MANILA, FEBRUARY 23 2012 (MANILA TIMES) Written by : Tessa Mauricio-Arriola, Lifestyle and Entertainment Editor -

THE woman that President Benigno Aquino 3rd is currently dating is now officially labeled “hot property” in showbiz circles.

Ever since Mr. Aquino confirmed that he is seeing radio and television personality Grace Lee, the South Korean expatriate’s once-steady but average career is now rapidly on the rise.

A freelance host outside her regular gigs (she is a disc jockey on FM radio station Magic 89.9 and entertainment news anchor of GMA-7’s Balitanghali), Lee’s talent fee has reportedly gone up 75 percent for corporate and private affairs. Sources said that she also had a string of new products set to endorse.

In fact, while Mr. Aquino was visiting earthquake victims on his 52nd birthday on February 5, Lee had a contract signing with local cosmetics company Ever Bilena. It was there that she denied using her relationship with the President to further her career.

“I don’t want to be rude because that’s not what I am. I try to accommodate and be polite to everyone as much as I can. I hope that my politeness will not be used against me. As long as my family and the people I love around me believe and know who I am, I can live with myself,” she said, explaining why she openly answers questions about the President during her interviews.

As of last count, Lee has accepted three new endorsement deals since news about her relationship with Mr. Aquino was made public.

Aside from Ever Bilena, she has also been signed on by giant retail brand Bench for its ladies fashion line Her Bench and salon chain Bench Fix.

Arnold Vegafria, Lee’s manager, confirmed this to The Manila Times in an exclusive interview. He admitted that there were “other endorsements, [but they] cannot disclose yet.”

According to reports, these plum endorsement deals are with Belo Medical Clinics and international brand Avon.

Strike while it’s hot

Can Grace Lee be blamed for all the attention surrounding her these days? Clearly a career woman even before her involvement with the President, should it still come as a surprise that the 29-year-old media personality is striking it while it’s hot?

Her own critics think otherwise, and believe that she should be more prudent in her every move, precisely because she is dating the highest official in the land.

Since Mr. Aquino assumed the presidency in 2010, no one heard a peep from the women who were linked to him—Shalani Soledad, who has since married Rep. Roman Romulo of Pasig City (Metro Manila), stockbroker Len Lopez, teacher Bunny Calica, or even celebrity stylist Liz Uy, who is just as accessible to media as Lee. Perhaps they deemed it proper to shun the limelight as society expects.

In contrast, Lee has been chatty about her relationship with President Aquino, and she answers questions about the issue with ease, be it in the middle of a newscast where she acknowledged Mr. Aquino’s admission that they are dating, or on her radio program where she often defends herself from issues surrounding their involvement.

Coming to his ward’s defense, Vegafria said of Lee’s popularity, “In her own way, and largely because of her involvement with media, Grace has always had her share of the spotlight even prior to being linked to the President.”

“But we can’t deny the fact that she has become even more popular now. It’s actually amazing how she’s handled everything well. Maybe because she’s part of media herself, she knows what it feels like to be at the other end. While others might start feeling uneasy or evasive, she’s always been gracious to whoever asks her questions, or requests for an interview,” he added.

Vegafria also maintained that the surge of offers coming Lee’s way was not a result of her relationship with Mr. Aquino.

“The offers were already there even before (all of this) happened,” he said. “But we can’t deny that we’ve also been getting a lot of feelers.”

Class act

While happy for his ward’s blossoming personal life, Vegafria, as a talent manager, finds himself in a bind in terms of steering Lee’s career at the moment.

“It’s a tough balancing act. With the whole world watching her, we always have to be very careful about protecting her image. But Grace has always been a class act, and knows how to conduct herself amid all the attention and public opinion - even if she knows that there will always be critics,” he said.

It seems that the President agrees with Vegafria, for despite media’s accusations that Lee is using him to further her career, she continues to be the apple of his eye.

Moreover, in the middle of the latest controversy, which Lee vehemently denied (a recent Vera Files report claims that she sees herself marrying Mr. Aquino), the President even appealed to the public to respect the privacy of her family.

Asked how Lee is taking all the heat, Vegafria replied, “Like I said, Grace is smart enough to discern which comments need to be addressed and which ones should just be left unanswered. We cannot help it if such speculations always come her way.”

After all, at the end of the day, if Lee is truly in love with the President, it is his opinion alone that will and should matter to her. Not even his sister’s Kris’, who has curiously been quiet all this time.

But if indeed the President’s youngest sibling finally speaks up about his involvement with Lee, then the public is surely in for a more exciting love story.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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