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MANILA, Philippines – When Richard “Dick” Gordon gunned for the presidency in 2010, he knew he was not going to make it.
The former senator, tourism secretary, and chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) finished 6th. He got 501,727 votes, 14.7 million less than what the winner, Benigno Aquino III, got.
Why did he run in the first place?
“I just didn’t like the idea that you can inherit the presidency. I just didn’t like the idea that you can buy the presidency. I just didn’t like the idea that people run based on names without track records. I have to be part of the debate,” Gordon told Rappler. Watch excerpts from the interview here:
Three years later, Gordon again presents himself to voters, in a bid to return to the Senate, where he once served. “I’m prepared for it, and perhaps more prepared than the others.”
Known to be a proud, demanding man, Gordon has a simple explanation for his reputation: “When I say something, I have something to prove it.”
From local to national
Gordon’s career in government spans 3 decades in the executive and legislative branches.
In his mid-twenties, he was the youngest delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. He later took on a job both his parents had: mayor of Olongapo. His wife Kate and brother James Jr later held the post too.
In his 11 years as mayor, Gordon was credited for changing Olongapo’s image as “sin city” by improving garbage collection, health and sanitation, and fighting crime.
“I picked cigarettes that were thrown by other people and that wasn’t meant to insult. We must lead by example,” he said.
When Cory Aquino came to power in 1986 and removed all duly elected local officials, Gordon, along with then San Juan Mayor Joseph Estrada, fought the re-organization and refused to step down. While Gordon eventually relented, he campaigned against Cory’s 1987 Constitution.
Yet a bigger battle came in 1991, when he opposed the removal of the US Naval Base in Subic, a major job generator, but the Senate voted against extending the American bases treaty.
Another disaster struck when Mount Pinatubo erupted that same year and destroyed communities and industries in his city.
When the US troops had pulled out, Gordon lobbied the government for the creation of a free port, and became chairman and administrator of the SBMA in 1992. Subic soon attracted tourists and investors like FedEx.
Gordon though again fought to keep his post. Shortly before the end of President Fidel Ramos’s term, he re-appointed Gordon as SBMA chair. When Estrada assumed the presidency in 1998, his first administrative order was to remove him. Gordon holed up in his office in what became known as the “Showdown in Subic.” He only stepped down after losing the court case two months later.
The roles were reversed in 2001. This time, Gordon helped oust Estrada as president. Estrada’s successor, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, appointed him tourism secretary. He launched the “Wow Philippines!” campaign.
Gordon ran and won under Arroyo’s Senate slate in 2004. Besides passing laws like the Tourism Act, Automated Election Law, and Holiday Economics, Gordon headed the controversial Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Despite his ties to Arroyo, the senator led investigations into the fertilizer fund scam and the botched NBN-ZTE deal. In his committee reports, he recommended the prosecution of Arroyo officials.
Surveys: ‘mind management’
Yet Gordon’s accomplishments did not win him the presidency in 2010. Not only was he without money and machinery, he did not believe in surveys that showed how slim his chances were.
He sued pollsters Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Stations in 2010, a lawsuit which he says has dragged on until today. It’s a crusade he plans to continue if he returns to the Senate.
“When a surveying company takes it upon itself to survey and charge a candidate or put their results in public, that is an invitation to pecuniary and mercantile pursuits that can only harm the people because it’s mind management.”
Incidentally, he has not made it to the so-called magic 12 in the latest surveys.
“The illegitimate brother of surveys is excessive advertising. They’ll tell you you’re weak, you need to advertise. In the meantime, our so-called guardians of the people (the media), they run a business. What happens to the candidate with no money?”
Instead, Gordon plans to push the Commission on Elections to require candidates to debate.
“So the electorate can really find out what is the capability of this candidate. Ano ba talaga? (What is the real score?) In this country, you have the right to ask your candidate, ‘How are you going to execute your plan?’”
Gordon goes on to enumerate problems he wants addressed as senator: the territorial row with China, party-switching, teachers’ low salary, unemployment, environmental degradation, and the rise in crimes perpetrated by motorcycle riders.
“The country is not working, my dear, and I don’t want to be like one of those in Gone With the Wind who says, ‘Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.’”
“I do give a damn.”
In making a Senate comeback, Gordon finds himself in the company of two former political rivals: Estrada, and Zambales Rep Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay. They are part of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Despite his history with Estrada, Gordon insists the former president is a “very good friend from the beginning” and they only clashed because of the bases.
In 2001, Gordon was quoted as saying, “President Estrada was given by the Lord the best of all gifts, the ultimate gift, the leadership of the nation, and what did he do? He blew it with bacchanalian feasts and other vices.”
His opinion of Estrada seemed to have changed with time. Now, Gordon says, “I think he has shown he can be a statesman. I like the guy, I like him very much. He’s fun to be with. I don’t believe this baloney that mahina ang ulo ni Erap. Matalino si Erap.” (Erap is smart.)
Gordon also shares the campaign stage with Magsaysay even if their families have been battling it out in Zambales. Gordon’s brother, James Jr, is running for representative of the 1st district against Magsaysay’s eldest son, Jobo.
In Olongapo, his son, Brian, is running for vice mayor against Magsaysay's second eldest son, Vic-Vic.
The former senator just shrugs off the rivalry. “We are a democracy. You have to assume that.”
Gordon said he gave his son a piece of advice.
“I said I don’t care what people think of me, whether it’s a dynasty. That’s not the issue. The issue is you must learn to earn the position you’re aspiring for and that you must be prepared. I’m not going to intervene.”
Gordon's nephew, former presidential candidate JC delos Reyes, is also running for senator under the Kapatiran Party.
Beyond strange bedfellows and dynasties, Gordon faces criticism also raised against him in 2010: his dual role as politician and chairman of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
A Red Cross volunteer for over 40 years, Gordon has been chairman of the PRC since 2004.
To critics, having a candidate or high-ranking government official head the PRC politicizes the humanitarian group. To Gordon, they’re just insecure.
“Can you deny when I was running for president, the boat sank and I just had a ‘Silent Night’ [ad]? We couldn’t afford an agency. As they were playing ‘Silent Night,’ I was seen in the middle of the night working, while everyone was sleeping.
“’Di ko naman sinabing Red Cross ah. Alam naman ng taong Red Cross ako!” (I did not say Red Cross. People already know I’m Red Cross!)
‘Winning on my terms’
Like in 2010, Gordon does not have a lot of resources to spare for many ads and surveys. Still, he claims victory.
He plans to engage in what he calls critical analysis of issues, which he said he began in his radio and TV programs on TV5.
“I’m going to win on my terms. I’m not going to employ what other people are doing. Playing to the gallery, dancing, making jokes. To me, it’s a very serious effort. Leaders raise the level of awareness, understanding, and responsibility of their constituents.”
Asked if his campaign strategy is enough, Gordon said, “It’s better to know where you’re going and not know how to get there than to know how you’re going and not know where.” – Rappler.com
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