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MANILA, Philippines -- After conceding the presidential race to his second cousin, the former administration bet Gibo Teodoro vanished from public life. Fifteen months after the elections, the man touted to be one of the most competent candidates emerged in fora and lectures, and faced the inevitable question: Is he eyeing a political comeback?
“I resigned already from Lakas,” declares Gilberto Cojuangco Teodoro Jr. Since finishing fourth in the 2010 polls, it is his first sit-down interview with Move.PH and authors of the book Ambition, Destiny, Victory: Stories from a Presidential Election.
“I don’t want to be part of any political party at this time. I just wanna be free.”
Lakas-Kampi-CMD’s former standard bearer resigned from the party, along with friends Francis Xavier Manglapus and Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez. Manglapus says they submitted their resignation letter to party chairman and House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman in August 2011.
“We’re kind of like a team. We took positions [in the party] before the campaign started," Manglapus tells Move.PH. "It was an individual and collective decision that it was best to leave the party to be flexible to look at issues without the color of being opposition, pro- or anti-government."
Gibo once chaired the party but quit the post at the height of the campaign, saying he had to prioritize his own bid and could no longer address the financial needs of local candidates.
There were speculations, however, that the real reason behind the resignation as party chair was the frustration over then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s perceived lack of adequate support for his presidential bid. These were reinforced by Dominguez and Manglapus resigning as party president and secretary general, respectively, along with Teodoro.
The Tarlac congressman-turned-defense chief says leaving the party for good is part of moving on from a 16-year stint in politics. “For me, that’s already a long time. For others, probably not, but for me, it’s already quite a long time with my personality, my temperament,” says Gibo, now a consultant and businessman.
Yet the man who ran on a slogan of “Galing at Talino” (Competence and Intelligence) is not abandoning his advocacies. Gibo plans to use his smarts to pursue reforms via a new course.
Policy, not PR
Gibo is forming a group that aims to provide a venue for what he calls structural political debate. Joining him in the initiative is his law school friend Antonio La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, other academicians, and former public officials of diverse backgrounds. Manglapus and Dominguez will be part of the group, too.
“[We want] to have talks about the political situation in the country in terms of systems, in terms of structures, and maybe even in terms of policies but on a non-partisan basis and non-ad hominem basis where people can exchange ideas. We can hold fora, discussions in a more sober manner.”
Plans for the group are still evolving but Gibo says it will be a council of sorts. He envisions it to have the influence of prominent business and commercial chambers in the Philippines.
“Now, maybe people might say, ‘Oh you’ll be giving up public service.’ No, you can help your country in a private capacity. Like now, rather than get bogged down in administrative routine and detail, I can give some suggestions or ideas....I think it’s equally useful for my contribution to the country than running for something or being in some public institution.”
Gibo’s push for structural change was a key component of his electoral platform. For example, he believes there is a need to rethink the form of government to ensure reforms continue beyond the term of an administration, and to empower local governments through capacity-building.
“Any president will have a difficult time because of the structure of government. If you have good results, there’s a chance it cannot be sustained because you only have a three-year timeframe actually because after the mid-term election, you become a lame duck already.”
The bar topnotcher and Harvard Law masters graduate stresses that he prefers talking policy over playing politician. He concedes that during the campaign, he was a PR’s nightmare, especially during Tropical Storm Ondoy that struck in 2009. At the time, he was chair of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and incidentally, presidential candidate.
Back then, Camp Aguinaldo, according to him, needed as much room as possible for logistics. He had to reject PR suggestions for photo opportunities and being in the limelight. “If the people brought the relief goods to Camp Aguinaldo then we would have had to transfer these to the [Department of Social Welfare and Development] DSWD warehouse. The problem, hassle and cost would have doubled. Many said, ‘Sir, we’ll take a photo of you with the donations.’ I replied, ‘No, no, you go to DSWD.’ It got to a point I had to be rude to them,” he explains in Filipino.
Even without a disaster, Gibo hates posing for the camera. “What I wasn’t comfortable with was shooting the ads. I’m really not comfortable with make-up, walking, trying to smile, walk towards this and then stop, turn....Somebody said I should be dancing. I walked with a limp rather than do that.”
Aquino, disaster, defense
Enjoying the peace of private life, Gibo does not envy the man who beat him to Malacañang. He has not had direct communication with his cousin, President Benigno Aquino III, but he understands. “I can just imagine the pressures that he’s facing right now because of international and local phenomena.”
Still, Gibo credits the administration for applying the lessons from Ondoy. Improvements notwithstanding, he adds that much still needs to be done in disaster risk reduction where the biggest problem is still the lack of resources.
Familiar with the challenges of being at the helm of defense, he says that the Basilan incident that killed 19 soldiers on October 18 demands a balance between the need to satisfy public outrage and the need for restraint to prevent the situation from running overboard.
“I can just say the government—of course the defense establishment—is doing its level best to balance between these two issues. You also have to remember that they had recently undergone a big shock, a big rattle because of the corruption issues [and] at the same time, the natural disasters. So maybe there might be some nuancing that they could have done. Prevention of massive escalation in the major areas of Central Mindanao is a primary objective.”
Structurally, Gibo thinks what would have been ideal was to give the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) a 10-year transition period to review jurisdiction. He says internal security and law enforcement should be police functions but the military performs these in the current setup.
“If the Armed Forces continues to engage in police functions then it will lose its edge in its core function. Unless it is peacekeeping or other forms of operations with really recognized armed belligerence or failed states, military tactics are not law enforcement tactics.”
On the AFP’s conversion system or the use of the budget for unintended purposes, he sees how in a cash-based economy like the Philippines, soldiers would resort to it. He says though the military can prevent abuse by investing in trusty supply and logistics systems, and demanding strict liquidation of expenses.
In reforming the military, Gibo emphasizes that government must not lose sight of the AFP’s civilian component: the Department of National Defense. In the agency he once headed, he says one employee does the job of six persons with insufficient compensation and training.
“When there’s a disaster, they don’t go home. Duty cycle is 12 hours but you sleep therepara walang uwian (so no one goes home), which I did also. Nakakahiya sa kanila. Bakit walang overtime pay iyan? (It’s embarrassing to them. Why aren’t employees given overtime pay?)”
‘Clamor not enough’
Asked if he plans to run again for the post of commander-in-chief, Gibo just laughs. His Green Team, however, is still seriously chanting the “Sulong Gibo” mantra. On Facebook, the “Gibo Teodoro for Senator 2013” page has racked up over 10,000 members. There are other similar pages and still others calling for a 2016 presidential bid. His volunteers are described as the only intact and active network over a year after the polls.
“It’s not good enough for me. I’ve heard the word clamor too many times,” he says. “Iniisip ko pa lang, nanglalata na ako eh.” (Just thinking about running again leaves me feeling weak.)
He is worried that some people hold him with too high regard. “Failed expectations are the worst thing that can happen to anybody. And the way that some people are talking about me, it’s hard.”
Is there anything that can make him reconsider? “Right now, I’m viewing things on a longer perspective. There must really be a demand and a felt need for governance in this country to address certain issues with the urgency that they deserve.”