Teodoro Grilled on Arroyo Ties
By Cathy C. Yamsuan
MANILA, Philippines – Gilbert Teodoro found himself in the hot seat at a youth forum Friday when he and other presidential candidates were asked whether they would make President Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for anything anomalous that happened in her administration.
At the forum at the De La Salle University (DLSU)-Manila campus, moderator Ted Failon asked the presidential hopefuls: “Is there something for which President Arroyo should be held accountable? How should she be made accountable?”
At first, Teodoro, the administration presidential candidate, hesitated to give an answer, saying his previous working relationship with the President bars him from doing so.
“Just think about it, if I participate (in efforts to prosecute her), people would say ‘lulutuin mo lang’ (you’ll just fix it.) If I don’t participate, people would say I did not work for justice,” said Teodoro, who resigned as defense secretary to run in the May elections.
“In the end, anyone with reason to file a case against her should just do it. I should not interfere,” he added.
Failon reminded Teodoro that he and seven other presidential candidates—Senators Benigno Aquino III, Richard Gordon, Jamby Madrigal and Manny Villar, Olongapo Councilor JC de los Reyes, environmentalist Nicanor Perlas and preacher Eddie Villanueva—were required to answer “yes” or “no” to the question.
The eight were guests at the ANC-Youth 2010 Boto Para Sa Pagbabago forum held on the DLSU campus on Taft Avenue in Manila.
Teodoro took a deep breath before answering.
“If I say ‘yes,’ I might be accused of riding on the popular sentiment against a party mate and former boss in the Cabinet. If I say ‘no,’ I would be depriving myself of the objectivity I need as President,” he replied. Cheers erupted afterward.
That Teodoro was in familiar turf apparently helped. Teodoro is a DLSU alumnus.
Madrigal, who answered “a resounding ‘yes”’ when asked whether she would make Ms Arroyo accountable, was apparently unsatisfied with Teodoro’s answer.
In the portion where all candidates were allowed to ask each other questions, Madrigal asked Teodoro whether he would recognize his debt of gratitude (utang na loob) to Ms Arroyo.
“Utang na loob means paying goodness with goodness. But if it’s otherwise, nothing is worth staining my reputation,” Teodoro answered in Filipino and English.
“So, did the President shower you with goodness?” Madrigal retorted.
“If you are given goodness, you pay back with goodness,” he said.
Justice to victims
“But would you give justice to the victims of the administration? Or would you adhere to party loyalty?” Madrigal shot back.
“Justice should prevail,” Teodoro said. “We have a judicial process and it should be observed.”
Failon cut the discussion at this point.
Ms Arroyo has been accused of stealing the 2004 presidential election, of corruption, of human rights violations and of other scandals the latest and most notable being the NBN-ZTE $329-M deal which Ms Arroyo later aborted
As expected, Teodoro’s rivals took turns lambasting Ms Arroyo, detailing the scandals that rocked her administration.
Aquino said the President should be made accountable for transgressions “because the people need closure.”
“The issue here is transparency … Whoever is guilty should be punished. Besides, we’re talking here of a very long list,” the Liberal Party standard-bearer said.
Perlas said Ms Arroyo’s “multitude of sins caused us so much shame as a country,” and should thus be made to face the consequences.
Commission to try GMA
Perlas said he planned to create a commission that would involve civil society groups to try Ms Arroyo.
“I would activate a different kind of people power to make this happen,” he elaborated.
Madrigal said the “Hello Garci” scandal was already enough proof that Ms Arroyo was willing to steal the people’s mandate to preserve her power.
[The scandal referred to the taped telephone conversations between then election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and a woman who sounded like Ms Arroyo who was inquiring how her lead in the 2004 presidential election could be preserved while the votes were still being canvassed. Ms Arroyo admitted she was the woman on the other end of the line and said sorry.]
Worse than plunder
“It was worse than plunder. Plus the human rights violations, the extrajudicial killings! The Maguindanao massacre! I would fire the defense secretary then,” Madrigal said, bringing the audience to laughter.
Villanueva said “collective wisdom” had already labeled Ms Arroyo the worst president.
“We suffer from gross misgovernance. The budget intended for education, health and livelihood went somewhere else. Once I become President, I will overhaul the Commission on Audit and the Office of the Ombudsman because what we need now is absolute transparency,” he said.
Villar and the rest took a more sober stand on anomalies committed under the Arroyo administration.
“There are courts and if there are cases filed, I will not lift a finger to defend President Arroyo from any charges filed against her,” he said.
Gordon said his job as chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee had exposed him to many government irregularities.
“With the country having many problems, I would submit the blue ribbon findings to the Department of Justice (DOJ), give it one year to make recommendations and let the axe fall where it may,” Gordon said.
Councilor De los Reyes would also let the DOJ take center stage in prosecuting Ms Arroyo since he would have other responsibilities as President.
Loudest applause, scream
If Teodoro had any consolation, it was that he received the loudest applause and screams from the DLSU crowd.
During a break, loud shrieks were heard from the students in the balcony of the auditorium where the forum was held whenever Teodoro gazed upward, smiled and waved at the students.
Beatriz Tan, 19, a student of psychology and legal management, said she appreciated Teodoro’s way of “not answering a question directly but making you understand what he means.”
Sheena Maata, 17, described the Lakas-Kampi candidate as “a man of wisdom and integrity.”
Gordon also had his share of fans.
Students who stepped out of the auditorium noted he was “very charismatic,” “articulate” and “was able to say what he meant using very simple words.”