When President Bongbong Marcos named Gilbert Teodoro as Secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND) on June 5, 2023 after a year of keeping the post vacant since the start of his term in 2022, I instinctively knew that the President made an excellent choice.
`The Cabinet portfolio is a perfect fit for Teodoro who had previously served as defense secretary from 2007 to 2009 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. At the age of 43, he was the second youngest person to ever hold the position after Ramon Magsaysay.
Teodoro, whom many call Gibo but Gilbert to us in UP Law class of 1989, is known for his academic excellence and technocratic skills.
During his previous stint as defense secretary, he was known for his efforts as the chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) when Metro Manila was hit by Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in 2009.
He also advocated the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the strengthening of the country’s defense posture in the face of territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Secretary Teodoro, who is a civilian, is taking over the helm of the DND at a time when geopolitical tensions are high in the WPS.
Wisely, he recently declared that the Philippines is not a chess piece in the regional conflicts within its borders and that other countries should respect its development of capabilities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
He also urged China to follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to gain the Philippines’ confidence.
Teodoro will not mindlessly engage in any reckless action that will escalate the geopolitical conflict in the region but will instead prefer to cultivate the country’s partnerships with other countries including the chief rivals, China and the United States, to foster peaceful settlement and diplomacy while enhancing the country’s own capabilities.
Indeed, the way to go is to collaborate with China and other countries on areas of common interest such as trade, investment, infrastructure, maritime security, and environmental protection without territorial integrity and national sovereignty. An armed confrontation to settle the dispute is out of the equation for it will mean an unmitigated catastrophe for all concerned.
On a personal note, I have known Secretary Teodoro for more than 38 years, since we were first year law students at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines.
We became close friends in our senior year and studied together for the 1989 bar examinations which ended with both of us ranking high (Gibo number one, with me number three).
I teased him that he was only .083 ahead of me and if not for the 75 score I had in labor law, I could have been number one.
As a classmate, Gilbert was generous, supportive, easy to get along, and loyal.
He was obviously brilliant, had gone to the best schools for his basic education (Xavier School) and college (De La Salle University) and we knew he belonged to an influential and wealthy family, but he was not arrogant and never acted privileged or entitled.
That was what attracted me to Gibo. I could trust him, knew that he was always thoughtful and principled, with an exemplary mind and a good heart, and above all someone who loved our country very much.
Even then, when we were students and young lawyers, Gilbert’s vision for the Philippines was that of modernizing our economy and enabling our people to prosper in the 21st century.
This ambitious vision for the country are reflected in his work in Congress in the 1990s and early 2000s, his leadership of the Department of Defense during the GMSA years, his presidential campaign in 2010, and his business engagement in the last 10 years.
Through the years, Gibo and I had continued to engage with each other, exchanging observations and ideas on how to change this country for the better.
He has well-conceived and well-developed solutions to many of our challenges.
We have also supported each other on our personal endeavors.
That includes our respective mothers, with my late mother Inday La Viña being Gilbert’s biggest supporter in Cagayan de Oro when she was alive. I am sure she is very happy now that Gilbert is back in government.
This is not to say that I have had no disagreement with Secretary Teodoro.
There is of course our divergent views about the martial law era and the legacy of the Marcos Sr government.
More relevant to the present, we are not in agreement on how to pursue the peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the New People’s Army.
I have worked for four presidential administrations for the last 30 years and have through the years taught and mentored many military officials and yes revolutionaries, on both sides of the conflict.
I am convinced that, as challenging as it is, there is no other way to achieve permanent peace but through negotiations.
Nonetheless, in spite of this divergence on the peace process, I am convinced that Gilbert Teodoro is the best guardian of our seas and islands.
The real threat is not within but is external, our giant neighbor that cannot be outfought but can be outsmarted if we have a defense chief like who we have now.
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