BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interviewing Gibo

The call time was 12 noon. I arrived 12:15. I was late because I stole a few minutes to e-mail a very urgent letter from a nearby coffeeshop. The security guards at the Philippine Star office said Gibo had arrived. Yikes, I'm late. I jumped out of the car. In my haste, I forget to change into a decent pair of shoes. I was wearing slippers. Went back and grabbed my gray stiletto from the trunk. I rushed inside the labyrinthine office. The conference room was filled to the brim and all eyes were on the man sitting on one end of the long wooden table.

GILBERT Teodoro Jr., in a white and light blue long sleeves polo, is in the hot seat, facing the editors and reporters of the Star for the paper's presidentiables series. My task is to write about his economic platform. He had just started talking about the economy when I entered the room.

He looks at me straight in the eye. I am surprised. Most men -- especially the unfaithful ones -- can't ever look at you straight in the eye. Some, only for a moment. But they always look away when the discussion gets tough.

But Teodoro, a man with a pleasant face, keeps the eye-to-eye contact. Serious and penetrating. He wants to get his message across, I thought.

He talks about a lot of things -- investments, poverty, the Securities Regulation Code, infrastructure, corruption, physics, geometry, universal kindergarten, divorce, etc. etc.

He talks passionately and with enough brilliance to keep his listeners' attention.

Most of the time, he has very specific, straight-forward answers.

For example, when asked about his thoughts on divorce, Teodoro said if the couples want it, it should be granted. (Amen to that).

But when asked about his thoughts on family planning and abortion, the answer wasn't very clear.

He also offered to fix the streetlights, saying this would help solve the problem of extrajudicial killings. (Huh? Well if this is some figure of speech, I didn't get it all.)

Teodoro nonetheless gave more than enough answers to a lot of difficult questions. He gave pragmatic solutions to many problems. He recognized for instance the need to raise consumer taxes and leave income tax rates as is. He recognized the need to reform the educational system and raise the salaries of teachers. He recognized and committed to push for universal health care. He recognized the need to bring down the cost of medicines. He wants more funds for research and development and wants to increase the salaries of corporate regulators.

The Harvard-educated Teodoro seems to know what he is talking about. Whether or not Filipinos are convinced is still anybody's guess.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Gilbert Teodoro, Jr.

Growth must trickle down to masses - Gibo
By Iris G. Gonzales (The Philippine Star) Updated March 02, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. vowed to make economic growth trickle down to the grassroots level if he gets elected as the next president of the Philippines.

The Harvard-educated Teodoro said this can only be done if there is sustainable economic growth of at least eight percent for a period of at least 10 years.

“We have to have long-term growth so that it can trickle down,” Teodoro said in a rountable discussion with editors of The STAR.

Such sustainable economic growth, he said, can only be possible if the government puts in place the proper environment to attract foreign and local investments.

For foreign investments, he said, he would use his first 100 days to invite two big-ticket global firms to set up operations in the country and use this as pitch to invite other potential investors.

”Success will build on success,” he said.

He believes in liberalizing some lands except agricultural lands. He also believes in opening up other sectors such as tourism and mining to attract investments. At the local level, Teodoro promised to provide fiscal incentives to local government units that are “investor-friendly.”

Additional funds to help in extending these incentives may come from the President’s discretionary funds, he noted.

He is counting on investors to bring in the funds that would fuel economic growth but was also practical enough to recognize that there is a need to impose new taxes.

“No choice,” when asked if he plans to impose new taxes.

However, he said he wouldn’t anymore touch the current income tax rate, noting that this is already among the highest in the region.

“Our income tax rates are one of the highest. You can’t anymore play with that. It’s very high already,” he said.

Instead, Teodoro said, he would push for an increase in consumption and excise taxes.

He also plans to maximize growth areas outside Metro Manila by ensuring that there are enough roads and bridges that would link the regions to the capital.

“We will ease communication between and among regions.

You’ll have to have more airports and seaports. That’s the only time you can serve more,” he said.

Teodoro said his government would push for improvements in the corporate regulatory environment by raising the salaries of regulators.

In the area of power, Teodoro said his government will tap alternative sources of energy but those that are not too costly for the country.

He noted that geothermal energy is quite expensive and added that there may be a link between earthquakes and the use of this kind of power.

As he laid out these grand plans, the former defense secretary said that ultimately, the key to ensuring economic growth is to have peace and order and a stable government.