Ruling party candidate Gilberto Teodoro wants constitutional change to reform governance
December 1, 2009 | Posted by raissa robles
Forming a unicameral legislature, that would in effect scrap the Philippine Senate, tops Gilberto Teodoro’s presidential agenda.
Gilberto Teodoro with his Xavier University classmates who promise to help him win – photo by Raissa Robles
Gilberto Teodoro with his Xavier School classmates who promise to help him win – photo by Raissa Robles
The 45-year-old defense secretary told Asian Dragon magazine that he was running for the nation’s highest office “because a lot of people want me to become president (and) I think I can do some other things before I quit public service.”
The slender, six-foot tall Teodoro exudes confidence and an easy charm that seems to project only one message — “believe in me, I’m the one.”
“I’d like to reform society, transform the political structure, reform public governance, to put it that way,” he said.
Apparently realizing that the phrase “reform society” sounded too much like buzz words from the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos, he shifted gears and said, “Not society but public governance.”
Teodoro believes constitutional change is key to securing the nation’s political and economic future: “It’s the only thing that should be done. Public governance. We must transform. If not, we would just be in the same system as now. Forget it.”
Among the 2010 presidential candidates, Teodoro is alone in aggressively pushing it as his main platform of government. His proposals are similar to those being pushed without success by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the House of Representatives, which she has dominated.
One charter revision Teodoro is batting for is the partial lifting of the ban on foreign land ownership. His advocacy was borne out of his experience as a congressman of nine years and as a defense secretary for two years.
“I do not want a strictly presidential (form of government); it does not work in this country. And a bicameral presidential does not work,” he said. “It (the structure) could be parliamentary, (it) depends on the sense of the Constitutional Convention,” which he would ask Congress to convene immediately if he wins.
The bottom line is, “I’d like a more synergistic structure” in which there is “unity of effort, of cooperation” between and among those who make the laws and those who implement them.
He’s familiar with how a unicameral legislature works. For eight years since he was 14, his mother Mercedes served as an assemblywoman at the unicameral Batasang Pambansa that Marcos created in 1978 to lend his dictatorship a veneer of democracy.
Teodoro regrets the day his late aunt, former President Corazon Aquino, threw out Marcos’ 1973 Constitution and replaced it with a “reactionary” charter. “I’ve studied the (1987) Constitution for a long, long time,” he said. “It looks back. It just corrected everything… Marcos did. It did not provide a mechanism for the future.”
Teodoro believes Marcos was “wrong in declaring martial law” even though his uncle, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuanco, was part of Marcos’ inner circle. Cojuangco heads the National People’s Coalition, of which Teodoro was a member before he bolted to join the Administration’s Lakas and be its standard bearer.
He said martial law “just prolonged the agony.” Marcos should have simply waited for the Constitutional Convention, in which Teodoro’s mom was a delegate helping draft a new charter. “And if the Constitutional Convention completed its work, (and) the Constitution was properly ratified, we would have had a good Constitution in 1973, except for the economic provisions.”
Asked if he could turn out like Marcos who was elected president at 47, Teodoro replied, “People have experienced what Marcos had done.” Besides, he added, “I’m a different person.”
“Marcos had a very, very strong sense of history. I don’t share that… I don’t keep a diary. I’m not that kind of a leader,” he said. “I’m a consensus builder leader. I’m not a dictator unless there’s something that has already been agreed upon and I need to enforce it.”
“I don’t intend to be a Roman conqueror. I intend to do what I can, contribute what I can, then go while I’m still young,” he said.
Teodoro’s political career started when he was just 15 when he was elected as a youth representative to Congress and as a member of the Kabataang Barangay. “I tasted power,” he said.
“But when Marcos was ousted, my mother lost her position; my father resigned (as administrator of the private pension fund, Social Security System).” It was, he added, an experience that has served him well because it was a reminder that “all these are just temporary.”
He said he wanted to retire young from politics and just “read the Scriptures” or become a consultant. He even said he would cut his presidential term short if demanded by a new constitution. But he said he didn’t need to put any of that in writing.
He said a master of laws degree he got from Harvard University gave him a democratic, non-protectionist bent. This was also why he switched from his Uncle Danding’s NPC to Arroyo’s Lakas. NPC was “very protectionist” in business. Lakas-Kampi had a “centrist, democratic, humanist ideology,” which matched his own beliefs.
He rejected the notion he was committing political suicide by being backed by the highly unpopular Arroyo.
In Washington last September, when asked what he thought of Arroyo being charged for graft, he said: “We have to put a stop to the politics of vengeance. I choose to look forward. Dispensing justice is the job of the judicial authorities. If a president dips his fingers in the prosecution of someone, especially if this was is his political enemy, that’s vengeance. When he does that, he’ll be spending 60 percent of his time looking over his shoulder that this will not happen to him too.”
When asked by Asian Dragon whether as a lawyer he found any basis for charging Arroyo of any wrongdoing, he said “that’s an inappropriate question to ask a Cabinet member of the president.”
When told he was being asked because he was a presidential candidate, he said it was “still inappropriate.”
Even after resigning from her Cabinet his lips would still be sealed by an “attorney-client relationship. And I don’t care about popular tendencies or politics just to fling those relationships to the ground. I’m not the kind of person who does that.”
Similarly, he would be hands off with the ill-gotten wealth cases of Lucio Tan and his uncle Danding because he defended both while working for seven years with the law office of Estelito Mendoza, who was a solicitor general of the Marcos regime.
When reminded that Arroyo did not display such qualms with President Joseph Estrada whom she served as social welfare secretary, he replied, “I don’t know. When I’m faced with the situation I’ll make the appropriate decision.”
He complained that the media nag him about it. “Every day when I get out, that’s the first question asked of me. I’ll answer it the same way: At end of the day, if Filipino people feel they’re voting for the past rather than for the future, then this country is not going to get
anywhere,” he told Asian Dragon.
This statement was applauded by several former schoolmates from Xavier School who were present during the interview and who were campaigning for him.
“He’s very upright. He’s the one guy that won’t be influenced,” one of them said. He recalled that in grade five, “Gibo” as he was already called, told him he wanted to be president some day. Teodoro could not recall saying that.
Teodoro’s defection to Lakas has set tongues wagging about a rift between himself and Uncle Danding, who is his mother’s brother and who was also his ninong (godfather) during his baptism and marriage.
“They can speculate all they want,” he said, insisting that they remained on good terms. He said he did not consult his uncle about his career move and Cojuangco did not congratulate him when he became Lakas standard bearer “because our professional and personal (relations) are separate.”
He denied that Cojuangco was out to punish him by fielding someone else against his wife, Monica, also known as Nikki, in the congressional polls next year. Sources earlier said the young couple earned Cojuangco’s ire when Monica refused to give way to Cojuangco’s anointed candidate. Teodoro said there was no truth to that, saying, “The running of my wife was (endorsed by) all the elective officials of Tarlac and with the consent of the governor (Victor) Yap and my uncle (Cojuangco).”
Teodoro’s statements would have laid the matter to rest if Cojuangco himself did not publicly speak out and say, “One my nephews left (the party) even if we did not ask him to leave. It only means that we are of no consequence to him. So why should that be a bother to me?”
Lakas’ backing, however, has barely lifted his tail-end rating in the presidential surveys. Analysts predicted that his poor showing as the anti-disaster czar during the two recent typhoons would further sink his chances.
Still, hope springs that the mammoth machinery of the ruling party will carry Teodoro to victory. (I wrote this for Asian Dragon magazine, which also permitted me to post it on my blog. My interview was conducted with Teodoro just before the deadly typhoon Ketsana [Ondoy] struck Metro Manila and long before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced her run for Congress. When Teodoro filed his candidacy for president today, he silently dropped constitutional change as the center of his platform of government. He did not say why.}