(Third of a series)
Editor?s Note: The presidential profiles will be running in no particular order but as the stories come in from our reporters in the field.
MANILA, Philippines?Kissing babies is not the strong suit of Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilberto Eduardo ?Gibo? Cojuangco Teodoro Jr.
At the Batasan Park last March where Teodoro was the guest at the birthday party of his wife, Tarlac Rep. Monica ?Nikki? Prieto-Teodoro, the tall, good-looking former secretary of defense stood for some 30 minutes onstage, smiling at the rambunctious crowd of some 4,000 children and their mothers and grandmothers gathered from depressed barangays by Quezon City Rep. Annie Susano.
Other politicians would have waded in, hugged the children, kissed the babies and their mothers, grandmothers and even gay uncles?and connected with and won the allegiance of the masa.
But not Teodoro. On that day, he and his pretty wife appeared lost and in a daze up on the stage with movie actress Dawn Zulueta.
Susano, who has since junked Teodoro to join another presidential candidate, actually provided the cue early on. Before climbing the stage, she joined the kids and their mothers on the ground, checking on what they were eating and rallying them to cheer for the candidate worthy of being a role model.
?We all want our children to be magaling at matalino (bright and intelligent). ?Yan si Gibo Teodoro!? she shouted.
Susano, who is running for mayor of Quezon City, was effective as the front act. The main star, Teodoro, flopped.
But before an audience of the upper crust, Teodoro is a box-office winner.
Lawyer Claudette de la Serna was gushing after hearing Teodoro speak at a forum for the presidential candidates in Makati City. ?Among them, he is the only one who has clear policy statements,? she said.
De la Serna had earlier heard very good words about Teodoro from her boss, former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza. It was in Mendoza?s law firm that Teodoro cut his teeth as a litigator for seven years, starting as a bar topnotcher in 1989.
It was also Teodoro?s eloquence and clarity of mind that impressed a group of retired generals a few months after he was appointed to the defense post in 2007.
After his speech before the Philippine Military Academy alumni and the open forum that followed, a retired general in the audience sent a text message to a journalist: ?What do you think? Gibo Teodoro for President!?
No luxury of time
The old fogeys were thrilled at the prospect of another defense secretary in Malacańang, a la Ramon Magsaysay in the early 1950s.
Reminded that Teodoro must do something ?dramatic, compelling? in solving the insurgency problem before he can be considered at par with Magsaysay, the generals were optimistic. ?There is time for that,? one said.
Obviously, Teodoro didn?t have the luxury of time.
When he formally declared that he was running for president under the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD, he had yet to make headway not only in wiping out the communist insurgency but also in crushing the Abu Sayyaf extremist group and in finally settling the separatist problem posed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In a forum early on in the campaign, Teodoro spelled out what he thought was lacking in government. ?If there is one word that is to be generated by government, it is confidence,? he said. If elected, Teodoro hopes to bring that confidence back in government.
Vision for dynamic nation
?The Philippines deserves a place among the most vibrant emerging economies of the world. The country does not want for talent and resources. What we lack is the institutional capital that will enable the country to seize historic opportunities before it; a legal and policy framework that will enable us to attract a larger share of investment flows; a bureaucracy that makes doing business easier; a security capability that will finally enable us to end the last yet most protracted armed insurgencies in the world; and an educational system that will produce the highly skilled workforce that will bring us to the cutting edge of the new economy,? he also said in his campaign platform ?My Vision for a Dynamic Nation.?
Only child ?Gibby?
Teodoro was born on June 14, 1964, in Isabela to Gilberto C. Teodoro, who would become administrator of the Social Security System, and Mercedes Cojuangco, who was elected member of the interim and regular Batasang Pambansa during Ferdinand Marcos? regime.
He was named after his father and his uncle, Eduardo ?Danding? Cojuangco (his mother?s brother), who stood as his baptismal godfather. Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III is a second-degree cousin.
As an only child, Teodoro was naturally doted on by his mother. ?We called him Gibo, but his mom calls him Gibby,? a cousin recalled.
Rapa Lopa, also a second-degree cousin, said he played basketball with Teodoro at the Cojuangco compound in New Manila, Quezon City, in their youth.
?We were kids, and cousins. We played together,? Lopa said.
Recalled Danding Cojuangco?s son Charlie: ?It?s like, if you break my toy, I?ll break yours.?
After completing a bachelor?s degree in commerce at De La Salle in 1984, Teodoro went to the University of the Philippines? College of Law, where he graduated with a Dean?s Medal for Academic Excellence.
He did not disappoint his alma mater when he topped the bar in 1989.
Government service was not what Teodoro?s father would have wanted for his only child.
According to one of the cousins, the elder Teodoro would have wanted his son to become an investment banker or a finance whiz. But Cojuangco ?influenced? the young Teodoro by introducing him to politics early on via the Kabataang Barangay (KB), then led by Marcos? eldest child Imee.
In 1980, Teodoro, then 16, was elected KB president in Tarlac. He went on to lead the KB in Central Luzon and to become a member of the Tarlac Sangguniang Panlalawigan at the time that his mother was the Tarlac representative in the National Assembly.
?Danding is Gibo?s mentor in politics. That?s not a secret among the Cojuangcos,? said businessman and civil society member Pastor ?Boy? Saycon.
In 1992, Cojuangco founded the Nationalist People?s Coalition (NPC) as a vehicle for his presidential candidacy.
The industrialist eventually lost to retired general Fidel V. Ramos, but he maintained his political influence through the NPC, which grew deep roots in congressional districts and in local government units.
In 1997, soon after acquiring a master?s degree from the Harvard Law School in the United States, Teodoro came home to begin a new chapter in politics.
According to Saycon, the idea of launching Teodoro?s political career was hatched by Cojuangco and his cousin, Jose ?Peping? Cojuangco Jr., who was to bow out as representative of Tarlac?s first district after three terms.
?The cousins talked, and they agreed to give the first district to Gibo, and the fourth district to Noynoy,? Saycon said.
Teodoro and Aquino won in their respective districts. Teodoro would also become the president of the NPC.
Did Nikki cause rift?
But things soured between Teodoro and his godfather in 2007 when Teodoro, who was completing his nine-year term in the House, allowed his wife Nikki to run for his seat over a candidate preferred by Cojuangco.
?It was done on the sly. Danding was disappointed,? said Saycon, who has had business dealings with Cojuangco.
But Teodoro denied this in an earlier interview. ?Nikki was the unanimous choice,? he said.
In June 2007, Teodoro bowed out of Congress, where he had served as assistant majority leader and member of the House contingent to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.
His wife, a former commercial model who studied in Switzerland, won his seat in the first district of Tarlac.
Two months later, in August 2007, Teodoro was named defense secretary.
But the gap between Teodoro and his godfather widened.
Other sources said the rift actually started after the NPC?s failed attempt to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide in 2003.
?Anybody but Gibo?
Asked what really happened between him and his uncle, Teodoro said: ?I just went on my own way.?
He admitted that they had not spoken for some time.
The hurt feelings appear to be mutual. Months ago, asked by reporters who her family was rooting for in the presidential race, Cojuangco?s wife Gretchen said emphatically: ?Anybody but Gibo.?
Teodoro responded sharply, saying that family matters and hurt feelings should take the back seat to ?national issues.?