[Q and A] Gibo Teodoro: Invest in political structures

Ayee Macaraig

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Gibo Teodoro has been out of politics but governance is still part of his system

'THINK IN SYSTEMS.' Former presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro stresses the importance of focusing on institutions to address problems in governance and society. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – Whatever happened to Gibo Teodoro?

Curiosity about the ex-presidential candidate helped bring him back to the podium. After losing the presidency to his second cousin, Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr made a rare public appearance to deliver a TEDX Talk on Friday, January 11, in Quezon City.

The former defense secretary and Tarlac representative attracted a considerable following among students and the youth in 2010. Yet he has since shied away from public life, refusing to file his candidacy for any public post this year. In 2011, he told Rappler he is starting a leadership council with friends in the academe.

TEDX organizer Gigo Alampay explained why he was the choice for speaker. “Even though he lost, there was a sense that we have not heard the last of Gibo Teodoro.”

In the first of Rappler’s Q&A feature, we present excerpts from Teodoro’s TEDX Talk and his exchange with artists, journalists, bloggers and social entrepreneurs.   

Here are Teodoro’s thoughts on Philippine governance, politics, society, and life after loss.

‘Creating Incentives for People to do Good’

Let’s define “good” as the most desirable outcome in a situation that is agreed upon by rational consensus.

So if you talk about rational outcomes or rational consensus, you talk about relationships. And when you talk about relationships, you mean the interactions between people and when you come across a situation where a decision should be made.

People, outcome, you have to talk of interests. Interests are one of the most important bases of understanding each other, identification and working together.

We always hear the catchphrase “self-interest is bad.” But let’s think about it. Where does innovation come from? Where does ambition come from? Where does your motivation to do something come from? Totally out of your regard for the welfare of others? Or because there is some benefit to you, whether that benefit be material, spiritual or even romantic for that matter?

So self-interest, is it bad or is it good? To me, it depends on the context, the situation. And that’s where Professor [Mancur] Olson (late economist) struck me. He says there are two types of interests. One kind of interest he calls exclusionary kind of interest, which is the self-interest of a participant in a bargain, which results in a zero-sum result, only to his benefit.

But there are other types of interest called encompassing interest where a solution can be had in a situation where several parties may have to come to an agreement, which benefits the interests of all.

And to me, that is the challenge of coming out with a rational outcome, to find the convergence of interests between people, between organizations in order to come to a solution which can generate outcomes not merely to solve an existing situation but to provide the infrastructure also of making desirable outcomes.

Linear thinking vs institutions

We come to structures and institutions. Structures and institutions shape behavior very, very importantly. We all hear particularly in the local context that people should change. But will people change on their own willingly? Sometimes, no.

For example, in a congested area, traffic area. Leave all traffic enforcers out of the situation. When the capacity of the streets becomes overloaded, what will happen? There will be a traffic jam because everybody will try to cut off another person, beat the traffic light. The system does not teach Filipino drivers to follow rules.

Why? Because how many of us have gone to an honest to goodness driving school? Before you get your driver’s license, do you have a pamphlet that details the rules of the road? None. There’s none. So how do you know what the rules are? See, so it’s systemic. Some things are systemic.

Sometimes we forget that institutions are as important in shaping people’s behavior, in making interests relevant and in coming out with rational outcomes. It’s not totally people but the organism with which they interact. That goes for your corporate structure, government and that goes for the world.

Solutions are normally based on outcomes generated by systems and complex systems. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for us because of our training, because of our background to be very linear in our thinking.

For example… we are a civil law country. We are used to having rules of the road spelled out in as much details as possible ex-ante to guide future conduct. In our bar exam for example, isang tanong, isang sagot: yes or no? You cannot answer a maybe.

What, who are we?

What does this encourage? Thinking about probabilities of future problems? Or does it constrain behavior, which adversely affects Philippine competitiveness and the way we think? We lack creativity, perhaps which we need to do to compete with the world today. So that linearity is to me something that you have to think about. 

We have to have a baseline but before that, we have to find out what we are and who we are without sugarcoating. Are we all Jose Rizal who will die for our country voluntarily without any expectation of reward? Or are we some other kind of people? Are we a heroic race that will preserve our country and not destroy our environment? Are we a race that eschews materialism where we have almost 80 million cellular phones in this country? So a reality check is really necessary.

It’s not a talk of concepts but food for thought. You are better experts in your own field than I am.

I was a public functionary before, now in the private sector, with no time to contemplate very deeply about the respective needs of the different elements of our society that need to be developed in order to go forward.

CORPORATE CONSULTANT. Once congressman and defense secretary, Gibo Teodoro says he no longer has plans of returning to politics. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

Q: Could you give us lessons you’ve learned after you ran for president in May 2010?

Don’t do it again! (laughter) No, no, no. I’ve really had no time to reflect on what lessons the activity taught me because I decided early on that that was a phase of my life that had to be done and over with. And now I continue on a different phase of my life and so the learning process still continues.

But the thoughts on Philippine governance and society were the best lesson perhaps that I can impart. It’s that the fundamental problems that need to be resolved are not linear. They are structural. We have to change the institutions of our society in accordance with who we really are and not who we pretend to be.

Q: Do you have plans again to run, probably for senator?

No. I’m in the private sector right now. I’m enjoying myself and I now can speak my mind and I now have more time to think about my country in a different context from what I was doing before.

Q: What have you been up to?

I’m a corporate consultant now. I sit in some boards. I consult strategically with some defense sector initiatives, and with some corporations and some individual investors.

Q: You’ve gotten government out of your system?

Out of my system as part of personal, political participation but advocacies and ideas like this, in a private capacity are still there.

Q: You mention one dimension of who we really are like the cellphones. Could you add more?

Let’s look at the compensation of public officials. What is the philosophy behind public service in the country? The philosophy is that it is a privilege to serve the public but how about the career official? How about the person who has to think about his family?

The compensation scheme in this country is so skewed against the competitiveness of the public sector because the public sector has to compete against the private sector in a free labor market. And if you don’t have the incentives to hire people, what happens?

Q: What venues do we have for achieving rational consensus?

Rationality is probably bred by proper training so it is also a function of the basic educational system of this country. The country must invest in producing not merely followers but thinkers, not merely doers but people who realize why they need to do what they’re being told to do rather than doing it.

A lot of us probably in our age, we learn by rote. I had to study Mandarin Chinese from grade school, which I was not too successful in. Today, solely, that kind of an approach to shaping the intellectual prowess of our youth is insufficient.

Q: I’m not too sure about building structures on who we really are because who we really are is not fixed. So building structures on who we can potentially be is not a bad undertaking.

I agree with you. What I was trying to point out is the solution or the institutions are built to provide for a character, which we assume we have but in reality we don’t. And I refuse to be embroiled in a further debate but let’s take the example of the debate on contraceptives. That will point out what we are and what we pretend to be on either side of the equation.

You are correct. It should be aspirational for a good outcome. However, we shouldn’t assume that such an outcome will be derived from a structure which probably does not reflect current conditions.

Q: Do you think the way that young people are expressing themselves, like on Facebook, is influencing people who are controlling the levers?

Social media is too widespread now to ignore as a very important factor in speedy-decision making by the government. For example, the person who struck the traffic aide, that spread like wildfire and immediately some action had to be done.

The importance of social media, coupled with the fact that we have an unrestrained, uncontrolled, free social media environment, and number 3, we have a big chunk of the population with access to electronic media so these ingredients form an atmosphere for public opinion to be translated into speedy decision-making by the government, depending on the issue.

Q: What are your ideas on institutionalizing our politics in terms of political parties?

There are several. First and foremost, number one, as a benefit for everybody, whether for political parties or the public: desynchronize local and national elections. Don’t have how many names in a single ballot and everybody competing for limited campaign time out of a very big field.

Let me give you an example. Synchronized elections, you have 12 senators running in a non-presidential election, congressmen, board members, governors, mayors, councilors. If you have to go for a meeting in one place, 12 senators for example, you give them 3 minutes each. What happens?

And with that 3 minutes because that’s the maximum time a person can pay attention to you in that environment, you have to make an impression. How do you make an impression? You don’t talk about what we talked about. And you have to compete for time also with the local candidates.

Desynchronize elections. It’s too cumbersome. And then you’ll be able to concentrate on local issues on one hand, which is important for an archipelagic country like the Philippines, and national issues on the other hand.

The national candidates cannot say I will deliver these projects to your area because that is a local promise already.

Q: What kind of changes can be effective if we put our money into science, engineering, mathematics instead of politics?

I agree. More money must flow into that. In any country right now, it’s not the age of improvement, it’s the age of innovation once again. The Internet age already passed. To me, the innovation portion of national growth is very important, maybe in agriculture and in other processes that we have an edge in.

You have to invest in your government and politics too because if you do not invest in your political structures, you do not improve it. That is the root of almost all human relationships in the country because you need an enforcement mechanism, a proper regulatory mechanism. 

Because we have to think in systems, thinking that institutions are interrelated. You have to satisfy several conditions at once and not merely take one thing at the expense of another. – Rappler.com 


Related stories:

Gibo for Senator? Facebook campaign launched 

Gibo declines nomination for chief justice post 

Gibo on Defeat, Danding and What it Means to be Free 

Gibo quits Lakas, starts leadership council 

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