HIS LAW SCHOOL study buddies spew out superlatives when asked for proof that Gilberto Cojuangco Teodoro Jr., candidate for president of the administration Lakas-Kampi party, is true “Galing at Talino.”
Teodoro finished at the top of his class at the University of the Philippines College of Law in 1989. The same year, he passed the bar with a score of 86.185 percent, landing No. 1 among thousands of examinees.
And yet, this “very intelligent,” unconventional nerd was, they add, also a “very unassuming” and “very cool” person. Even as he was scoring quite well in class, Teodoro also dabbled in basketball, often went home straight from school, was never linked to anyone romantically, and not once hooked up with the activists on campus.
They called him plain “Gilbert” back then. His father and namesake had served as Social Security System administrator, and his mother, representative from their home province of Tarlac. He was so unassuming that one of his study group buddies did not realize Gilbert was so fully pedigreed until some time later.
Most Sundays before the bar exam, Teodoro hit the books with three batch buddies and now fellow lawyers – Antonio La Viña, who is now dean of the Ateneo School of Government; Rodrigo Lope Quimbo, who is now a partner in the Quisimbing Torres Law; and Jaime Hofileña, who is now a partner in the Poblador Bautista and Reyes Law.
La Viña and Quimbo knew all at once about Teodoro’s parents being public figures. Hofileña did not until after another classmate told him about it. It was while studying together for the bar that the three say they witnessed the brilliance of Gilbert.
Quimbo says Teodoro struck him “like a quiet guy who was very private… but (also) very bright.”
La Viña describes him as “likeable and approachable… very bright, seemed to be always prepared.”
Asked to put a label on his study buddy, Hofileña paced his thoughts, and then says he thinks “nerd” would be more like it. Nonetheless, “the results show: he finished top of his original batch. He topped the bar… if it wasn’t for our study group.”
Teodoro was good in class as also in their private study sessions they held at the house of La Viña or Hofileña, but never in Teodoro’s house.
The four would exchange notes, answer past bar exam questions, quiz one another, and most times, Teodoro gave the precise answers. “It was at this time when I knew that he would top the exams.” Quimbo recalls. Even during the study sessions, he says Teodoro was “very focused” and “very driven academically.”
Despite this, Hofileña says studying all the time was never Teodoro’s way. “I never see him studying there, that’s the problem.”
His intellect was very impressive, even daunting, according to La Viña. “It was scary being with Gibo who had memorized every constitutional provision and all the relevant laws and could cite all the SCRA (Supreme Court Rulings Annotated) volumes for many Supreme Court decisions.”
He was so brilliant Teodoro always had answers to their questions, even without having to consult law books. It reached a point when Hofileña says he felt inadequate during the study sessions. Teodoro remembered the finer points that the others did not notice at all. “It seems he has a gift for studying,” but did not seem to be studying as hard, and between study sessions, also played hoops with Hofileña.
His routine was pretty well established: He would attend class, tarry just a while in campus, and then disappear. Once in a while, he would be spotted at the library, just for brief periods.
Hofileña tells of a “legend” about Teodoro that went around at the law school. “Legend has it that he never even entered the library. Legend also has it that he had his own library at home.”
Teodoro was so absorbed in his academics not one of his friends knew or heard about his being a member of any organizations or fraternities, except only for their bar exam study group. Not one of his friends also recalls him having any romantic relationship back then.
This story of a brilliant student starts and ends the trip to memory lane of Teodoro’s years in law school for his review buddies. Social life? Night life? Gimmicks? There is hardly anything more they could say about Teodoro as he was nearly totally inactive in school.
Former UP president, Dr.Francisco Nemenzo, is not surprised at all. Despite all talk of the state university being the hotbed of activism, Nemenzo describes UP law school students as conservative by nature because of their respect for authority and reverence for the laws.
The years Teodoro spent at the law school – 1985 to 1989 – was also a period that witnessed the decline of student activism, and the UP College of Law had turned its focus on memorization rather than political discussion.
Many students who transfer to UP from other schools like Teodoro did not automatically turn activists, Nemenzo says. Teodoro obtained his undergraduate degree in Commerce from De la Salle University in 1985, and finished secondary school at Xavier University in 1981.
Teodoro obtained his masters of laws degree from Harvard Law School in Boston, Massachusetts in 1997.
Hofileña sees another side to Teodoro’s non-involvement in campus politics. The law school and its faculty, he recalls, had no united stand on issues, the university respects one’s personal choice to be or not to be activists.
Besides, he says Teodoro was very busy with other commitments outside school, including being a member of the Sangguniang Kabataan in Tarlac and learning how to fly planes. “He was some sort of a reserved officer in the Air Force.”
That early, he had jumped into politics, a natural thing to do, according to Hofileña, for one born to the part almost.
“I think that even then he was motivated by a calling for public service that characterized also his own father’s public life,” La Viña says. “At the same time, Gibo was not necessarily interested in holding power for its own sake.”
Yet while they were just students, Hofileña says Teodoro and his study buddies shared the same, simple goal: to become lawyers. Running for president was not part of it at all. Thus, when Teodoro finally decided to do so, even his law school friends were stunned to some degree.
Changed for better
“He became congressman for three terms and had a Cabinet position. He has the political pedigree. He has that material,” Hofileña concedes but adds that he did not foresee Teodoro gunning for the presidency either. “I did not think he would run for President but I always knew he was destined for great things,” says Quimbo.
Just the same, to these friends, “Gibo” has not changed much at all. If at all, he has changed for the better.
“Gibo now is more mature and progressive than he used to be,” La Viña says. “Although we later became good friends, our political positions on many issues differed a lot. Gilbert tended to be quite conservative on issues where I thought radical, even revolutionary change, was necessary.”
La Viña describes “Gibo” as “more pro-human rights and pro-poor than I thought was possible.”
Hofileña sees “still the same humble guy we knew way back in his college years… brilliant, very intelligent; he answers questions very well… knows what he says but in a very unassuming way.” The new twist though is his campaign has compelled him to be a little bolder.
And despite his crazy schedule in politics and public service, just like the good old days, his study buddies say “Gibo” still remembers how to have fun. And “fun” in Teodoro’s book, according to Quimbo, is “singing karaoke with the boys.” – PCIJ, April 2010