SOME outstanding individuals in the past could have made fine presidents of the Philippines, like Claro M. Recto, Jose W. Diokno, Rafael Salas and Raul Manglapus. But it is not competence and integrity that put one in the highest office of the land. Rather, it is popularity.

The most lopsided presidential election win happened when popular actor-politician Joseph Estrada got the highest number of votes. And we know how he ended up: as a convict.

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One of the candidates for president in this year’s elections that could make a difference if he wins is Sen. Richard Gordon.

I must say that I was not a fan of Gordon in the past because he was a Marcos supporter, a US bases advocate and an “imposing” guest.

I found out the latter when we invited Gordon as guest speaker in a Philippine Institute of CPAs forum and we came to realize later that the organization had to pay for the fuel of the private jet that took him to Cebu. (On hindsight, it was good that he didn’t charge it against government coffers.)

So why would Gordon be good for our nation? The man is principled. He took a strong, though unpopular, stand against the removal of US bases to save Olongapo City, which was dependent on Subic Naval Base. Gordon also fought against President Estrada’s decision to put a political appointee at the Subic Economic Zone.

The guy is an achiever. A look at his credentials will reveal that he was a constitutional convention delegate at a young age, after which he pursued a degree in law and worked later in the prestigious Accra law office. He turned the abandoned Subic Naval Base into a model economic zone. As tourism guru, he made the Philippines a sought-after destination with his “Wow Philippines” campaign.

Most importantly, Gordon knows what he wants, works hard to make things happen and, often, succeeds. I can attest to that because when I worked as chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC)-Cebu Chapter, where Gordon served as national chairman.

When Gordon took over as head of the humanitarian organization, he shook everything up. He instituted drastic changes in the management of the derelict institution, urged paid staff to deliver services more professionally and demanded elected trustees to set themselves up as genuine examples of volunteerism.

Of course, he earned the ire of a few people, but accolade came from many others in the organization who took their tasks more seriously. It was during the tenure of Gordon that PNRC was at the forefront in responding to calamities and in dealing with the Abu Sayyaf bandits who kidnapped Red Cross workers.

During the presidential forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Gordon enumerated the priority measures he will take in the first 100 days if elected, namely maximizing revenues, minimizing expenses and 24-hour accessible government. He also said that he would attend to the energy shortage, intensify tourism and focus on high school vocational education. He is right on track

One trait of Gordon that should make him the kind of leader this country needs: commitment. When he sets his mind on a program, he gives his all and expects others to do so as well. He can be bullheaded, a bit dictatorial, but that may just be the way to push us all to work for the better.

Richard Gordon may not make a popular leader, but he can be one fine president.