Interview with OVP Spokesperson Atty. Barry Gutierrez Dateline on ANC
Host: Karmina Constantino
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: From there, we’re going to get the side of Vice President Leni Robredo. We’re now joined by her spokesperson Atty. Barry Gutierrez. Atty. Barry, good afternoon to you! Thanks for joining us today. You heard all that former Senator had to say.
Is the Vice President sort of diluting her equity by going on all these talks with possible presidential contenders? One already confirmed Senator Panfilo Lacson. Go ahead, Atty. Gutierrez.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Good afternoon, Karmina. First of all, let’s be clear: it was a meeting—it was an initial meeting. There was no backing out. There was no alliance formed. There was no political decision made. It was an initial meeting. So I think that to begin with, it is a complete overreaction to conclude that based on a single news report where two people met that, you know, all these consequences will inevitably unfold. Listening to Senator Trillanes, it’s as if he’s already assuming that the Vice President will withdraw or if not, then the Vice President will already form an alliance with all these people that she talked to. That’s so far from the truth.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: So tell us, Atty. Gutierrez, what is the guiding principle behind all these meetings with Senator Panfilo Lacson, Senator Richard Gordon? I mean, we all know where they stand.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: The guiding principle has been the same guiding principle from the start that the Vice President has declared that if we want to win in 2022, we have to start talking to people outside our own echo chambers. That’s the basic idea. If we want a strong run in 2022, if we want to have a candidate that will actually win and provide a change of direction after the 2022 elections, then we have to create the broadest possible basis of unity that we can. And that’s what she’s doing. She’s talking to these people. She’s exploring whether it will be, in fact, possible to establish some kind of unity with them. If not, then, you know, we go our own separate ways. But if we do not make the effort at all, if we immediately—write them off immediately and not even initiate a simple conversation, then we will only be talking to the people who have been with us ever since and the problem with that is clearly, we won’t have the numbers, not just for the elections but if you want to govern, you’re not just going to be talking to people who agree with you. You will be talking to a greater swath of the entire [Filipino] public and I think that’s all the Vice President is doing here.
Besides, if I may say so, Senator Trillanes’ concerns, you know, are better addressed with a text message rather than a tweet. If he had questions about kung ano anong pinag-usapan sa meeting, ibig sabihin ba nito ganito ganiyan, then he should have just reached out, ‘di ba. He says he considers himself an ally. He has repeatedly said he considers the Vice President the leader of the opposition and that she should run and he will give way as president, and yet every time something like this happens, instead of reaching out to the VP or to anybody within the Liberal Party, he will immediately come up with this kind of declaration. And the declaration actually puts the Vice President already in a particular position: “She’s withdrawing and we won’t be able to support her if she does.” Come on? We’re nowhere near that.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: So if—having said that, do you think the Vice President needs someone like the former Senator with her in her team?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, he has always been part of the group within the opposition that the Vice President has been talking to throughout all these years. That’s why I am surprised why he simply does not reach out if his concerns are, “hindi ko alam kung anong napag-usapan. I heard it’s on the news.” Isn’t that the more logical course? Call or message or at least ask instead of immediately tweeting and making your own conclusions that are based on, you know, on obviously incomplete information.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: The former Senator, though, raised a valid point. The talks are brokered by no less than LP President Senator Kiko Pangilinan with someone who, according to him, was partly reponsible for the unjust imprisonment of the Vice President’s partymate, Senator Leila de Lima. What’s your reaction to that?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well first of all, I am insulted that he would even bring that up, ‘di ba. I am insulted at the insinuation that the Vice President has somehow, you know, not done all she can to support Senator Leila de Lima. If you go through all these last four years ever since Senator Leila was imprisoned, the Vice President has been very consistent in speaking about the unjustness of what happened to Senator Leila. She has been very consistent in her support and I am insulted, actually, that Senator Trillanes would even bring that up to, you know, to score a point.
But anyway, setting that aside for the moment, I think “brokered” is a term that we should make clear. He arranged the meeting and as I’ve said—and I will go back—it’s a meeting. It’s a conversation, ano. It’s an initial exploration of “can we work together? Would you still be willing to withdraw? Is it possible that we can come up with some kind of an arrangement?” At the end of the day, you know, whether an agreement will actually be forged, whether anything will come from the meeting, you know, it’s up in the air. And at the end of the day, the Vice President will still decide on the basis of what she feels is best insofar as 2022 is concerned. She has been very, very clear—the imperative for 2022 is to ensure a change in direction in the way national politics has been run in the last five years and she will do what she can in order to make that happen, if that means she will be the candidate, then she will do it. We have repeatedly said this: she will make her decision at the appropriate time. We will announce at the appropriate time. All we ask is that she be given the trust and the space to do so. Senator Trillanes says that he respects that but every now and then, he will make these statements which seem to indicate that he is not actually willing to extend to her the trust and the space.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: And one of the statements he made today just a few minutes ago when he basically cast doubt on the motivation of the so-called broad coalition. You were there. You were listening. What do you make of that?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I was actually surprised. And I was actually surprised that he even went so far as to question whether we have opposed the administration? Come on! The Vice President has been [at] the receiving end of probably the most vicious, negative campaign on social media that we have ever seen in our entire history. She is regularly maligned by high-ranking members of this administration. And she has continuously spoken up on the issues that she feels are important—everything, from human rights to extrajudicial killings to the handling of the pandemic, and so on and so forth. So I do not know where he is coming from. I mean, I am frankly baffled as to where he is getting all these things. He knows what the Vice President has been doing.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: Yeah, and this is not the first time that you’ve been baffled. We’ve talked about this before in our past interviews every time the Senator comes out with a statement and not, as you said, sent a text message to your group to clarify things. The question that’s now left to be asked is after all of that and after your reaction today, can you still work with former Senator Antonio Trillanes? Is there still space for him in this coalition?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I would like to think so. You know, he has always been a valued ally, particularly in these last five years despite the fact that, you know, in 2016, he actually ran against the Vice President. But you know, we’ve put that aside. We were able to work with him. I personally like him. Personally, I admire his courage and his outspokenness. But all we want—what I want to say to him right now is really, if you have concerns and we are allies, you can always just reach out. That’s the point. When he came out with this exposé a few weeks ago seemingly indicating that the Vice President is now going to run for a local position because of the fact that I found out that she changed residence, which is false by the way, I already said this, you should first reach out instead of, you know, coming out with a public announcement, yet here we are again. You know, I would still like to think that there is a lot of room to work with him. There are still a lot of common principles. We have nothing but the highest respect for him. That’s why I find it so strange that he would say something like, “were they even with us?” Come on.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: You know what people find strange as well, Atty. Gutierrez, the fact that the Vice President is focusing on her numbers. She keeps on saying or focusing on the six percent that she has right now. What do you make of the observation that the VP is focused too much on that? Why not focus, according to some, on presenting herself as a formidable option come 2022? That that six percent is only there now because she hasn’t declared?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: I think, first of all, that it’s erroneous to say that the Vice President is focusing too much on the numbers—she is not. She is looking at the numbers certainly. That is one of the things that she is considering in looking at 2022. But by no means is it the deciding factor or the only factor that she is looking at. She has repeatedly said, “the easiest thing for me to do is simply to declare and be done with it.” But she looks at it from a bigger view. There is an imperative that she is trying to live up to insofar as 2022 is concerned and that is doing what is needed in order to ensure that there is a change after the elections. So her thinking is, “if I’m really going to be the best person to stand up, then no hesitation I will do it. But I have to take into account what if my running actually leads to dividing the votes among all those in the opposition and we get a continuation of what we have right now.” I think, that’s her main concern. At the end of the day, I think that she will always decide on the basis of what she thinks will be best for the country insofar as the elections are concerned. Personal ambition has never been at the forefront of any consideration insofar as the Vice President is concerned. Her record will bear that out and I think that, you know, people should take a look at that and, you know, trust her that any decision she makes will not be based on just the number or her chances or her own personal ambitions, but what she feels is best for the country.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: What do you say, finally, Atty. Gutierrez, before we let you go, what do you say to the concern that as she goes around, talks to these people, forms whatever alliances down the road, that she might actually be diluting this broad coalition by sort of muddling the lines? Senator Trillanes there made a point. He thought this is all going to be about change but then, there’s that concern that as you go for this change and you form that broad coalition, then the lines seem to get blurred and the lines seem to get muddled, where will the change come from now and how will that change look like? It might just look like business as usual and as the Senator pointed out earlier, it may just be a coalition for convenience. What do you say to that?
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: Well, first of all, the fear that the lines may be muddled and that this might be a coalition for convenience is simply speculation on the part of Senator Trillanes, you know. He’ll forgive me if I point that out. The Vice President is very clear, you know, any decision, any possible alliance, any possible cooperation, still has to be anchored on a shared set of principles, a share unity insofar as 2022 is concerned. So the point is, we should trust that the Vice President talks to all these people, all these players with that in mind and that she will not enter into any agreement, she will not enter into any coalition, she will not make any decision without considering that. If that is clear to Senator Trillanes personally, he should also trust that that is very clear to the Vice President. She has been very consistent in what she stands for. She has been very consistent in what she expects and wants to happen in 2022 and that will be her guiding light in any conversation she conducts. But make no mistake, the conversations have to happen. They are conversations. Now, after the conversations it’s clear it’s not possible to unite with any of these people because, you know, we’re just too far apart. Then, we move on and pursue 2022 on our own terms or with other likeminded people that we may be closer to. But the effort to establish that broad unity has to happen and the Vice President is precisely doing that because she is serious in wanting to see change in the next elections.
KARMINA CONSTANTINO: Atty. Barry Gutierrez there, spokesperson of Vice President Leni Robredo. Thanks again for joining us this noon. Always a pleasure talking to you. Take care and keep safe.
ATTY. BARRY GUTIERREZ: You too, Karmina, keep safe. Thank you.
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