Lack of experience, a decision to leave the priesthood, a very public love life, and a political future that looks like US Republican bet John McCain’s. These were some of the issues five potential presidential aspirants answered in “Countdown to 2010: An ANC leadership forum” on Monday evening.
One year before the elections, ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)--in partnership with the Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University political science department, Loyola Schools--gathered five of the country's potential 2010 presidential bets at the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City and asked them what they could offer.
Broadcasters Tina Monzon-Palma and Ricky Carandang posed questions to Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon, Pampanga Governor Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio, Senator Manuel “Mar” Araneta Roxas III, and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. in one-on-one and panel interviews.
Invitations to Vice President Noli de Castro, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Manuel Villar and Metro Manila Development Chairman Bayani Fernando were also extended, but they were not available.
The youngest potential aspirant for the highest political post said the next president should be an effective agent of change who follows and enforces the law.
Only 39, Senator Chiz Escudero said being young is his strongest asset since youth voters account for a major bloc among the voting population. He said the youth now are better informed compared to previous generations, and are thus less susceptible to traditional politics.
Yet, being young is also a weakness, he acknowledged. His critics associate his age with lack of experience.
He was elected as representative of the first district of Sorsogon when he was only 28. He led the filing of impeachment complaints against President Arroyo in the lower House, eloquently explaining the move clad in shirt similar to that of a band singer popular to the young.
When he ran for a Senate seat in 2007, his image as the youth’s ally in Congress paid off. He got the second highest votes in the senatorial elections.
Escudero has been a loyal member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). He said the party was his biggest campaign contributor in 2007, but the party donations came in the form of advertisements, not cash.
“I don’t accept campaign contributions from those I don’t know,” he said, adding that about 100 contributors pitched in to fund his campaign budget of about P64 million.
For a nationwide presidential campaign, he said he would just spend P15 per voter, as allowed by law, and not P3 billion as previously mentioned by a peer in the Senate.
The politician who banks on youth power said he has a plain lifestyle. He said he buys and sells but does not "collect vintage cars [since] I don’t have a parking space [for them]. We only live in a townhouse.” He added that wife Christine Elizabeth Flores teaches music to kids. They have 2 children.
Leadership by example
Another eloquent, but older and more experienced politician in the forum was Senator Richard Gordon.
The former mayor of Olongapo City said he envisions a country that is free from corruption or “transactional politics.” He said he will be running on a platform that stresses caring, compassion, competence, competitiveness, and ability to transform.
The former tourism secretary consistently cited his achievement as former chairman and administrator of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, who was able to inspire and draw volunteers to help Subic rise from the ashes—literally—after the Pinatubo volcano erupted in 1991.
“What is important is leadership by example,” he stressed, adding that constituents only follow what they observe a president does. “A president should be hands-on. You cannot move [a nation] just by yourself. It should be both inspiration and perspiration.”
He also mentioned during the interview that he is not amenable to media advertisements. “They show an image that you want people to believe about you.”
Currently, Gordon faces an ethics complaint at the Senate for his dual position as a concurrent chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross. He has scored media mileage from his Red Cross role during the Ayala mall bombing, numerous natural calamities, and the recent kidnapping of Red Cross volunteers in Mindanao.
As the current chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, he wrapped up the probe into the fertilizer fund scam and recommended the filing of criminal charges against controversial ex-agriculutre undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante.
Gordon is married to former Olongapo City Mayor Kate Gordon. They have 4 children.
The 55-year-old priest-turned-politician, fondly called “Among Ed” by friends and family, ran a grassroots campaign for Pampanga Governor in 2007 and won.
A reluctant politician, he said he has not yet made decision whether to vie for president or vice president in the coming elections. He has gone through self-introspections, including going through a retreat last Holy Week. He said, however, that “I have the passion and heart for governance. I have decided to offer myself to the country.”
He has two reservations: leaving the priesthood and lack of campaign kitty.
For 15 years, he headed the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga. One of his major roles was providing relief and assistance to those displaced during and after the onslaught of Pinatubo's volcanic lahar. His entry into politics was largely prompted by allegations of corruption in the lahar quarrying activities of previous local officials.
Besides temporarily letting go of priesthood, he also expressed concern about lacking funds to fund a nationwide campaign. “When I ran in 2007, I didn’t have a single cent except for P1,000 that I spent for my cellphone load,” he shared.
He won with a margin of 1,147 votes over administration-backed Lilia Pineda. He faces a recall petition for alleged loss of confidence by a group called Kambilan.
Panlilio’s critics have assailed him for not being flexible to compromises. “Wouldn’t you have been more effective if you worked with your critics rather than against them?” Carandang asked. But Panlilio did not budge. He said, “what the country needs now is a leader who does not compromise.”
He cited how this quality enabled his administration to collect P380 million from the quarry operations. That represented a drastic 800 percent increase from the collections of his predecessors, implying that the difference went to the pockets of politicians, not to the constituents.
Being a man of cloth, he was also asked if he will follow the Catholic church’s stand on social issues. The church has strongly opposed family planning and mining.
“These are delicate matters. We should have more opportunities for discussion and dialogue. We should exhaust all possible avenues for the greater good. I don’t believe he have dialogued that much,” he said.
He also stressed that being a priest would not limit him from dealing with Muslims and Protestants. About 80 to 85 percent of Filipinos are Catholic.
“My campaign in 2007 was interfaith. We talk to Muslims, Protestants. We also pray with them,” he said.
Soon to be needing a priest is engaged Senator Mar Roxas.
Questions on whether the engagement of Senator Roxas to ABS-CBN News anchor (on-leave) Korina Sanchez had something to do with his 2010 presidential bid were not surprising. After all, the two announced their engagement over the broadcast company’s highly-rated noontime show, Wowowee.
“Inggit lang sila (They are just envious),” the 51-year-old senator said in reply to criticisms that he was using the engagement to bolster his chances at the polls. He added that he and Sanchez have already talked about the wedding date, but left it to Sanchez to make the announcement. The two have been together for 5 years.
Among the presidentiables, Roxas probably has the best pedigree. His grandfather and namesake Manuel was the republic’s first president, father Gerardo was senator, and brother Gerardo Jr. was Capiz representative. Former Philippine President Manuel Roxas founded the Liberal Party and Gerardo Roxas also became the party president.
The family of his mother Judy Araneta is one of the country’s wealthiest.
A Wharton School of Economics graduate, he previously worked as an investment banker in New York before returning to the Philippines. Before becoming senator in 2004, Mar Roxas was Capiz representative, then Secretary of Trade and Industry under the Estrada and Arroyo administrations.
Such elitist background doesn’t seem to jive with the advertisement showing him driving two poor kids in a “tricycad,” or a bicycle strapped to a sidecar. He explained that the 3-wheeled bicycle is “just a symbol of where we are right now.”
He said that the ongoing global economic crisis is just magnifying the country’s internal problems, which corruption has made worse through the generations. “Our nation today is on a platform of sand. We are not standing on a strong foundation of morality and justice,” he said.
He then went on to cite his favorite causes, including resistance to unfair global trade, and the plight of the pre-need industry. In recent months, he led Senate investigations on the pre-need issue following the collapse of the controversial Legacy Group. These investigations were broadcasted live and covered extensively by other media since thousands of pre-need plan holders and depositors of Legacy-linked rural banks nationwide made good copy.
He put the blame squarely on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the pre-need regulator, for failing to protect the plan holders from the alleged fraudulent transactions of Legacy that had left thousands holding the bag.
Around three or four years ago, Roxas also led investigations on other high profile pre-need failures, including College Assurance Plan, then a market leader. Yet, the Senate had passed a final bill that tasked the SEC again to oversee the pre-need industry.
“We passed a Pre-Need Regulation Code last year. But nothing happened because of government’s inaction,” he said.
Just like Roxas, current Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro also has the pedigree to count on.
The 44-year old Teodoro is the nephew of former President Corazon Aquino and food-turned-power business tycoon Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuanco. Cojuanco is the chairman of San Miguel Corporation, one of Asia’s largest and politically-connected conglomerates, and is the chair emeritus of the National People’s Coalition (NPC). Despite having been referred to as Cojuanco’s “political son,” Teodoro claims to have severed political party ties with the kingmaker.
Since voting to dismiss the first impeachment complaint against President Arroyo when he was Tarlac representative in 2005, the three-term congressman has continued to ally himself with the administration.
He defended his position by saying, “I thought it (impeachment complaint) was lacking in basis. Secondly, an impeachment is a political decision, but the future after the impeachment was not clear. It was not explained whose interest will be followed.”
He said he is running because the governors, mayors, and board members under the administration coalition have egged him to pursue the platforms and policies of the Arroyo administration. He also said that being chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council has allowed him to experience nationwide governance.
But hasn’t he learned from the John McCain experience?
Like US Republic presidential bet McCain, who ran and lost under the same party of unpopular former US President George W. Bush, Teodoro is also running under an administration ticket that seeks to succeed President Arroyo, whose popularity, as reflect in poll surveys, has been below zero for several years already.
“I’m not afraid to be John McCain,” Teodoro said. “I am not apologizing for what the government has done. But if I will be given a chance to explain to the people what happened and the platform of the administration, then they could decide for themselves.”
“History will be the judge,” he stressed.
When asked what would be the first thing he would do once elected as president, he replied, “I will call on Congress to pass a law [to change the constitution via] constitutional convention.”
Typical of Teodoro, who is policy-oriented and not driven to drama, he explained why he wants to change the constitution: “In my view, renewal of values is not enough. Institutions shape and motivate behavior. And people have, time and again, said that institutions need to be changed.”
He said that while a parliamentary form of government is good, “Filipinos are not likely to accept a president they did not elect.” He said he favors a presidential and unicameral form of government. “This will allow regions to decide for themselves how they want to develop, even hold local elections as they see fit.”
He added that he agrees to lift the foreign ownership limit depending on the use of asset. He said foreigners could own land utilized for industrial and residential purposes. Those for tourism is on a case-to-case basis, since some have links to marine resources. He also said foreigners should not wholly-own mineral and agricultural resources because these are strategic to the country.
Teodoro is married to Tarlac First District Representative Monica Prieto-Teodoro. They have a son.