Defensor
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Mike Defensor, Team Unity senatorial candidate, is associated with President Arroyo even in jokes - he was said to be the "little President” when he was still her Chief of Staff, while she was the "very little President," referring to their relatively diminutive statures.

Defensor joked about his height himself when he was asked in an earlier interview1 about his choice of “Walking ‘Tol” as his campaign slogan.

“Because I wouldn’t want to be remembered as short, for one?” he replied.

Defensor said that his ability to lighten the mood is known by the President. In another interview2, he said that he helped prevent her “notorious fits of anger”, as he called them, in cabinet meetings.

"Before she was so high strung and tense. But now, she can easily switch off from her bursts of anger… I make her laugh or smile when the things we discuss make her angry. It turns the atmosphere a bit lighter," he said.

Defensor’s loyalty to the President is well-known. It was best illustrated two years ago during the “Hello Garci” scandal, when supposed evidence of the President cheating in the 2004 elections surfaced. He presented supposed audio experts who claimed that the "Garci" tapes were tampered with, and later admitted that he was against the President’s public apology, insisting that she was duly elected.

“Really, in my heart and in my mind, I know that the president won the elections,” he said. “If there was impropriety for talking with the commissioner of the commission of elections, she has already apologized for that. But as far as cheating is concerned, as far as subverting the sovereign will of the people, nothing of that sort happened. We won that elections.”

But he added that he will leave the President if, for example, she declares martial law.

“In a question of principle, whether the President is popular or not, I will leave her and there will be no question about it. If I cannot fight it out within, the only way is to leave and to get out,” he said.

Defensor first entered politics as councilor from 1992-1995 of Quezon City, where he was the youngest. He was also the youngest congressman in the 10th Congress in 1995, representing the third district of Quezon City.

He was reelected in 1998, after which he was succeeded by family – first by his sister Ma. Theresa from 2001-2004, then by his father Matias from 2004 up to the present. Other relatives in politics are Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, his aunt; Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor, his uncle; and Former Air Force Chief Benjamin Defensor, another uncle.

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1. Inquirer.net, Eleksyon 2007 podcast interview
2. Marichu Villanueva, Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor: Mike to the Defense (Starweek, 2006).
Defensor authored two laws in his two terms: the law upgrading the Quirino Memorial Medical Center, and the law for fortification of processed foods. He also co-authored the 1998 Dangerous Drugs Act, the law creating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the law amending the Magna Carta of disabled persons, and the law mandating the Nationwide Rabies Vaccination Program.

During his second term, he voted in favor of the Anti-Dumping Act, and against the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the General Banking Law, and the Electronic Commerce Act. He abstained from voting during deliberations for the Philippine Clean Air Act. He was also voted by his party-mates as assistant minority floor leader, and was part of the so-called Spice Boys of the House of Representatives who called for the filing of the impeachment case against then-president Joseph Estrada.

Defensor took up his Masters degree in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines (UP) during his years as a congressman. He finished high school in Ohio in the United States, but it was also in UP where he finished elementary and college.

A student activist, he was former Lord Chancellor of the Alpha Sigma Fraternity, councilor and then vice-chairperson of the University Student Council, and chairperson of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), which disowned him March last year after he told the media to “practice restraint” in their coverage of politics.

“That someone who was once the national president of our organization could utter such statements dismays and infuriates us. We wonder how he could still bear to look at himself in the mirror,” said the NUSP in Kilusan.Net.

Defensor was also chairperson of the Kabataang Liberal ng Pilipinas, program director of the Youth Council of the Philippines, and chairperson of the National Movement of Young Legislators during his early years in politics.

After the EDSA II movement, the President appointed Defensor as secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) from 2001-2004. The housing program is actually one of his advocacies, he said, adding that the country had about four million backlog of houses during his housing stint, as compared to only thousands for other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Brunei.

“So when I was in the housing sector, we were trying to allow these people almost about a million of them, a restructuring of their loans, but we could not do that because there was no law or there was no legal basis for us to do so. And so many of the things that we should be doing, would require policy approvals,” he said.

Defensor’s other advocacy is agrarian reform. He is for the passing of the currently pending bill that will allow agricultural lands to be brought to the banks for collateral, and of another pending bill which will streamline the process of titling lands.

“We have more than 13 million hectares of agricultural lands but none of them can be brought to the banks for collateral purposes because of existing laws, and we have somehow structure that so that we make our laws, we make our agricultural lands productive and people can utilize them in order to finance their agricultural activities,” he explained. “Secondly, there's another law, the law on streamlining titling… processes in the country, and in Thailand, you have a situation where people exchange purchase titles six times more than the Philippines. Primarily because there is no credibility with the titling process [in the Philippines].”

Defensor was appointed as secretary of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources from 2004-2006. The President picked him to be her Chief of Staff last year, but he resigned last month to run for senator.

Now 37 years old, he is married to Julie Rose Tactacan Defensor, a businesswoman who is involved with her family’s successful marketing company, JC Spice. They have four children - Michaela Francesca, Miguel Gabriel, Michael Angelo and Michelle Angela.

Defensor cited the lack of efforts toward reconciliation as one of the three most pressing problems that the country is facing today. According to him, personal biases and fights have delayed the implementation of reforms, including the passing of the national budget.

“For three terms we [have] had a reenacted budget, and [members of other political camps] have been saying or enumerating several provisions of the budget which they do not agree with, but if you really look at those provisions, these were the same provisions that we have had in the past. So it’s not really that… [the problem] is distrust among the members of the Senate and Congress,” he said.

He also considered the economy as one of our biggest problems. He said that while it was improving, it is still not thriving enough for the government to provide more jobs and livelihood.

“I think that is the order of the day – to make sure that we have the proper environment for investments to come in, for people to expand - for the businesses to expand, for the present established businesses that we have not to leave the country,” he said.

Defensor added that he is against a government policy that will promote further deployment of workers, and that market demand should be the basis of this deployment.

“But of course the dream of every Filipino, of every Filipino leader, the dream of every Filipino president, is to have… an environment in the country where people do not have to leave in order to look for greener pastures,” he said.

Basic services, including housing and education, were also in Defensor’s list of the country’s biggest problems. Regarding education, he is in favor of a greater budget allocation for education in order to uplift the quality of education especially in state universities and colleges. He also is for increased support for education by the private sector through corporate scholarships.

“You signed a contract, they provide you the allowances and the support, and when you graduate, you work for them; of if not, you pay a certain amount of pay for the scholarship that they provided you,” he said.

He also is for a “ladderized education system” wherein high school students will already be trained for the course or job that they want.

“Students in high school can already learn about… the vocational and technical skills development that is needed for them,” he added. “For example, you already have a growing demand for medical transcription…by going through high school by learning the skills, they can already develop the necessary skills that you need in order for you to work and earn a decent living.”

In explaining his stand on reproductive rights, Defensor said that he was “pro-life’, but that he also supported methods other than the Church-approved natural family planning method. He added that to prevent any clash with the Church, the government can give the opportunity to advocates of other family planning methods to “educate the people, particularly the poor.”

“I think there should really be a grave effort to face this challenge and to make sure that we are able to address the problem of sustainability, not just of the environment, but sustainability of the health, the education, of the respective families,” he said.

Defensor is also for the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), especially on provisions that he said needed more definition, like those on custody. But he also added that we should also take the military and economic cooperation we have with the United States into consideration.

“I was already questioning the provisions of custody [back in Congress], because I felt that, in the future, there would be a question not only of custody but of sovereignty… You know, its not so much a question of sovereignty but what is the overall positive contribution of the VFA towards the country – in terms of security, in terms of economic development, in terms of development of Mindanao, and so on and so forth. All these have to be balanced,” he said.—Denise Fontanilla

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