Interview with OVP Spokesperson Atty. Barry Gutierrez The Chiefs on One News
Hosts: Luchi Cruz-Valdez, Amy Pamintuan, Roby Alampay
ROBY ALAMPAY: We have with us the Spokesperson for Vice President Leni Robredo, Atty. Barry Gutierrez.
HOSTS: Good evening!
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Good evening, Roby! Good evening, Ma’am Luchi. Good evening, Ma’am Amy.
ROBY ALAMPAY: Attorney, buti kayo iyong spokesman kasi kahapon ang spokesman si Congressman Andaya, eh. [laughter] Sabi niya nagkita raw sila—nagkita raw sila ni Vice President Leni Robredo. It was a political consultation as far as we could understand it. And sinabi niya may usapan na raw and on schedule pa raw that Vice President Leni Robredo is going to run for governor of Camarines Sur. Totoo bang nagkita sila first of all? Nag-usap ba talaga sila about political plans? And what can you say about the—sabi niya announcement na raw iyon, eh—what can you say about the announcement of Congressman Andaya?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Noong una ko ngang kinausap si VP Leni kagabi, una ko munang chineck muna kung pinalitan na niya ako as spokesman kasi baka iba na, ‘di ba. [laughter] Pero mukhang ako pa naman so… To answer your question, they—sa aking pagkakaalam, the last time they talked was months ago. As in hindi recent. And as far as I know, it was in the context of iyong relief operations pa dahil magkaprobinsya naman talaga sila, eh, ‘di ba, sa CamSur. So as to political plans, very clear naman iyong statement ni VP this morning when she said that there is no final decision on running for governor. She remains open to run for president. And that has been her position and consistent statement ever since, you know, speculation about her plans for 2022 have come up. This is by now familiar ground to us.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: But how do you react to reports that she has moved residence and that in fact, that is in preparation for running for governor? Iyan ang sinabi ni Congressman Andaya sa amin kagabi, ano, na mayroon na raw siyang card at ang bagong address niya nga ay Naga which signals nga her—
ROBY ALAMPAY: Outside of Naga.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: —outside of Naga, her intention of running for governor.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, again, this is not something new. About a month ago, Senator Trillanes raised the same issue and the Vice President has responded to that. She has explained that the reason why she got her card in a barangay outside of Naga is because she and her siblings last year, after the death of their mother, decided to procure their property outside of kasalukuyang tinitirhan nila ngayon because of, well, the sad memories associated with that place. They were able to locate one in that barangay. And when she was there a few months ago, she got her national ID card from the barangay. So that was certainly not a political decision. That was a family decision on their part. And again, hindi bago iyon. Na-discuss na iyon before and she has responded.
ROBY ALAMPAY: But, Atty. Barry Gutierrez, you did tell me kanina sa The Big Story, you reiterated she remains open to running for president, but the fact remains that she remains open to run for governor as well.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Yes, she’s been very clear din naman noon that she has not eliminated any of the options before her and that includes running for a local position, that includes running for president, and that even includes simply, you know, stepping back from politics after six years—a difficult six years—as vice president. So, klaro naman iyon. She has not changed her position. She is not playing coy. She has been very clear that she has not made a decision but she will make a decision, and when that time comes, she will be the one to announce it and let everybody know.
AMY PAMINTUAN: Teka, Attorney, ngayong June 12 magkakaroon ng nomination process, uumpisahan ng 1Sambayan, ‘di ba? Papaano kung siya iyong lumabas na iyong pinakamalaking choice ng mga tao? And how early will she announce her decision kaya?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, I’ve heard her say that it could be as late as September. It could be sooner than September. But quite honestly, the only person who can say at this point is her. She’s going through her own process. She has said that she will respect the 1Sambayan process, but it’s hard to speculate at this point kung ano ang mangyayari, kung siya ang mapili. Hindi pa naman nangyayari but everybody can rest assured that she is weighing this very carefully. She takes her responsibility as the leader of the opposition very seriously. And in her own time, she will make her decision known.
AMY PAMINTUAN: But she will be part of a campaign team. Do you think, as a political strategy and considering iyong mga nangyayari sa Pilipinas kapag iyong mga maaagang nagde-declare dito eh dumadami ang kaaway eh, do you think it’s a good idea for her to declare at this time? And how late can she make her mind up?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, to begin with, totoo iyon. Nobody has actually declared. All the people that are being floated as possible presidential candidates in 2022, none of them has actually come out and actually say, “I’m running in the elections,” you know. Everybody is playing coy or they have other people supposedly create a clamor for them to run. So at this point, I’m not really surprised that nobody has come forward. But in the case of the Vice President, she has been very consistent even before this entire conversation has heated up in the last few weeks. Start of the year, she has been very clear: “my focus is still COVID.” We are still much in the midst of implementing COVID response operations at the office and that’s what takes up her time. So, that’s really the reality so she will make the decision once it’s time.
ROBY ALAMPAY: If you will say that she will respect the process of 1Sambayan, what does that mean? Does respecting the process mean abiding by and obliging its decision?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, again, I can’t answer to, you know, speculations, or—
ROBY ALAMPAY: No, it’s not speculation. It’s the point that she will respect the process of 1Sambayan. So ang tanong po doon, what does that mean na if she will respect the process of 1Sambayan? If the 1Sambayan, at the end of the process, “Vice President, kayo po ang tumakbo for president,” will she oblige herself to say yes and—
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Respecting the process simply means that she understands the need for the opposition to unite around a common candidate. She thinks that the 1Sambayan process is a good venue for actually attempting to reach this particular unity. But as to whether she will decide to run in the end regardless of what 1Sambayan says, that is something that is left to her judgment.
ROBY ALAMPAY: So it’s a real possibility that 1Sambayan that, “we, after this entire process, we believe that Vice President Leni Robredo,” and notwithstanding that, it is a distinct possibility that the Vice President will lay all the process to waste?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well again, I cannot answer, Roby. I do not know.
ROBY ALAMPAY: Just a possibility. You’re saying that that’s a possibility. That’s a scenario here.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: That is probably a scenario, but how likely that scenario is is, of course, a different matter altogether. But that’s what it means when you say that you have not made a decision, and that’s what it means when you say that the decision will ultimately be left to the Vice President. She will have to make the decision on her own. It will have to be based on her judgment. Obviously, there will be great weight placed on the opinions or the support of other people in the opposition and, of course, the 1Sambayan process will play a role in that. But ultimately, it will be her deciding.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: How much weight does she give the 1Sambayan movement, I mean that coalition? I mean, she’s the leader now of the LP, but 1Sambayan now is the one moving to unify opposition forces. How does she view 1Sambayan? Is she just following it and maybe just one of the participant members, or doesn’t she feel the need to take a lead role because that’s what she is essentially?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, she is taking a lead role in terms of performing her duties as Vice President. She is taking a lead role whenever she makes a position on an issue known, when she expresses her opinion on certain policies, particularly with respect to the ongoing COVID response operations of government. Her view on 1Sambayan is it is a legitimate process to come to some kind of unity because obviously she recognizes—she is the chairperson of the Liberal Party, yes, but it is not the Liberal Party which is the only player in the current political spectrum. And if the opposition is going to have any chance, you want as many people and as many groups as possible under your tent and that’s what 1Sambayan provides. It’s a more or less neutral venue where people from various persuasions can come together and, hopefully, come to some level of unity and agreement. But clearly, she recognizes she’s leader of the opposition. She’s chairperson of the Liberal Party. She’s the highest-ranking elected official that is part of the opposition and she discharges her duty in her day-to-day activities even without, you know, directly participating in any kind of open process right now to pick who will run in 2022.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: Is LP itself not moving toward, well, actually positioning itself in preparation for the elections or—
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, LP is moving and they have a—I’m not part of LP so I can’t speak for them, but members of the Liberal Party have actually gone on record. They have spoken up that their first choice, their candidate for president will be Vice President Leni Robredo. If she decides to run, their support will be full and unequivocal, and that right now, they’re already moving to prepare the ground for a possible presidential run for the VP or whoever else it is that will stand as the presidential candidate. So, it’s not simply because there is no official candidate yet. Nobody has declared openly. It does not mean that there is nothing going on. All the preparations are being made by all these groups. So I don’t think that’s really a concern at this point.
AMY PAMINTUAN: Attorney, I’m sure you’re also monitoring what happening on the other side. Are you expecting the administration to field several candidates or are you also expecting a uni—a common candidate?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, it’s really hard to say at this point. The latest announcement from Malacañang where they were saying that the President would endorse any of these—there’s like five candidates there—if that’s an indicator, then that could lead to the administration fielding several candidates or at least, several candidates affiliated or allied with the administration throwing their hat in the ring. So, it’s hard to say. I’m not privy to the internal workings of the administration party so I can only speculate along with everybody else what the eventually might look like.
AMY PAMINTUAN: But do you think it would be better for the opposition to have to face several candidates endorsed by the administration?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, let’s put it this way: the more candidates there are, the lower the winning threshold will be. So I suppose, it will be easier for any candidate to actually win if the vote will be divided among more people running.
ROBY ALAMPAY: Attorney, ano po ang pananaw ni Ginang Robredo doon sa proposition to let President Duterte run for vice president? And kayo na rin po, as a lawyer, what’s your opinion on that?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, honestly, she has not talked to me about it, so I wouldn’t know what she felt about it. Me, as a lawyer, as far as I understand, it’s allowed under the Constitution. But well, as to advisability, it’s really up to them. We don’t like it when people who are not part of the opposition, when they keep commenting on what the Vice President’s plans are, so I will likewise extend the same courtesy and not comment on what the plans of the administration are at this point. That’s their process. Let them go through with it.
ROBY ALAMPAY: But that’s to say that you will leave this to the political arena? This will not play out in the legal front?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, speaking purely for myself and the people I have talked to, there are no plans to raise that. But of course, there is no shortage of lawyers in this country. And whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, you know, it’s not the point but it often leads to somebody raising legal issues whenever legal issues can be raised. We’ve seen that happen in the past and I’m sure that 2022 will not be different.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: How do you honestly feel about the chances of the opposition at this point?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, clearly it will be an uphill battle. You are going up against a popular president based on the surveys. You are going by a very well-oiled, very extensive social media machinery, and considering where we are in terms of achieving herd immunity and getting back to a certain level of normal, we don’t know what the campaign will look like. In fact, it might be a campaign that will largely be fought out on social media. So that’s definitely an advantage. But ultimately, we believe that, you know, every election is a roll of the dice. So there’s always the possibility that things will change and going by historical precedent in the past two presidential elections, people who were leading the surveys at this point in time—you know, June of the previous year—none of them ended up winning the presidency ultimately. So it’s really too early to say. A lot of things will happen and obviously, effort and strategy will play a big role in the next few months. So we acknowledge that it’s an uphill battle, but it’s definitely a winnable battle as far as we’re concerned.
ROBY ALAMPAY: If the campaign season started now, how should the opposition be framing the issues and what are the issues for 2022?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, I think the clearest issue is really governance, particularly with respect to the two things that, you know, that have affected people’s lives in the past years, and it’s COVID and the economy. So clearly, anybody who will be wanting to have the leadership of the country for the next six years entrusted to them should have a clear plan and a clear idea as to what we can do to get us out of this crisis that we are currently in. So it’s going to be about that: who has the better, clearer vision for where our country can be taken in the next six years after this crisis is overcome?
AMY PAMINTUAN: You think human rights will still be an issue by 2022? EJKs?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, I’m a human rights lawyer by background, and as much as it pains me to say it, none of the surveys seem to indicate that human rights is a top of mind concern, at least for the majority. That’s not to say that it should not be raised, or it should not be part of what’s front and center, insofar as the agenda of the next administration will be. But insofar as being an election issue is concerned, I don’t think that it will get much play, at least in the campaign.
AMY PAMINTUAN: Will the China issue be a concern for voters? Because surveys show that China has very low trust rating and it’s an issue, what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I think that China will be definitely be an issue, particularly with developments in the past few weeks. You know, that huge fleet of ships entering our seas and the exchanges between our own Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese government. So I think that’s going to be an issue. As you’ve said, it’s a very emotional issue for many Filipinos and there is a lot of conversation online going on about that particular issue. So I think that’s something that would come up in the campaign.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: I’m curious that you said that the fact that the elections will most likely be waged in social media is going to be an advantage. How is that an advantage to you considering that, well, many pundits say that the strength of the Duterte administration just before the elections, and soon after, precisely laid the fact that they were able to play social media very well, and at this point, I think people will agree na they have reached expert status as far as playing the social media to their advantage. How is that an advantage to the opposition?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I actually agree with you, Ma’am Luchi. What I meant was that the fact that it would be waged largely on social media is really an edge to the administration.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: Oh, for the admin.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Yes, that’s why it’s an uphill battle for us. But my take is—and this is our experience over the course of the last five years, where the Vice President has been on the receiving end of so many attacks, fake news and all that on social media—that while there might be an advantage in volume insofar as, you know, the machinery is already placed, are concerned, so long as you hit the right chord, hit the right message, there is organic support that can be mustered on social media. Just this past year, in the relief efforts that the Vice President has undertaken in the context of COVID, all our requests for help, all our calls for assistance were made via social media, and the response has been overwhelming. So while, you know, conventional wisdom might have it at, you know, there is a machinery here in place that will be difficult to contest, and you know, we will not dispute that, there is also an opportunity here to actually muster the participation of ordinary citizens and we saw that. We’ve seen that in action over the past years. And our hope is, we will be able to actually harness the same level of energy and enthusiasm using the tools of social media for the 2022 campaign.
ROBY ALAMPAY: But other than social media, talk a bit more about the constraints of anticipating that COVID will continue. It won’t still be a completely new normal by next year, and should COMELEC come out with protocols and rules that make it harder to have physical rallies and to do campaigns, you know, how would that affect options, the opportunities and the chances of the opposition?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, speaking from the perspective of a possible candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo, one of her strengths has always been face-to-face campaigning. So obviously, if there are limitations on how much face-to-face campaigning can be done, if there are restrictions on travel where, you know, you go to a particular place and then you have to quarantine for two weeks, that’s obviously something that would be difficult. But again, I think that difficult circumstances are occasion for trying out more innovative approaches. One thing that we started to try out in the midterm elections, to a certain amount of success—although I think ultimately it was not enough—was having a community-based grassroots campaign, where instead of candidates actually going around, you have people that have organized in various places doing the house-to-house, neighbor-to-neighbor, retail-type of campaign, and that is something that we have been able to build on since 2019. So I think given the circumstances, that’s another possible innovation that can play apart in what the campaign will be in the next few months, particularly if restrictions will be in place.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: What about the—
AMY PAMINTUAN: Do you feel there’s an active effort to make the Vice President declare her interest in the presidential race early? Do you suspect this?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, that has crossed my mind. I’m sure it has crossed the mind of every political analyst out there as well. Because as you correctly pointed out earlier, Ma’am Amy, the person who runs ahead of the pack this early usually gets shot. That’s the lesson we have learned, you know, in previous elections and previous campaigns before. But you know, that said, I also think that to a certain extent, there’s a legitimate interest particularly from among the supporters of the Vice President herself. They want some level of certainty and I think it’s a measure also of their eagerness. They want to—they’re excited about the elections. They want the campaign to start. So that’s why there’s a great degree of interest in hearing the Vice President talk about her plans. And while we appreciate that enthusiasm, we understand where they are coming from, we have been trying to tell them that, you know, let her have her space, let her have her time, and trust that in the end, she knows her duty and she will not let us all down.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: Well, ang disadvantage din ng declaring too late is iyong pondo, ‘di ba. Kasi I mean, you know, whoever will fund who, whoever your supporters are, ‘di ba, who might want to fund your campaign, hindi nila malalaman until you actually show signs of interest. I mean, I’m sure that has also crossed your mind, ano. So iyon nga, we’ll have to push it again: when do you think is the right time? Because September might be a bit too late. By that time, they may have placed their bets on others who have declared their run, right? I mean, agawan din ng limited resources iyan, ‘di ba?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Ultimately, I think that if by August or September the Vice President has not yet announced, there will be those willing to wait for her to make the announcement. I mean, in previous elections, the people who ultimately support candidates don’t do go all out early on. Yes, they will probably support something but they will also be looking at how the entire thing plays out.
ROBY ALAMPAY: But, Attorney, the counterpoint that you said that there will be those who are willing to wait is obviously, there will be those who cannot wait. And will you agree that in that context, 1Sambayan now is the platform for a potentially unified opposition. But obviously, one of the biggest things in keeping everybody united and disciplined at this point is still the very real prospect of the Vice President running for president. But conversely, if she does not declare and she remains coy and not declaring anything until August, until September, the longer she waits, the bigger the chances as well of that platform fraying. As the leader of the opposition, doesn’t she feel that part of the responsibility is for her to give a very clear signal?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: She’s aware of that and that I’m sure that will factor in to whatever decision she will ultimately make. [laughter]
HOSTS: Ang galing!
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I’m sorry! But the thing is really—and I have talked to a lot of people you can imagine during the course of the last few months, and always the question is, first of all, when—is the Vice President running? When is she going to declare? And the thing is, ultimately, we have to give her space, and we can focus on doing all the preparations, we can focus on doing what we can at this point, but ultimately, the decision is hers. If we trust her to be president ultimately, then we have to trust her to make this particular decision. And knowing the Vice President as I do, she’s really placing a lot of weight on this decision. She knows her responsibility, probably better than any other—
ROBY ALAMPAY: But, Attorney, if we could be blunt and I think I’m channeling the thoughts of some—
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: [laughs] You haven’t been blunt yet, Roby?
ROBY ALAMPAY: [chuckles] Now this is not to minimize how serious this question is. I mean we completely empathize, not just with the Vice President but anybody considering a run. We know how vicious it is in this country. But that the—it’s not that the people don’t trust her to try to consider this responsibly. Frankly, a lot of people don’t trust the opposition to run a decent campaign. And they feel that it starts with getting a clear signal from the leaders of the opposition. And if there is no clear signal from the leaders of the leaders of the opposition, people are getting that familiar feeling again that here comes the opposition again, got swept in 2019, it’s the same people running that campaign that had zero wins—that’s here running the campaign now. And the leader is still not sending a signal so people are getting that… the feeling that, “Hey, saan pupunta ito? We don’t have any clear message from the leader.”
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I think the message is clear. I mean, she’s been very clear as to what her positions are, what her priorities are, what her priorities will be, what her proposals are for a lot of things in relation to where we should take the country. The only thing that remains up in the air is whether she will run in 2022 or not. So—
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: No, but that’s why—that’s what I meant by why are you letting 1Sambayan lead this? Shouldn’t it be VP Leni as leader of the opposition? I mean, she’s the highest profile member and in fact, leader of the opposition, and yet it’s a group called 1Sambayan who’s leading the charge now.
ROBY ALAMPAY: Yeah, that launched just two months ago.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: Yes, yes. I mean, why is she allowing this?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s not a matter of allowing or not, you know. It’s not as if 1Sambayan is like, “Okay, we’re gonna do this. Step aside.” It doesn’t work that way. The Vice President is clear as to what her duty is, and she is discharging it as best as she can. 1Sambayan is a completely different process intended to try and unite the opposition. And I think the reason why the Vice President, at least in principle, supports the idea behind 1Sambayan is the simple fact that she recognizes that if we’re going to mount the best campaign that we can in 2022, it can’t simply be just LP. It can’t be the same old people. You mentioned it before, 2019, well, you know, that’s the problem—it was limited to just one group. So 1Sambayan is an attempt to actually forge a broader amount of alliance among a greater number of groups, not just one party but you know, all the likeminded organizations and individuals who feel that 2022 should be time for a change. We can’t have more of the same administration continuing. So, precisely, the fact that she is allowing that process to actually unfold and express support for such a process is her exercising her leadership role responsibly. She’s not insisting na, “Kami lang ito. At kung gusto niyong sumama, dapat dito lang sa amin.” She’s recognizing na “kung mananalo tayo, dapat mas malawak iyong ating hanay.” And this is it.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: But does it mean that she will also concede to whatever the decision is? Meaning, what if they decide na si Isko Moreno? Will she concede?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, again, I cannot answer that question. I do not know what 1Sambayan’s ultimate decision will be, and again, whatever it is, while it will play a part in her ultimate decision, it will not be the only factor that she will consider in deciding whether or not to run for 2022. But her priority is clear: she wants the best possible candidate with the best, broadest possible support behind that person for 2022 and she will do what needs to be done in order to ensure that.
AMY PAMINTUAN: Speaking of candidates, what does the Vice President’s camp, whether you or her, think of Sara Duterte running for president?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Again, Ma’am Amy, I don’t really want to comment on other camps, ‘di ba. If some other people feel she should run, and that doing so is an affirmation of this administration then you know, feel free to believe that. Ultimately, this conversation will be had repeatedly over the course of the campaign, and the outcome of this conversation will actually determine the outcome of 2022. So you know, I won’t throw my opinion in the ring this early. The very fact that we’re part of the opposition, I think that’s already an indicator of what I would say, right?
AMY PAMINTUAN: I’m asking this kasi si Isko Moreno medyo nag-salvo na kanina, eh. Sabi niya, presidency shouldn’t be inherited. Government office shouldn’t be inherited.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Yeah, which tells you that it’s campaign season now, right? Okay.
LUCHI CRUZ-VALDEZ: So since napag-uusapan ang campaign season, anong basa mo nga sa mga moves ni Congressman Andaya na mayroon nang mga “done deal”, and even si VP Leni that she’s going to run for governor. What is that? Is that testing the waters or are they setting the minds of voters? Kumbaga, “ito na, ito na, believe it already.” Ano ba iyong move na iyon? Anong tawag diyan?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, at this point, everything is about conditioning the minds of voters. And obviously, if more people believe that the Vice President has abandoned any intention for seeking national office, you know, that can create a certain level of demoralization, I suppose, among her supporters. So you know, I can’t really speculate as to what [his] motives are. For all I know, he’s just really interested in Camarines Sur. I don’t really know him well enough to be definitive about it.
But definitely, what I will say is that the reason why the Vice President issued a clarification earlier is because she didn’t want this statement confusing anyone—whether it’s still people who are undecided as to who they will support, or her own supporters who have been pushing for her consistently to declare her candidacy for president.
ROBY ALAMPAY: Okay, Atty. Barry Gutierrez, spokesperson for Vice President Leni Robredo. Maraming salamat po!
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Thank you, everyone, and good evening!
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