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MANILA, Philippines – After a break from government that lasted more than a decade, Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro is back in public service as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first permanent defense chief.
Teodoro, whose appointment was announced nearly a month after the ban for defeated 2022 candidates lapsed, is the third person under the Marcos administration to lead the defense department.
He is, however, the first one to do so with the rank of secretary. His predecessors – former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chiefs Jose Faustino Jr. and Carlito Galvez Jr. – were only officers-in-charge and only held the rank of undersecretary.
Even though he’s been out of commission for more than a decade, Teodoro is more than familiar with the spaces he’ll soon occupy.
Pedigree, political past
Teodoro belongs to the enduring Cojuangco clan – an influential force in both politics and business. His mother, Mercedes Cojuangco, was a member of the Philippine legislature Batasang Pambansa during the Marcos dictatorship, while his uncle, the late Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., was chairman and CEO of the Philippines’ largest diversified conglomerate, San Miguel Corporation.
Danding, who was once governor of Tarlac province, was a crony of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, the father of the current president.
Teodoro would go on to represent the 1st District of Tarlac for three consecutive terms in Congress. He served in the executive branch from 2007 to 2009 as secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND) under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. At 43, he was the youngest person ever to hold the post.
Teodoro’s ties to his uncle, who considered him a “political son,” turned complicated during the Arroyo administration and in the run-up to the 2010 elections. He bolted Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition to join Arroyo’s then-ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
He went on to be Lakas’ standard-bearer in the 2010 presidential elections – a bane because Arroyo had become very unpopular towards the end of her term. He lost badly, placing a distant fourth in an election won convincingly by another Cojuangco – his cousin, the late Benigno Simeon Aquino III, son of democracy icon and former president Cory Aquino.
Teodoro stayed mostly out of the political spotlight following his 2010 loss. He’s held posts, mostly as a member of the board, in various private companies since then.
Teodoro graduated from De La Salle University Manila in 1984 and finished law at the University of the Philippines in 1989. He went on to study at Harvard for his Master of Laws and passed the State Bar of New York in 1997. He entered politics for the first time in the 1998 elections.
His name made news headlines again in 2016 at the beginning of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, when the former Davao City mayor was said to have offered him the defense post twice. He was reported to have declined both times.
Five years later, in June 2021, Teodoro flew to Davao City to offer himself as Sara Duterte’s running mate should she run for president in 2022. Sara, the eldest daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, was then leading early preference polls ahead of the presidential elections.
On October 7, 2021, Teodoro filed via proxy his candidacy for senator. For the 2022 polls, he was a senatorial bet of the People’s Reform Party (PRP).
He was later announced as a member of the Uniteam – a coalition of various personalities and their parties that backed Marcos as presidential candidate and Sara Duterte as vice-presidential candidate.
Teodoro would finish 15th in a 12-seat race, garnering over 12.78 million votes.
He has long been rumored to be a shoo-in for the defense post, partly explaining why Marcos only filled the posts with two officers-in-charge who happened to be both former AFP chiefs.
Since he lost in the 2022 polls, Teodoro became eligible to hold a Cabinet post only on May 10, 2023.
GMA’s defense chief
Front and center during his term as defense secretary under Arroyo – at least according to his old campaign website – was his “human rights advocacy.” “Under his term as SND, the DND intensified its campaign to ensure that AFP and DND personnel are continually updated and oriented on human rights matters,” reads his profile.
Modernization and reform were also his priorities as DND chief, on top of disaster risk management.
He will be reentering the defense sector with an AFP that has more military hardware now even as it continues to be plagued by decades-old issues. It also now faces more serious threats externally.
As DND chief, Teodoro will have to navigate China’s growing aggression in the West Philippine Sea, as well as the country’s place in the world order as Beijing’s competition with the US, the Philippines’ long-time ally, intensifies.
Climate change is another enemy the new defense chief, as concurrent chairperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, will have to face. Teodoro was at the helm in 2009 when Tropical Storm Ondoy caused widespread flooding and damage to Metro Manila and other nearby provinces. – Rappler.com