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A good beginning

/ 12:20 AM February 25, 2016

The first of the presidential debates—what can I say that hasn’t been said? It was, as conferences usually are in the Philippines, well-run. It started on time (that’s not usual) and was disciplined (also unusual). But all else was as usual: It all went as planned.

The organizers are to be congratulated, the Commission on Elections particularly. It has been 24 years since a presidential debate was held in the country. This is an excellent way to inform the people of the qualities and qualifications of presidential candidates. Other modes are needed, too, but this is a principal one. Maybe, just maybe, we will get more knowledgeable voters. Certainly, there’s been much discussion on the character and suitability of the five candidates following the debate. That can only be healthy.

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The US debates could learn from the genteel way the weaknesses of the candidates were exposed. But the format needs change; the 90:60:30-second idea was a good one, but it led to “sound bites,” not reasoned answers and details of how solutions to problems could be attained. It’s easy to make promises; it’s less easy, but more important, to know how the promises will be achieved. And, frankly, too much of what was said was all over the place, and lacked focus as well as logical flow. Thoughts were unfinished in the rush to meet the time deadline.

And I’d certainly like to see less ads. Mind you, we saw none in the theater in Cagayan de Oro where the debate was held, just a blank, overly long time to twiddle our thumbs. I know it all has to be paid for, but it reduced too much the time to really get to know the presidentiables. If commerce dictates that so many ads are needed, couldn’t they be shorter? Or maybe the next debate, to be held in Cebu, should be a three-hour affair. But would viewers stay on?

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That would probably be too much for Miriam Defensor Santiago, who is so obviously frail, and the debate, let alone the campaign, is taxing her. And on health she is just plain wrong. The state of health of mere mortals like ourselves is indeed a private matter. But when you are fighting to run a country as a public servant, as the leader of that country for six years, it is very much a public issue. It’s as equally important as the policies, vision, goals and proposed actions of the presidentiables. These can only be done in a healthy body. I sympathize with her; she’s a wonderful woman. But she must prove to us that she has a body as active as her mind with the release of her crucial records. Otherwise, we can’t risk considering her for the presidency.

The other candidates should release their medical records, too, and that must be in the form of a confirmed copy of the tests done. We need to be assured that they can last six years performing a grueling task that would tax even the healthiest of people.

I’d like to suggest a complete change for the debate in Cebu. The candidates are to talk on four subjects: disaster preparedness and climate change adaptations, healthcare, education and fighting corruption. Give each candidate two minutes to talk on each subject (a total of eight minutes), to give them the chance to explain to us not only what they’d do, but also how they’d do it. And fund it. Let’s be a lot more specific. They have good advisers; let’s see if they’re able to listen to these advisers, absorb their message, and agree with the expert advice.

At the end of each candidate’s presentation, questions will then be asked based on exposing weaknesses in their presentation. In other words, don’t ask preprepared questions; ask ones reacting to what they’ve said, to challenge them further to prove they can do what they promise. Those questions can be developed by an acknowledged expert on the subject sitting at the debate, and forwarded to the moderator.

This can be a way to reduce the major weaknesses of the present format, which result in sound bites that promise the world without any need to justify how it can be done. I think it’s worth a try. And maybe a different format again for the third debate.

* * *

Not related to the debate but critical to the progress of the election campaign is the Supreme Court. I’m at a complete loss to try and understand why it hasn’t recognized the importance and urgency of deciding whether Grace Poe is eligible to seek the presidency or not. It has held hearings once a week, not every day and for long hours in every one of those days. Why not? Aren’t the justices aware that choosing the next president of the Republic of the Philippines is far and away the most important issue for the nation today? Nothing else comes even close.

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Having not decided by the time the ballots are printed is already a serious dereliction of their duty, and raises the possibility of a constitutional crisis: If they disqualify Poe but she gets the biggest number of votes, what happens? Constitutionally, the second-placer takes over—but would the public accept it? I suggest no, and revolution follows. The Supreme Court needs to rectify this situation immediately. It has already let us down with the delay. It’s time the justices accepted the responsibility they owe the nation.

A good beginning. Let’s have a successful end.

***

E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Comelec, disqualification, Elections 2016, Grace Poe, presidential debate
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