The second of three “inside-their-head” profiles of presidential candidates, after Villar. Published on March 16, 2010.
I understand that Cathy Yang has left Bloomberg; a great pity. I thought she was one of the best business anchors on air, not because she was one of our own, but because she was the sort of deeply competent but self-effacing journalist the on-air reporting of business news requires. She wasn’t cast in the Betty Liu mold: flick your hair every few seconds, insinuate your personality into the interview, and so on. Maybe that was the problem, at least in the eyes of Bloomberg executives. Well, they need new glasses.
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As is their wont, books have found their way to my desk. I hope, in the fullness of time, to respond in some form to the stragglers of the last couple of months: “Edsa I in the Public Minds of Filipino Civilians and Military Groups,” by Tina Montiel; “Indie,” a narrative of Kiko Pangilinan’s Senate run in 2007, by Celeste Flores-Coscolluela; “Natural Family Planning: Values, Issues and Practices,” edited by Chona Echavez and Estrella Taco-Borja; “Agenda for Hope,” edited by Paulynn Paredes Sicam and Remmon Barbaza; “Greed & Betrayal: The Sequel to the 1986 Edsa Revolution,” by Cecilio Arillo; “Gallantry in Mindanao,” by Ben Cal; and, by far the most expensive of the lot, “The Audacity to Win,” by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. (By today’s end, I will add another item to the list: “Shadow of Doubt,” Marites Vitug’s courageous investigations of the Supreme Court.)
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Last year, I thought I would make myself a nuisance among the leading candidates, in order to limn their profiles in a series of columns. My objective was simple enough: “to consider the candidates as they saw themselves; to see them and their electoral prospects on their own terms.” Last December I wrote about Manny Villar. Let me resume this occasional series with a profile of Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro.
Teodoro, the candidate of a highly unpopular administration, does not believe in quick fixes. In both public forum and private conversation, Teodoro prefers to discuss the country’s problems and his proposed solutions in terms of sustainability. Whatever the occasion, whatever the topic, he goes back to the fundamental question: How can our response be sustained? Not a sexy, politically pleasing approach. Here, for instance, is one example, out of many. Asked about the advisability of introducing the jury trial into the Philippine justice system, he said, among other things: “I don’t think Filipinos can separate the chaff from the grain … they are too emotional … we are not ready for it.” Is he running for president, or professor in chief?
He sees decency as a political virtue—that is to say, it is good for politics, if only enough people understood it. (In this sense, he reminds me of Michael Douglas’ character in “The American President,” reluctant to engage in political hardball.) Indeed, I think he is the only Filipino politician of consequence in the last decade to resign from his post (as head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition in the House) because an initiative he led (the Davide impeachment) failed. (Interestingly, today he sees the attempt as a mistake, unlike Sen. Chiz Escudero, who told this paper’s editors that he continues to think it was the right thing to do.) This sense of decency, I think, is why he refuses to say anything that can be construed as an attack on or an affront to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, or indeed against his once-favorite uncle, Danding Cojuangco; he simply thinks it is not proper.
I am not sure whether Teodoro sees himself as the best qualified candidate. I think he shares with his cousin Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III a sense that history beckons. But he is, together with Sen. Richard Gordon, always the most impressive. (This does not mean that he is always in good form; at the MOPC forum the other week, his improvised remarks, in lieu of a prepared speech, were delivered with low energy, and prompted one supporter to say, “That was a little more motherhood for comfort.”)
This explains why the Lakas-Kampi standard-bearer has learned to accept the administration coalition’s reading of the electoral situation, at least in this wise: Victory will depend, in large part, on the fact that he enjoys a high conversion rate. In fact, I’ve heard him say exactly that, that he is trying to see as many people as he can (because many of them end up wanting to vote for him). Unfortunately for him, he can pack only so many thousands of prospective voters into each venue. Free media, which reaches millions, remains inhospitable terrain.
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Teodoro was the first to come to the defense of Esperanza Cabral, the health secretary, after some Catholic bishops criticized her, ad hominem, for distributing free condoms on Valentine’s Day. This was characteristic, I think; he has a high regard for Cabral, and shares her assumptions about the HIV/AIDS menace. Now here’s a thought: Why doesn’t he go further—and distribute free condoms himself? The conventional wisdom will hold that this act will invite the wrath of the bishops, a no-no during election season. Maybe; probably. But what has he got to lose? The bishops are not exactly queuing up to endorse him; besides, the base of Filipino voters willing to support a candidate with views on population and development and reproductive health that match their own is at least five times wider than the base of voters who support him.
Gibo as the champion of a responsible (and media-genic) public health and pop-dev approach: This will have the double advantage of liberating him personally, and freeing his image from Gloria’s doubt-inducing shadow.
I think of what Freddie Roach said about Joshua Clottey: in a once-in-a-lifetime fight, he failed to take risks. Is Gibo content merely to survive till Election Day?