Brian Poe Llamanzares: FPJ scion as a climate advocate  

Relaxing with his poodle when he is not walking the corridors of Congress or running his many businesses. Courtesy of Brian Poe Llamanzares

By Cristina DC Pastor

“When my grandfather passed away I went back to the Philippines to attend his wake. I remember seeing his fans line up as far as the eye could see just to pay their respects. Thousands of Filipinos lined up for days to say good-bye. It was life changing for me to talk to people from all walks of life and hear about how my grandfather inspired them or changed their lives.”

That was Brian Poe Llamanzares’s recollection of the time his grandfather, the King of Philippine cinema Fernando Poe Jr., died in December, 2004. He knew his grandparents were famous “but never knew exactly how famous” until he witnessed the sea of fans and worshippers that crowded his grandfather’s funeral.

He was 12 years old then and had lived in Virginia with his family growing up.  He only saw his grandparents once a year, usually during Christmas. His father Teodoro ‘Neil’ Llamanzares built a career in information technology and his mother now-Senator Grace Poe was formerly a sales representative at CSC Scientific in Virginia.

Attending FPJ’s wake introduced Brian to his grandfather in a way he has never known before. People shared with him stories of FPJ’s goodwill, “donating schools, building communities, and helping people without asking for anything in return…He was everything a public servant should be although he never set foot in public office,” muttered Brian over a Zoom interview with The FilAm.

His favorite movie of his Lolo was “Muslim.357” where the main cop character  deals with racism in a police precinct. “Asedillo,” a true-to-life biopic comes close as his second favorite. Here, FPJ portrays a mild-mannered school teacher who becomes a guerrilla fighter and later a  labor organizer who leads a life devoted to championing the working class.

Growing up, Brian didn’t fully grasp the ideals that FPJ dramatized as an actor. Now at 31, he understands and felt he needed to reach out with a forceful message that could impact the country’s future.

He has written “A Sustainable Future,” a book that touts “turn(ing)  the Philippines into a socio-economic model for sustainability.” The book is chockfull of facts and insights about what the Philippines can do if it wants to become independent, climate-friendly, and a responsible leader in the Asia-Pacific region on climate justice.

Brian is Chief of Staff to his mom, Senator Grace Poe. Facebook photo

A book signing was held recently at the Philippine Consulate, and he donated a copy to Harvard University. Friends and former classmates from Columbia University’s Climate School were photographed waving copies of the autographed books at a round table discussion.  

His boss and mother Grace Poe is a believer and partner in the cause. The senator has sponsored more than a dozen bills that breathe life to Brian’s research. One is a measure proposing to create a department of  water management to handle precious resource. Another bill  seeks to “protect, conserve and rehabilitate” all the watersheds to ensure supply of irrigation water to sustain food production, another to support solar energy start-ups, and a bill urging the shift to electric vehicles and creating charging stations for a more energy-efficient economy. 

“I wrote (the book) because I felt it was my responsibility to share the knowledge I had gained from my studies abroad with my fellow Filipinos,” said  Brian who has a master’s degree in Climate and Society from Columbia. “Of course this is a personal interest for me but it’s also a matter of national interest.” He maintained the Philippines needs to adopt sustainable policies to remain independent and competitive in today’s global economy.

The last Poe
Brian grew up the eldest of three children of Neil and Grace.

“My two sisters don’t call me Kuya,” he said with a chuckle. “They’re too non-traditional for that.”

Hanna is studying for a master’s degree at the University of Southern California, while Nika is a college freshman. “We’re all natural born Filipinos,” he said.

The family decided to immigrate because Neil, a former San Miguel executive, pursued studies at the University of San Francisco. Brian and his siblings were raised by “strict” but loving parents.  Looking back, he felt they were harder on him being the eldest. When FPJ died, the family came home because Grace didn’t want her mother, actress Susan Roces, to be all by her lonesome. FPJ’s demise prompted Grace to redeem her father’s good name in electoral politics. FPJ had lost the controversial 2004 presidential election to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Grace Poe went on to run for the Senate and won in 2013. She then ran for presidency in 2016, in a multi-candidate contest which was eventually won by Rodrigo Duterte. Then in 2019, Grace won her bid for re-election in the Senate with Brian as her campaign manager.

Brian has been working with his mom in the Senate since 2013 and since 2019 he has been serving as her Chief of Staff. Brian says that though he enjoys working for his mother, he isn’t solely dependent on his work in the Senate.

“I love my mom and I don’t want to leave her alone. However, working in government isn’t my only job,” he said.

The last Poe. Brian is the eldest of three children of Neil Llamanzares and Grace Poe.

He was running several companies as founder and CEO and had to take a back seat when he became Chief of Staff. At 28, he founded a company called Oracle Media Group which now publishes Manila Journal, Rapid News, and Negosyante News, all online publications. Oracle Media Group also has two print publications Alike Magazine and Rising Tigers Magazine the country’s most distributed magazine. Meanwhile, his holding company Pantheon Holdings also has stakes in several food and beverage establishments, e-sports, NFTs, fine arts, education, tech, 360 digital marketing, reputation management, and retail.

In 2013 Brian briefly flirted with showbiz appearing on ABS-CBN as a young star. Being the ‘apo’ of the King and Queen of Philippine movie gave him  a leg up in the industry. It was when he decided to join CNN Philippines as a foreign affairs correspondent in 2014 that his Lola Susan was most proud.

“My lola was excited and proud of me when I was accepted into CNN,” he shared. “She said I finally found what works for me and it has to do with the calling for public service.” He said Susan “expected a lot from me, being the last Poe.”

Wake-up call

His book is meant as a wake-up call, but makes us wonder if  entrenched landowning interests can ever be trusted with change for the sake of a green future?

Brian thinks it is possible.

“Every country has vested interests playing a part in their local politics and economic affairs. If we can show the movers and shakers of the country that it is in their best interest to invest in the future, they’ll make that investment for their children and their children’s children.”

© The FilAm 2023

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