At Large

Otso candidates did better

/ 05:06 AM February 20, 2019

To those wondering why leading candidates seldom, if ever, attend debates in the run-up to elections, political scientists offer this explanation: Taking part in a debate may help project the candidate, but brings with it many risks. If a candidate has already established a lead or a comfortable place in polls, then it’s better to concentrate on harvesting more votes than risking one’s lead with a lie, an insult, or a fatal meltdown in full view of the public.

This may explain the absence of many leading candidates gunning for a Senate seat in the first of three ABS-CBN “Harapan 2019,” a “town hall debate” designed to give voters a deeper insight into the platforms, personalities and characters of candidates beyond sound bites or catchy slogans and theme songs.


Four members of the Otso Diretso opposition slate took part: Bam Aquino, Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay and Chel Diokno. The others were either running under different proadministration parties or as independents: Glenn Chong, Jiggy Manicad, Francis Tolentino, Larry Gadon and Willy Ong. Reelectionist Sen. Koko Pimentel was supposed to take part, but he begged off.

Which makes the presence of senator Bam at “Harapan 2019” all the more remarkable. Of the eight Otso Diretso bets, only he and former senator and presidential candidate Mar Roxas have found themselves in the “winning circle” of the two major poll survey groups.


More remarkably, Aquino conducted himself in a low-key, sober manner even if, as a sitting senator, he enjoyed an edge in terms of recognizability, if not stature.

In my own estimate, the Otso Diretso debaters acquitted themselves more effectively than the “proadmin” representatives. Diokno captured the fancy of many when he replied, when asked whom between Mr. Duterte or Gloria Arroyo he would throw a lifesaver to in case of a sea mishap: “Couldn’t I just use it myself?” Gutoc impressed with her impassioned plea in behalf of the people of ruined Marawi, citing her own experiences as a “bakwit” and Moro activist.

On the other side, Gadon was a turnoff, starting with his grating attitude and slogan of “Huwag Iboto ang mga Bobo” (“Don’t Vote for the Dumb Ones”), since he was a clear example of the latter. The pro-Duterte candidates disappointed with their support for lowering the age of criminal liability, the deadly drug war and “iwas pusoy” stands on the arrest of Maria Ressa on cyberlibel charges.

Over lunch, Melanie Aquino, the youthful and laid-back mother of Senator Bam, shared the story of how Bam entered the tumultuous world of politics. It all began, she said, when her youngest son was all of 6 years old and began tagging along to various anti-Marcos protests with his parents. Listening to the speakers at one rally, Bam told his father Paul, youngest brother of Ninoy, that he wanted to go up onstage and talk with the people.

And that was how Bam the campaigner was born. “I wrote a short speech for him and we, with my faithful house help and driver, would drive him to different rallies while he did his homework in the car,” Melanie recalled. Part of Bam’s spiel that he created himself was a story of how, when he visited his uncle Ninoy in detention, the former senator would playfully embrace him and beg: “Don’t go home, Bam. Stay with me, it’s so lonely here.”

In the years that followed, Bam indeed “stayed” alongside Ninoy, not just in various protest rallies and in campaign appearances in behalf of then candidate Cory Aquino and then her son P-Noy, but surely in his mind and heart. For the public and political career he forged championed causes close to Ninoy and Cory’s hearts: the upliftment of the poor, empowerment of the youth, encouragement of small entrepreneurs and sound economic policies.

Melanie says they’re “still running scared,” because his place toward the bottom of the winning list is still shaky. In his short stay in the Senate so far, Bam has proven his worth not just as a lawmaker but, more importantly, as an heir to the family’s life of public service. Would that voters reward him for this.


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TAGS: 2019 elections, 2019 senatorial candidates, At Large, Otso Diretso, rina jimenez david
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