Poe's high school sweetheart eyes 'low profile' First Gentleman role

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Neil Llamanzares stands beside Sen. Grace Poe during the declaration of her presidential bid at the UP Bahay ng Alumni on September 16, 2015. Poe-Escudero Media Bureau
PROFILES: The next First Lady or First Gentleman
Regardless of who wins among the 5 presidential candidates, Malacanang is going to welcome a much bigger First Family as bachelor President Benigno Simeon Aquino III bows out of office on June 30, 2016.
The Philippines will either have another First Gentleman if Senator Grace Poe or Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago wins, a First Lady if Vice President Jojo Binay or former DILG chief Mar Roxas makes it, or a daughter as First Lady if Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte succeeds.
What role the next First Lady or First Gentleman will play and how well (or bad) he or she performs will impact on the Philippine presidency. Will he or she be like an Imelda Marcos, a Ming Ramos, a Loi Ejercito, a Mike Arroyo, or the Aquino sisters?
News.abs-cbn.com takes a look at the women and men who may soon be moving into the Palace as First Lady or First Gentleman.

Neil Llamanzares disappeared under a rain of blue and white confetti when his former high school sweetheart, Sen. Grace Poe, stepped into the spotlight and announced her presidential candidacy in September.

The burly and bespectacled 46-year-old is always a few steps behind but never too far to come to the rescue of his wife of 25 years when she needs it. It's the behind-the-scenes role that Llamanzares hopes to take on in case Poe wins the cutthroat May 9 vote.

"My father will take a low-profile role, as he has always maintained. He will continue to give good counsel to my mom," the couple's eldest son Brian Llamanzares told ABS-CBN News.

"He has a strong sense of self-worth so he won't be intimidated by having a wife who is president. He will always adhere to what is honorable, proper and decent," the 26-year-old former television reporter added.

Llamanzares, who speaks straight Tagalog but with a slight American twang, has become an easy target for critics who claim Poe's holding of a US citizenship in the past made her unfit to become president.

My father is a hands-on and caring dad to me and my sisters, and is very supportive of my mom. - Brian Llamanzares

The former member of the United States Air Force, who has also worked as a consultant for local conglomerate San Miguel Corp., has begun a process to renounce his American citizenship, following the senator's lead.


Poe and Llamanzares met on a Manila tennis court as teens and the sheltered Llamanzares did not know that he was pursuing the only daughter of the country's most popular movie stars, the couple said in a television interview in 2013, after Poe topped that year's senatorial election.

Llamanzares recalled the day he met Fernando Poe Jr., who was then at their height of his career, having starred in numerous action films that portrayed him as the defender of the poor with a gun that never ran out of bullets.

"When he came down the steps, FPJ was larger than life. Medyo nawalan ako ng hininga. He is a really big person, I shook his hand, kalahati lang ng kamay niya yung kamay ko," he said.

The couple said they moved to the United States to raise a family to prove to their parents that they could stand on their own.

"She’s kind of a superwoman; beside being a mom, she was a teacher she worked at a bank, she became a product specialist at a scientific company, she was still driving the kids around, cooking, baking, cleaning the house, bathing the dog," he said.

The couple has two other daughters, Nikka and Hanna.

"My father is a hands-on and caring dad to me and my sisters, and is very supportive of my mom," according to eldest son Brian.

"He is our family's anchor and source of strength. We look up to him as a very principled and down-to-earth man who is always there for us," he said.


Poe had not spoken publicly about her husband's role in her presidential campaign, but during her 2013 candidacy, she said he was in charge of finances and campaign ads.

She recalled coming home an "emotional wreck" many times during the 2013 campaign, but it was her husband's support that got her through.

"Ang swerte ko, matiyaga ang aking asawa pinagbibigyan niya ang aking mga kahinaan... Kung hindi dahil sa kanya, hindi ko matatagalan yun," she said in the same television interview in 2013.

If Poe wins, it will be second time that an incumbent president has a male spouse. Former President Gloria Arroyo's husband, lawyer Jose Miguel Arroyo, took on the title of First Gentleman.

Mr. Arroyo was initially active in outreach programs until he was dragged into numerous corruption controversies. He is also accused of helping rig the 2004 elections to help his wife defeat Poe's movie star father.