Gibo on Defeat, Danding and What It Means To Be Free

For the first time since he lost, 2010 presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro speaks candidly about his failed bid for the highest post of the land

He needs to shed 10 more pounds for the sake of his back and a developing arthritis. He has had his gallbladder taken out after stones were discovered by his doctors. He concedes that he went into hibernation after the 2010 presidential election because it hurt as much as it exhausted him.

The punishing campaign was a lesson in humility as he landed fourth with 4.1 million votes that represented 11.23% of those who actually voted. Rosy projections predicted a stronger finish, with him placing second or third even if he lost. Many supporters thought that he would win simply on the grounds that he was better than the rest of the candidates.

“I’ve learned the lesson that the worst thing that one can do is to feel better than somebody else. You’re lulled into a false sense of confidence which pulls the rug under you,” 47-year-old Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro says, over a year after running a campaign that rode on a “Galing at Talino” (Competence and Intelligence) slogan.

Seeking a national post for the first time and without the blessings of his uncle and political godfather, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Gibo came face to face with humbling defeat.

Yet he declares that he gained something very important. “It’s my independence and my freedom. And for that alone, I would think it’s well worth it. I’m really happy. I’ve realized that I can be my own person right now, with my own ideas.”

A bar topnotcher and third placer in his University of the Philippines College of Law class, Gibo says he has realized, with the help of his family, his own worth. “I was always contributing to the worth of somebody else for a long time,” referring to his Uncle Danding.

For years, he was referred to as the political kingmaker’s protégé, serving as the former’s own lawyer, and in the process, even supposedly regarded like a son.

“All of them said—my wife, my dad—it was hurting them to see that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do for my own honor, for my own name and for the legacy I can give my family. So now, that freedom is really important because I don’t want to be anybody’s whipping boy any more.”

It took years before he realized this because of his own character and the way he was taught about loyalty. “We were brought up that way. Actually my father never left [Ferdinand] Marcos. My father was known to be an incorruptible person but still never left Marcos.”

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‘I pity her’

He, too, never left his principal, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Since the elections, Gibo has not seen much of the once powerful woman who, along with her husband, was alleged during the campaign to have asked allies to hitch their wagon to the star of Nacionalista Party presidential bet Manuel Villar Jr.

Appointed as her defense secretary, he chose to ignore advice that he sever ties and rid his campaign of its heaviest political baggage.

He insists he was right in doing so despite the heavy political costs of that decision. “What would it do to me? It wasn’t in my character to do so in the first place. Secondly, I guess people have already been able to separate me from anybody. I think it wouldn’t have done anything but damage my reputation or character further—if it ever has been damaged,” he replies.

The adverse effects of being associated with the Arroyo administration notwithstanding, Gibo asserts that on all fronts, whether involving a political figure or known criminal, the right to be presumed innocent must he upheld. Placing a premium on constitutional guarantees, he says that the only weapon a person has against government is the presumption of innocence.

Because allegations of betrayal in the party that once adopted him are past, he has not bothered to find out details, preferring to move on instead (see related story). “I really never found out directly. There were reports left and right but I didn’t know, I really didn’t care.”

Asked if Arroyo hurt him, Gibo says, “No one person hurt me. There were so many left and right events, stories, you didn’t know whom to believe any more.”

“But if I see her now, the first thing in my mind will be, I hope she gets good treatment. I’ve been hearing that she’s actually suffering. I pity her and I pray. That’s the first thing. The elections are already past.”

Until the opportunity presents itself and only if there is something worth criticizing, he cannot be expected to take a stand against the former president. He sees no point in doing so “when all the pressure is there already.”

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Danding’s ire

Campaigning earned him a wealth of experience. “Ang daming na-meet na tao, napuntahang lugar, naharapang situations (I met a lot of people, went to a lot of places and faced a lot of situations). You felt admiration. On the other hand, you also felt spite.”

Many campaign insiders say it was misjudgment, if not naivété, on his part to have trusted people who played key roles in his campaign and to believe that the party he swore allegiance to would deliver the winning votes.

“If I didn’t trust the people, who would I get, what would I do?” Faced with limited choices in a campaign that was tight in terms of time, he decided to extend to everybody “the good faith.”

The benefit of the doubt extended to Ronaldo Puno, who was Lakas-KAMPI vice chair and local government secretary when Gibo ran for president. It was also Puno who was suspected of riding two horses at the same time as he was alleged to have shared survey information with the camp of Benigno Aquino III.

“The major factor was, he was the first one in the Cabinet—when everybody was saying everything else—he was the first and only one for one time saying my name. Early on, I wasn’t even considering it. With the others, no choice, you come with a political party, alam mo naman talagang nangyayari yun (you know it would really happen). I was being realistic about it. I knew that it would happen.”

The two men first worked together during the presidency of Joseph Estrada when Gibo was congressman and Puno was acting local government secretary. Later, they became colleagues in the cabinet under the Arroyo administration in 2008, working closely in the security cluster. Gibo saw no reason at all to distrust him.

He acknowledges Puno’s expertise in political strategy but admits that in a campaign, strategy can only go so far. He holds back on criticism that his former partymate’s color-coded maps that showed how local supporters would have supposedly gone for him did not match actual poll results. Instead, he says he started his campaign a bit late and was skeptical of surveys—unlike other camps which depended on and used them heavily as a campaign tool.

At the same time, he had to bear the brunt of Danding Cojuangco’s ire. Friends from the Nationalist People’s Coalition had little choice but to follow directives to withhold their support for Gibo. “Some did, some did not. What can you tell them but say, ‘Wala tayong magagawa, ganoon talaga eh (We can’t do anything, that’s just how it is).’”

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Future in politics

Regarded as someone who might have been president if he had chosen to run at a later time, Gibo says he is impatient and far from being a micro-manager.

Possessing a low tolerance for routine and boxed in topics, he sees time getting more precious as life moves at a faster pace. He says he would rather take advantage of present situations and use them to his best advantage.

This is why he cannot imagine himself rejoining the political fray. “If I go back to politics once again, it’s going to be routine—again that kind of life. It’s gonna be routine coupled by the fact that my mother was [a politician] and my father was in government for how many years.”

Yet while he declares that “right now,” running for public office is no longer an option for him, he says in the same breath, “but who knows?”

Asked if the Senate is a possible option in 2013, he replies, “I have to answer this question myself which I have not answered: What can I do in the Senate which I can’t do right now outside the Senate?…If the motivation is to use it as a springboard for a vice-presidential or a presidential campaign, that means to say I’m going to place my life again on another course.”

Neither has a compelling reason for making a second run for the presidency in 2016 presented itself to him. “I have to find a deep enough reason in my heart to do it. I don’t know what that is right now.” Should he decide to run again, he would follow in the footsteps of Imelda Marcos who first ran in 1992 and again in 1998 when she backed out of the race to support Estrada.

“I’m surprised at the tenacity of national candidates that they can do it over and over again. It’s quite difficult physically and mentally, especially perhaps thinking about it with the expectations on my part.”

For avid supporters who continue to hope Gibo does not altogether disappear from the political scene, his pronouncements can be read as either disheartening or encouraging. He can go either way.

He says of the presidency in a mix of English and Filipino, “If it’s meant for you, it will be you…If you believe in God, to be able to lead that many people, whatever you do—it’s not fate—this is God’s will. If you believe in God, whatever you do, if it’s not you, it’s not you.” –Move.PH