The Guns of Gibo
by Patricia Evangelista
Phil. Daily Inquirer
The guns of GiboMANILA, Philippines—Gilberto Cojuangco Teodoro Jr., Gibo in his campaign posters, is a pleasant man with a pleasant face. There is nothing of the wild-eyed messiah in him, none of Richard Gordon’s rambling self-praise or Joseph Estrada’s swaggering charm. In presidential forums, he waits quietly backstage, content to listen and smile and nod. He is exactly how he appears, a bright young lawyer born into the confident security of generations of landed gentry in Tarlac, where the Cojuangcos still clutch at the flooded sugarcane fields of Hacienda Luisita.
This is Gilbert Teodoro, presidential candidate and standard-bearer of the administration party, weighed down by eight years of the most unpopular administration since martial law.
He asks to be judged for himself, not for his affiliation to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “I am different,” he says. “I am not the President. I am not Senator X, I am not Senator Y, I am not defense secretary this. I am Gilbert Teodoro, I am myself.”
This is the Gilbert Teodoro he would like us to see: Harvard graduate, three-term representative of the first district of Tarlac, youngest national defense secretary, the licensed pilot ranked colonel in the Philippine Air Force reserves, father of one and husband to the model-now-congresswoman the press has taken to calling “Nikki,” whose delighted face at her husband’s audience makes it into every photographer’s portfolio. Look at his track record, say his supports. Excellence and intelligence, say his slogans.
And yet as he distances himself from Ms Arroyo, he proves just how far the leash extends. Asked what among her policies he would like to change as president, he claims his opinion is a matter of national security. Asked if Ms Arroyo should be held accountable for any past actions, he says to make a judgment is to bow to public pressure. Asked if he will repay Ms Arroyo for her favors, he says it is against the nature of a Filipino to turn his back on the president who gave a 45-year-old man his break.
Such loyalty is understandable, even laudable, in a country where the state of party loyalties is demonstrated by the inclusion of Bong Revilla Jr. as guest candidate in four different parties. Teodoro would have us judge him for himself, and so we must, and to judge a man, it is necessary to make a judgment not just on his loyalty, but to whom he is loyal.
Some paint him the unfortunate inheritor of the Arroyo legacy, a good man forced to play for the wrong team but taking it like a soldier. It is easy to forget that the choice was his to accept the national defense post, to leave his old party for the perks of working for the most powerful woman in the country. This, after all, was the loyal former head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition House members, who left his party in July 2009 to swear loyalty to Lakas-Kampi-CMD and the administration.
He is not, as his running mate Edu Manzano claims, the only man among the presidential contenders with “an untarnished reputation” with “no potential issues involving his integrity and character.”
In a testimony by Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, Teodoro had warned him repeatedly to curb his intention to challenge the Ampatuan clan for Maguindanao’s governorship. The Ampatuans, Teodoro said, were prone to violence. Mangudadatu risked his own life by choosing to throw the electoral gauntlet. “You know I love you,” said Teodoro to the Mangudadatu heir.
This is the same Teodoro who used the Ampatuans as a buffer against the MILF in his term in national defense. His was a choice to pander to the Ampatuans’ demands, choosing to dissuade Mangudadatus from their exercise of the legal and democratic right to run for public office, asking them not to offend the administration’s guard dogs in Maguindanao.
And still, when bodies were being scraped out of the foothills of Sitio Masalay, Teodoro bewailed how the massacre “had laid to waste” all the good he did as defense chief. It is odd that he feels himself exempt from responsibility. When asked why he did not disarm the Ampatuans when he could, he claims it would have been difficult to disarm them “given the circumstances,” with kidnappings and tension over the Bangsamoro treaty. Perhaps it can be argued disarmament would alienate the Palace’s greates allies in the south.
Immediately after the massacre, Teodoro led his party to expel members of the Ampatuan family from Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
“We believe they failed to exercise their moral and actual authority over their clan members, which is most probably the cause of the incident.”
As chief of the Department of National Defense, it was Teodoro who failed to exercise his own “moral and actual authority” over the Ampatuans, “which is most probably the cause of the incident.”
This is a man who says he will not bow to popular opinion. He will not speak against the President. He will not stoop to politics that plays to the crowd. On Nov. 26, he played to that crowd, when he and Edu Manzano flew to Maguindanao to welcome the grieving Esmael Mangudadatu into the fold of Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
“I will not allow warlords to be born of our party,” he says in an interview.
And so he stands beside Esmael Mangudadatu, victim of one of the grimmest crimes in Philippine history, now Teodoro’s anointed in Maguindanao. This is the same Mangudadatu whose family runs the neighboring Sultan Kudarat with their own private army. Esmael Mangudadatu himself has been accused of murder, multiple attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms. Asked if the Mangudadatu clan had been disarmed before Mangudadatu joined his party, Teodoro said he knew of no efforts for disarming Sultan Kudarat, that he would leave it to the judgment of the security forces.
That the Mangudadatus deserve justice and now serve government interests does not justify the blind eye turned on their private armies, their party inclusion a stamp of approval from the national government. It is a lesson the world learned with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the Ampatuans in Maguindanao. Watchdogs trained to kill can break their leashes.
“My policy is no private armies,” says Teodoro. “I will not allow another monster to be created.”
Judge him for himself, he says, for what he is—his loyalty, his accountability, the excellence and intelligence by which he makes his choices and leads his men. Judge him on all this, and this is what will be left: a genial man sitting quietly in a waiting room, a pleasant man with a pleasant face, a man capable of sacrificing principle for popular opinion, taking little responsibility for his omissions, horse-trading lives for power. This is Gilbert Teodoro Jr., candidate for the presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.