Love or hate him but Gordon tells it like it isBy Gil C. Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Age has not stopped former Sen. Richard Gordon from talking fast and furious.
Most of his fellow senatorial candidates in the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) are wary of hitting President Aquino in the campaign for the elections in May where there are no clear lines between the opposition and the administration parties.
But the 67-year-old Gordon is not about to pull any punches against Aquino, who beat him in the only election he has lost—the 2010 presidential election—with the help of a “ghost,” he says.
“I have no regrets,” he said of the loss.
“I knew I was going to lose but out of principle, charge it to my hard-headedness and stubbornness, I was ready to lay it on the line. I can debate with these guys, I can tell them my accomplishments and they don’t have any accomplishments. Unfortunately, they stopped debating. And of course, you can’t beat a ghost. It was the ghost of Cory Aquino,” Gordon said in a three-hour interview with the Inquirer’s editorial staff last week.
Gordon was referring to the death of former President Corazon Aquino on Aug. 1, 2009, which catapulted her son to the front of the presidential derby, topping the race with a 42-percent share of the votes while Gordon garnered less than 2 percent.
“Do you think Noynoy would win if his mother had not died? I am not going to blame God for that … But just because he is the President doesn’t give him infallibility like the Pope,” Gordon said. “Can I be like Bam (Aquino)? Where I’d just say ‘Tito Ninoy, Tita Cory and Kuya Noynoy’ and I get elected.”
Bold statements like these have made people either love or hate Gordon—the prototypical Ateneo cheerleader; the youngest among the 320 delegates who crafted the 1973 Constitution; the mayor who made Olongapo a model city; the dynamo behind Subic’s revival after the pullout of US bases in 1992; the face of the millions of Filipino Red Cross volunteers; and the brains behind one of the most popular tourism slogans, “Wow Philippines.”
“They say ‘malakas ang dating ko.’ (They say I come on strong.) I get into trouble because I am frank and candid but that’s me. I’m sorry, but there is no ill intention in what I say. But I will use my voice, my mind because my parents worked hard to educate me … if you don’t like it, so be it,” Gordon said. “They say I’m mayabang, maybe they just have an inferiority complex.”
Gordon said that he was going back to the Senate for “love of country” because he deserved a seat in the “seniorship house with my experience, vision and accomplishments.”
“I’m still young, well at least my mind is, I am concerned because I still want change in this country. My greatest fear is to kick the bucket and I don’t see change for the next generation. You have to really coax it out of the people to make them believe again,” Gordon said.
Gordon, who is a lawyer and history major, also wondered why, after having two Aquinos in Malacañang, the country has yet to solve the murder of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino.
“Isn’t it sad there is no closure? We’ve had two presidents named Aquino. The people who participated in the killing of Ninoy are still alive. How come there is no closure? We owe the people justice. Some policemen might argue that if you cannot solve the problem of your father, why expect us to solve the cases of the poor? There is no closure on heroes and villains. Marcos is still haunting us, Ninoy is haunting us. Isn’t it possible that these things happen because you want to perpetuate that memory?” asked Gordon whose father’s assassination has also remained unsolved.
Gordon insisted that he harbored no bitterness against the President. While he said he favored a lot of Aquino’s actions, he criticized some of them, describing as one of the administration’s “biggest failings” the way Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted.
“They have good propaganda people. When a country removes a CJ for graft, its image is immediately enhanced, rightly or wrongly. He might be guilty, but we made the wrong example. Like we made ‘Dirty Harry’ popular, but they are violating the rights of our people. They took out Corona using a little lady giving out evidence and leaving it in their garages. What if they did the same thing to you?”
Gordon cited “A Man for All Seasons,” where Sir Thomas More espoused giving the benefit of the doubt even to the devil.
“Media is powerful because of perception. Whether you like it or not, he (Corona) lost the game. As lawyers, we are sworn to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the accused,” said Gordon, who served as an associate of Accra, one of the country’s top law firms, in 1975. He is a stickler for law and order, as seen in the cleanliness and discipline in Olongapo and the Subic Freeport during his term as mayor and administrator, respectively.
Gordon also cited Aquino’s alleged weakness in foreign policy, especially his handling of the territorial dispute with China and the arrest of pyramid scam culprit Manuel Amalilio in Malaysia. “We are very much in trouble in handling foreign policy. The buck stops with him and that’s why you need senior statesmen as President because of the experience and depth needed.”
He complained about “double dealing” under the Aquino administration, where a magistrate would be pilloried for plagiarism while celebrating the two similar acts committed by its two tourism secretaries—spending P6 million for the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” promotion copied from Poland’s campaign and another P10 million for the “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” slogan stolen from Switzerland’s.
‘How can I keep quiet?’
He agreed that he could have been more popular had he listened to some of advisers, including his wife, to be more tolerant, more humble and less voluble. He said he had been dancing or singing on stage in the campaign but he drew the line in giving out basketballs, T-shirts and bubble gum.
“My wife sometimes tell me, ‘just keep silent, don’t talk.’ But how can I keep quiet when I see wrong?” said Gordon, who believed that his fifth-place ranking in the 2004 senatorial elections (pre-poll surveys pegged him at No. 35) proved that a great number Filipinos wanted their leaders to be smart and proficient.
“I don’t think there is any cogent reason for surveys other than to make money in a poor country with a colonial hangover of tremendous magnitude. Most people will say the elections are not for you or you have no chance. It’s defeatist, they only want what the surveys have proclaimed sure winners,” Gordon said.
He said his father, Olongapo City’s first mayor, James Leonard Gordon, was a “quiet man” and it was his undoing. He said his father refused to have bodyguards despite two assassination attempts (he died in the third attempt) because he was too conscious of what other people would say about him.
Gordon’s defeat in the 2010 presidential election sent him on a new career path fit for his gift of gab, hosting a radio and TV show. “Every day I had a show and people would react immediately,” said Gordon who had to quit his broadcasting job with the start of the campaign.
Gordon was quick to shoot down insinuations that he was using the Red Cross to inflate his political stock.
“What’s wrong with that? Would you rather I don’t do it? Would you rather I didn’t go to Nueva Ecija to save a 12-year-old girl who I didn’t even know and has, 30 years later, grown up to be a teacher? Only people who are very insecure will think I’m using the Red Cross,” Gordon said.
“What if I tell you the Red Cross is using me? My mother served 63 years in the Red Cross while I am now in my 45th year in service.” Gordon revealed that he donated to the Red Cross his eight-figure fee from a successful ad campaign for a multinational corporation in the mid-1960s.
Gordon said that the Red Cross had always been “personality-driven,” citing its founder, the Swiss businessman and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jean Henri Dunant, and actress Rosa Rosal among the organization’s famous personalities. “Why does everything have to be politicized?”
But while Gordon is not prepared to ease up on Aquino, he has warmed up to his former nemesis in the UNA team for the first time in his political career.
“One of the great things about this is that we are friends again,” Gordon said of his reconciliation with former President Joseph Estrada, one of the pillars of UNA, who kicked him out of his Subic job. “He is not a bad person, he is a nice guy.”
On political dynasties, Gordon said he believed in protecting the right of every individual to seek public office as long as force and intimidation are not used in winning the vote. He said this issue was better left to voters because “there have been dynasties that have been felled by the ballot.”
Gordon refused to delve into the smuggling issue in the Cagayan Export Zone Authority involving one of UNA’s leaders, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. But he noted that during his time as Subic chief, he did not allow the importation of second-hand cars, only the auction of heavy equipment.
“If we create a culture of smuggling, you will be tempted. Once you succumb, you become a part of it,” Gordon said. He said that to be fair to Enrile, “nobody would go to Cagayan” to do business. He also noted that Hong Kong was originally a smuggler’s lair before it became a manufacturing hub.
Gordon said he admired Vice President Jejomar Binary for being soft-spoken and intelligent. At this point, Gordon said Binay was the coalition’s presidential candidate in 2016, although he said he himself had not given up his dream of going to Malacañang.