Is the Philippines ready for Dick Gordon?

by Kristine Servando,

Posted at Dec 15 2009 08:35 PM | Updated as of Dec 16 2009 11:57 PM

Sen. Gordon at the ANC 2010 Harapan forum.

MANILA, Philippines – With his track record as a leader and executive, it is not a question of whether Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon is ready for the presidency but whether Filipinos are ready to vote for him.

Without much hype or preamble, Gordon had announced he was running for president on December 1 as he filed his certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections.

The announcement came as a surprise.

It was his running mate, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando, who was bent on running for president.

Their tandem, under the newly formed Bagumbayan Party, was seemingly formed at the last minute and without a senatorial slate.

Gordon told reporters they teamed up Monday night (November 30), the eve of the deadline for the filing of candidacy.

Fernando said he gave way to his new party mate, owing to Gordon’s senatorial experience.

“No one is lazy on this team. No one is stupid on this team. We may not have much money but we have enough. Besides, we already know what happened to leaders who love money too much,” Gordon told reporters after his announcement.

Thus began what political analyst Benito Lim describes as either a perfect pairing or a political headache.

‘Tough love’

Gordon has been called a “dictator” both for his single-minded drive to achieve a vision for his constituency and his brutal frankness, interpreted as arrogance or abrasiveness.

“He does not know how to consult with his people. He runs things as if he were the only one capable of thinking and the rest are all nincompoops,” said Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, a long-time critic of Gordon, in a Probe Profiles interview.

Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco, a good friend of Gordon's and Fernando's, described it as a “lack of inclination to listen to contrary opinions.”

“I get the impression that once they make up their minds on a course of action, [there] is absolutely little chance they will consider other options,” he wrote in his December 4 column titled “Demand and Supply.”

In numerous interviews, Gordon insisted that his straightforward approach is simply his way of “teaching others.”

He does not mince words and swiftly points out incompetence, qualities that are often misinterpreted.

“My name is Dick, but I’m not a ‘tator’,” Gordon quipped in a Probe Profiles Interview. “If I get mad at you, that means I love you. If I don’t talk to you, that’s when you should worry, because then you are nothing to me.”

Two dictators?

Sen. Richard Gordon and his running mate, MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando filed their COC's at the Comelec Office on December 1, 2009.

Gordon’s partnership with Fernando, who is viewed as a dictator and tough disciplinarian, could be a potential liability for Gordon’s campaign.

“It’s like [Gordon] was looking for a headache,” Lim said in a phone interview “Bayani is really hard-headed. Many voters dislike [Bayani].”

“He (Bayani Fernando) has a public image as… a ‘Hitler’ (dictator) because of what he did to the vendors and the continuous traffic,” Lim added. “In that sense, Gordon will have to contend with negative reactions.”

Though credited for his numerous public works and traffic system projects, Fernando’s violent dispersal of sidewalk vendors and demolition of squatters' houses has not endeared him to the masses.

The twin values of discipline and strictness are the pillars of Gordon’s no-nonsense leadership style, just like his running mate.

In their view, discipline and order is exactly what the country needs.

“I tell things like it is. I tell people off. And if [people] don’t like that, fine, I can live with that. But don’t complain if you get somebody you like and not somebody that’s needed,” Gordon said in another interview.

Decisive, no nonsense

Gordon’s strongest suit by far is his experience. At 64, Gordon has held a variety of top positions, both in government and in the private sector.

A law student at the time, he was the youngest delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. He was brand manager of Procter & Gamble and was a litigation lawyer of ACCRA Law Offices.

Taking after his father (James L. Gordon) and mother (Amelia Gordon), who ran the city in 1963 and 1967 respectively, Gordon became mayor of Olongapo City in Zambales from 1980 to 1986.

He turned the former “sin city” into a model one by boosting police accountability through I.D. systems, proper health and sanitation, waste management and the strict enforcement of color coding in public transport.

In 1992, while in his second term as Olongapo City mayor, he became the founding chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

Charged with converting the former US naval base into a prime economic zone, Gordon attracted 300 foreign and local investors to Subic Bay. It became the site of the 1996 APEC Summit.

Dual roles

He vacated his mayoral post and assumed full capacity as SBMA Chairman after a citizen in 1993 complained of his dual role and the Supreme Court ruled he should only have one role.

His wife, Katherine Gordon, replaced him as Olongapo City mayor in 1995.

From February 2001 to January 2004, he was appointed secretary of tourism and vigorously publicized the “Wow Philippines!” campaign, which enticed foreign tourists to the country.

In 2004, he ran and won for Senator under Lakas-CMD, garnering over 12.7 million votes at 5th place in the Senate race. He has helped pass the New Automated Elecion System Law and tax laws.

As head of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, he helped expose corruption in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration by publishing a report on the NBN-ZTE deal.

He has also been part of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) for 40 years and stands as its Chairman and CEO. Gordon is credited for helping modernize the PNRC’s rescue equipment and facilities, and boosting its blood bank.

For his dual role as PNRC Chairman and senator, he is the subject of an ethics complaint in the Senate. Gordon said his role as PNRC chairman has not interfered with his role as senator. (Read Gordon's biodata and profile here)

‘The transformers’

Gordon’s platform prioritizes health issues and education, including raising teachers’ salaries and disease prevention.

To fund basic social services, Gordon wants to call for a moratorium on debt servicing. He vowed to “use his diplomatic skills to fight the World Bank and International Monetary Fund” in this regard.

Gordon said he plans to decongest Manila and spread businesses out to other urbanized cities like Subic, Clark and Pangasinan.

He also plans to develop core industries like tourism in the country’s island groups. Visayas will be the country’s “beach capital” while Mindanao will focus on aquaculture and agriculture.

Most of all, Gordon’s Bagumbayan party focuses on his favorite adage since the 1980s: “What the country needs is not a change of men but a change in men.”

For Gordon, this means a switch from transactional leadership (a reactionary, rewards and punishments-based leadership) to transformational leadership (proactive and motivational leadership).

Gordon and Fernando have taken to calling themselves “the transformers.”

Need for exposure

Gordon impressed political and media analysts at ANC’s “Harapan 2010: The Presidential Forum” on December 2 with his articulate answers and specific plans of action on issues.

He had also raised sensible questions and gave a fiery speech during the much-publicized joint session of Congress on Martial Law.

However, one of the major challenges Gordon faces, campaign-wise, is to gain more and more exposure.

“He is not that well known. Maybe with the voters of Zambales he is, but as a national candidate, at least based on surveys, he is not,” Lim said. “He doesn’t have the machinery and range to reach voters.”

In a December poll survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), Gordon’s voter preference stood at 0.5%, compared to those who have dominated election surveys like Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (47%) and Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr. (20%).

Even before he announced his bid for the presidency, Gordon had less than 1% voter preference in presidential surveys and less than 2% in vice presidential surveys.

Further, both Gordon and Fernando’s votes will most likely come from the rich and middle class, Lim said. This is only a small portion of the electorate.

“He has a nice platform and slogan (change from transactional to transformational leadership) but he has to translate it in simple terms so that ordinary voters can understand. He has to prove he is different,” Lim said.

Gordon is certainly in for a tough battle for the presidency. But as Gordon said in one of his magazine interviews, he never backs down from a fight. Report by Kristine Servando,