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Age, chemistry and Mar’s Achilles’ heel exposed in debate

opinion / Columnists
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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Age, chemistry and Mar’s Achilles’ heel exposed in debate

SOME CONCEPTS were “borrowed” from the US presidential debates, a GMA 7 executive intimated to a foreign observer, referring to the way the first of “PiliPinas” presidential debates, which was held in Cagayan de Oro City, was conducted. Did it give the public some of its wrong impressions? Under our multiparty system, the American-style tit-for-tat debates—acerbic as they can get under the outspoken American culture but without getting too personal—would have been impossible.

A proper context must then be found for the benign Filipino choler without sacrificing the substance and noble aim of a debate to educate the Filipino electorate.

Even so, age came out as a startling revelation and critical factor among the five candidates. Miriam Defensor Santiago spoke in a voice so frail akin to what one normally hears from a sick geriatric. She has plainly lost the fire and the brimstone, and it is clear this election is no longer for her.

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She has also chosen to become irrelevant: by lying that her son Narciso Santiago III “ran for a party-list but did not run for another post after one term.” A fact check by GMA 7 showed that “the younger Santiago is currently a candidate” as a nominee of the Sinag party-list.

Jejomar Binay’s voice was equally fragile. Was it because of his grueling hops around the country? But he never had that fire in the belly as a public orator that Filipinos look for in a candidate. He will be 79 years old when he steps down from the presidency in 2022—how much of that old age will not be overwhelmed by dementia? That should merit an OMG comment on social media.

The live audience inside the theater was treated to a piece of an otherwise flimsy trivia not seen on television: the chemistry between candidates during the agonizingly prolonged commercial breaks.

The space between Binay and Santiago was as cold as ice. But Santiago and Rodrigo Duterte put together a love team, “Duriam,” albeit from a fleeting welcome embrace just before the debate started.

Were the frenzied posts it created on social media proof that the Filipino electorate has become accustomed to watching election candidates doing entertainment acts rather than arguing in debates over issues? Grace Poe and Mar Roxas chatted sparingly, but the chemistry that wasn’t captured by the cameras was between Poe and Duterte: The two engaged each other in a lot of friendly banter during commercial breaks.

Perhaps the debate’s plus side was Roxas’ “peeling” of himself, which laid bare his basic flaws. He began by obliquely inflating his opinion of himself at the expense of his opponents. That was base.

By focusing on the negatives of his rivals, he came out a pathetic shadow of the Aquino presidency whose penchant for its refusal to admit shortcomings is matched by its tendency to lay the blame on others. And the blaming has become a sick refrain we are just dying to extricate ourselves from after six years.

Roxas’ problem is substance. His closing statement came out shallow and callow; in fact, he sounded like a rich, privileged adolescent who wanted the wealthy lifestyle he grew up in to be made affordable as well to the Filipino masses. The effect was condescending.

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All allusions to his so-called pedigree must stop; they only remind us of the deep chasm between the rich and the poor that the rich want to govern. He must re-enroll in such subjects as Filipino Social Culture 101 which, unfortunately, Wharton doesn’t have.

Those who expected an issue-based debate must have been disappointed; Philippine elections have always been miserably personality-based. The Q&A format of the Miss Universe pageant does not fit. Each candidate should be asked to make their position on every issue raised—for example, not just Binay on political dynasty.

The most exasperating part was the huge number of ads. Each time the floor manager shouted “20 ads to go, etc.” gasps from the live audience could be heard. The other television networks sponsoring the next debates must cut out the scandalous commercialization of public service.

The theater chosen for the venue of the debate had everything but class; it was cramped and had cheap hand-me-down, second-hand seats. Was this the best that Cagayan de Oro City could offer? Inquirer.net editor in chief John Nery said it was chosen for its acoustics, but that seemed odd because there is the world-class Rodelsa Hall across the Cagayan River, which is capable of staging string quartets and full symphony orchestras.

But here’s the more problematic part which the public didn’t know but about which some quarters were forewarned—the venue was Roxas’ home in CDO. Should that matter? It does in a perception game.

Take the perception that either Roxas or his Liberal Party-mate Senate President Franklin Drilon is behind President Aquino’s choices for new Comelec commissioners. Unproven it may be, but in a perception game, what the heck. To be specific, by what criteria were the 300+ tickets (to the debate) available to the CDO public distributed, and was the selection of the ticket recipients done with the fact in mind that the venue was “closely associated with Roxas”? There obviously was a preponderance of Roxas supporters inside the theater and that was not fair.

In the end, the debate was short on Mindanao. This was its central flaw. It skipped the fundamental issues crying for governance: the peace process, lumad killings, energy shortfalls threatening the conduct of the May elections. Less than a week later, arsonists torched Haran, the lumad evacuation center in Davao City, an issue crying to be heard in our nation’s capital.

Holding the debate in Mindanao came out as mere tokenism, Manila familiarly writing the script for and in behalf of Mindanao. Take heed:

Mindanao people’s choices are propelled by voter frustration and Manila’s imperialism.

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TAGS: Cagayan de Oro City, Elections 2016, elections featured, Jejomar Binay, Mar Roxas, Narciso Santiago III, Philippine elections, presidential debates, Rodrigo Duterte, Sinag party list
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