MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The old adage "Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are" is something that could very well apply to how a candidate chooses a team. The people behind a presidential bet, says political analyst Aries Arugay of the University of the Philippines, reflect "the political and economic interests they attract."
The campaign team of presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe comes from different backgrounds: business, politics, media, and law, among others.
For most people in the group, it is their first time to be on a campaign team, more so a presidential one. But some experienced politicians are there to help steer Poe’s campaign. (READ: Grace Poe's campaign: Mixed messaging, disqualification woes)
Poe's team does not have a "too rigid" top-down organizational structure. It has a campaign manager, but he does not have the sole authority to decide on matters. Two sources inside the camp said it is still Poe who has the final say.
Tasks are done by committees, and these small groups then give recommendations to the candidate herself.
"She always evaluates and decides. Everyone is heard before she decides," said one of the sources.
These are the people who play important roles in Grace Poe's campaign, based on Rappler's interviews with insiders and key team members:
Ace Durano, campaign manager
Ace Durano, a member of the politically influential clan in Cebu, was tapped as the campaign manager of the Partido Galing at Puso – Poe, his running mate Senator Francis Escudero, and their senatorial slate.
Durano only met Poe in the latter part of 2015, but he and Escudero have been friends since 1998, when they were both neophyte congressmen. The two belonged to the Nationalist People's Coalition until Escudero bolted the party in 2009. (READ: Grace Poe's campaign manager is Duterte nephew)
Asked what his specific roles for the 2016 campaign are, Durano said he does "everything and anything that will help the campaign."
"Confuses me as well. I'm campaign manager of Partido Galing at Puso (PGP) which handles the campaign activities of the whole group – Senators Grace, Chiz and the Senate slate," he said.
Durano presides over the weekly Thursday meetings of the team and coordinates the activities of all the units.
The outgoing Cebu 5th District representative explained: "We are not vertically structured. All needs of the campaign are handled by the operating units and each unit has a head – political group, volunteer group, campaign services, campaign logistics, policy group, media group, and legal group."
"My role is to orchestrate the activities of the operating units. This is done during the weekly coordination meeting. I just preside over [them]," Durano added.
Senator Francis Escudero, vice presidential candidate
Some quarters have criticized Poe for supposedly being dependent on her running mate Escudero, but she stood by her friend and ally. After all, Escudero did the same to her father, the late action star Fernando Poe Jr, before and after FPJ’s failed presidential bid in 2004.
These critics point out that Escudero, being more experienced in politics than Poe, is calling the shots in the campaign. Both have repeatedly denied this.
Escudero said Poe has her own mind. He cited the instance where Poe was not swayed by President Benigno Aquino III to become the running mate of administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II.
Asked what his role in the campaign is, Escudero said he helps when necessary. "I help out whenever I can and each time I am asked. We have a good team helping us out," he said in a text message to Rappler.
But Durano said Escudero, just like Poe, has the "final say or approval on all campaign activities."
Husband Neil Llamanzares, finance
According to insiders, Neil Llamanzares, Poe’s husband, handles the campaign funds – a common practice in most campaigns.
Two team members, who refused to be identified, said Llamanzares is low profile even with the campaign team, and hardly joins meetings.
One insider said: "Sa finances lang talaga s'ya. Napakabait at mahiyain noon and hindi s'ya nagme-meddle." (He's only focused on finances. He's very kind and shy, and he does not meddle [with campaign affairs.])
Bud Britanico, Ella Martelino, Lynette Baldovino, communications
Britanico is associated with Poe's camp, while Baldovino is reportedly with the Escudero team. The two are the unit heads that attend weekly Thursday meetings.
Britanico and Judith Sto Domingo are mostly in charge of the communications and public relations unit of Poe's campaign.
Sto Domingo has been Poe’s media relations officer in the Senate.
Britanico, on the other hand, said his role is more on the administrative side. "I help out on the administrative side of communications – ad placements, materials procurements," he told Rappler.
Durano said Britanico's group is in charge of Poe's imaging and advertisements. Ella Evangelista-Martelino, who worked as a journalist in a TV network, now heads the creatives team, and told Rappler she is in charge of advertisements, events, and videos.
Director and actress Bibeth Orteza is also reportedly helping Poe in her imaging. Insiders said Poe still has the final say on her political commercials.
Son Brian Llamanzares, head of coalition of volunteer groups
Jyleazar dela Rosa, secretary-general of coalition
Poe's son Brian leads the Gawa at Prinsipyo Coalition (GPC), which is the umbrella for all volunteer groups for Poe. He also reportedly helps in the social media team of the campaign.
"Yes, I'm still the head of the coalition of [volunteer] groups or GPC," he said.
Dela Rosa, meanwhile, is one of the regular faces in Poe's sorties. A founding chairman of the Filipino Liberal Youth, the Liberal Party's youth wing, he resigned in 2015 to join Poe's campaign team, where he is in charge of connecting at the grassroots level.
"I do the sectors and KPoe (Kabataan Poe) Luzon. I came from sectoral organizing [work]. We make sure that the platforms reflect what the people need. Senator Grace is focused inclusive growth," Dela Rosa told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.
Marty Escalona, 'sortie master' and volunteers group
Escalona, a banker, is one of the key figures in Poe’s campaign, insiders say. He is one of the members of Poe's core team. He, however, denied this. "I am just one of the many volunteers trying to help out," he told Rappler.
Asked why he was in the same holding room as Poe and husband Neil during the proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda, he said he was only "able to squeeze [his] way in because [he is] a friend."
But a high-ranking source in the camp said Escalona is a "sortie master" or someone who makes arrangements for sorties.
The same source added that Escalona also works with Poe’s son Brian in coordinating with the volunteer groups, and joins weekly meetings with all unit heads.
Gary Jimenez, chief political officer
Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
Jimenez is Poe's chief political officer in the Senate. The lawyer, who is also a long-time family friend, joins Poe in all her sorties and handles "candidate services and ground command." Look at most photos of Poe in a crowd and chances are you would immediately spot Jimenez beside or behind the candidate.
Bem Noel and Oscar Orbos, liaision for politicians/political groups
Former An Waray Representative Florencio "Bem" Noel said he is helping the campaign in terms of political affairs and operations. He, however, said his role is "fluid," in consonance to the earlier statements of key members that there is no "vertical structure" in the campaign team.
Noel, an ally of President Aquino, quit as director of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in September to help in the campaign of Poe and Escudero.
Noel said Oscar Orbos, former Pangasinan governor and Cabinet secretary, also helps in the political affairs and operations of the team.
Camille Llamanzares Sevilla, policy
Sevilla is the head of the policy group of Poe's campaign team. A graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law, she was the chief of staff of another presidential bet, Senator Miriam Santiago, for nearly 10 years.
Sevilla, a relative of Poe's husband Neil, left Santiago to join Poe in 2014.
Poe's friends, advisers
Some of the political supporters and advisers of Poe are San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora and former Camarines Sur Governor Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte, both members of the Nacionalista Party.
"I am supporting her in Camarines Sur and Bicol region, where she has strong following," Villafuerte told Rappler in a phone interview.
The former governor said he does this by "gathering people" and ensuring that Bicolanos "know her programs."
Asked if he gives political advice or tips to the neophye senator, Villafuerte said: "Limited, once in a while. I am focusing in Bicol to maintain and possibly increase her lead here."
Aside from these people, Poe also relies on her high school friends for support. Her friends from Assumption College would also go to campaign sorties to show moral support. (READ: Ladies of Grace Poe)
Photo by Malu Gamboa
In January, they hosted a meet and greet for supporters – An Evening with Grace. It was led by Poe's best friend, Malu Gamboa.
Mia Padilla, one of Poe's friends, said they help by attending sorties, supplying campaign materials, handling social media accounts, and organizing fund raising activities, among others. (READ: How the Ladies of Grace Poe campaign for their bet)
Gamboa also earlier told Rappler, the group serves as Poe's "sounding board."
"She also sounds off her ideas with us. So we tell her what people tell us about her, what they want to know about her, what they want to happen to our country, so we're also a sounding board. It's just that we're just happy to be with her and give support." – Rappler.com
Read on the campaign teams of other presidential candidates:
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org