Let them debate
So Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV have agreed, more or less, to a debate. We hope the event will proceed as planned, not so much because we think the exchange will provide answers to a waiting public as because it will sharpen the questions already popping up in the public’s mind. But recent remarks of the spokesperson representing the opposition party that Binay leads suggest that the Vice President, a veteran lawyer and a seasoned politician who has the reputation of never backing down from a challenge, may be looking for a way out of this one.
“I am not worried about the debate,” Rep. Toby Tiangco told Radyo Inquirer 990 AM in Filipino. “All I am saying is, how can you debate with a liar? That debate is pointless. I am confident that VP Binay will prove to the people that he is in the right here.” To another news organization, Tiangco said he would try to convince Binay that it would be pointless to engage in debate with Trillanes.
His advice is a little puzzling, because it was Binay who challenged Trillanes to a debate in the first place. After addressing a businessmen’s conference at the Manila Hotel last Wednesday, Binay publicly called on Trillanes to a one-on-one exchange. “So harap tayo para malaman ano talaga ang totoo (So let’s face off so the truth will be known).”
Binay has a specific objective in challenging Trillanes to a debate: He wants the senator who has been most vocal about corruption allegations against him to lose the parliamentary immunity he enjoys in the Senate. This is a way of holding a senator to account, for what would otherwise be libelous statements. The Vice President also enjoys a natural advantage; he is a lawyer used to the give and take of argument, and a political administrator used to dealing with all types of persons, including intemperate ex-putschists like Trillanes. In Trillanes’ only attempt at debating a seasoned lawyer and politician—Binay’s political ally, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile—the former soldier ran out of arguments and walked out of the session hall.
This makes Tiangco’s intervention even more problematic. Why cede the ground that his principal has already staked out? His reasoning is also illogical; if Trillanes is indeed a liar, and will change his mind or his tack or his facts during the debate, then isn’t that all the more reason to engage him in debate—precisely to reveal his true character?
Tiangco raised the rhetorical question: “Bakit pa bibigyan ng pagkakataon si Senator Trillanes? (Why give Senator Trillanes an opportunity?) Why will you honor what he is saying?” Well, to show that Binay’s accuser is without honor, and, by implication, without any credibility.
To be sure, another of Binay’s spokespersons has said that preparations for the debate were ongoing. “It is being discussed,” Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla told reporters. Well and good, because it would be folly on the Vice President’s part to withdraw his challenge on Tiangco’s grounds, that Trillanes is a liar, when his challenge was premised on Trillanes being a liar in the first place. What does “harap tayo para malaman ano talaga ang totoo” mean, after all?
The debate, if it pushes through, may not be the perfect venue for Binay to defend himself, or for Trillanes to offer alleged new evidence; in the highly ritualized forums that pass for political debates today, debaters usually focus their energies on not committing gaffes. It is possible that, even with distinguished personalities serving as debate moderators or panelists, the Binay-Trillanes debate would turn out to be either a nonconsequential shouting match or an uninteresting snoozefest. No matter. The debate, as being developed by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, will train the spotlight on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II and on an alleged pattern of corruption and deception that leads all the way to what many people are now calling “Hacienda Binay.” The Vice President will have the chance to rebut all allegations, but that spotlight will be there, in its brightest mode.
Perhaps that’s why Tiangco is having very public second thoughts.
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