programme," one source said.
The LP wooed Poe to be Roxas' running mate, but she chose to stick it out with close friend and running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero.
The administration party later settled for Robredo, the widow of Mr. Aquino's and Roxas' good friend, the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
One of the Inquirer sources dismissed talk that Poe's presence at the President's birthday celebration was an indication that she was Mr. Aquino's "secret candidate" in the May elections.
"He has no secret candidate. He was just (being) a gentleman who invited Senator Grace to his party because she had texted him and needled him about a birthday treat.
The President then replied, 'We're having a party, come over.' And so she did," the source added.
If she was the President's secret candidate, she was not aware of it, Poe said, adding that she and Mr. Aquino respect each other and do not take their differences in opinion personally.
In fact, it was the President himself who opened doors for her when he appointed her to chair the local movies' ratings and censors board.
"In our last conversation, I showed him how grateful and how inspired I was with his words about making the straight path our personal responsibility," Poe said.