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TV debate: Sniping, but no fireworks

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—All five candidates for president used the first live television debate in more than two decades and their first gathering on a single stage on Sunday night to showcase their platforms of government and to engage in some sniping, as well.

There were no heated exchanges in the two-hour debate Sunday night in Cagayan de Oro City, hosted and officially sanctioned by the Commission on Elections, but the candidates used some of the time allotted them to take potshots at their opponents.

Administration candidate Manuel Roxas II, who has been trailing in all the opinion polls, took the offensive in his opening statement, by comparing the president to a family driver to whom people would entrust their children.

First debate. This screen grab shows the five presidential candidates—from left, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe and former Secretary Mar Roxas—striking a pose for the camera after their first-ever televised debate. LINO SANTOS
“Who would you place your trust in to transport your children safely?” he said in Filipino. “To a person who is a crook and who has been charged with stealing? To someone who is hot-headed and might cause accidents? To someone who is just learning to drive?”

Although Roxas did not name names, it was clear that he was referring to Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Grace Poe.

Later during the debate, Roxas returned to Poe’s inexperience, saying the presidency was not a position for an OJT (on-the-job trainee).

Poe shot back, saying she didn’t need long years of experience to know that Roxas had failed at his jobs at the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of Transportation and Communications, both of which were investigated in the Senate.

Roxas was secretary of the DILG when 44 police commandos were slaughtered in Mamasapano. He has also been blamed for the deterioration of Metro Manila’s commuter train system, which was his responsibility as Transportation secretary.

Binay also criticized Roxas for his dismal performance at the DILG and DoTC and promised that the “analysis paralysis” that characterized the Aquino administration would not happen under his leadership.

The vice president also hit the administration for its lack of compassion, and said Roxas failed to address the mess in the MRT or help the survivors of Super Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ in Leyte.

Roxas shot back that he was in Tacloban City before, during and after the typhoon, and did not merely fly in for a photo opportunity—a dig at Binay.

Roxas, who lost the vice presidency to Binay in 2010, also said the vice president could not claim credit for success in Makati because it is divided into the affluent side on Ayala Avenue and the poor side in West Rembo.

In the part of the debate on Mindanao, Roxas said the island has received P260 billion in the last five years under the administration’s “straight path” policy—a claim that Duterte contested.

“I have not seen a straight path. All I see is a crooked path,” he said.

“Sixty-four percent of the infrastructure projects are here in Metro Manila, while 19 percent was allocated to Region 11. That’s why Mindanao is very angry… Even our lawful share [from the government] is not given to us. Mindanao contributes 54 percent in export dollars to the country’s gross domestic product but only P19 billion goes to Region 11,” Duterte said.

Exchanges between Duterte and Santiago were more cordial, with Duterte saying that Santiago was the only other candidate on stage who was qualified to be president.

When questions about Santiago’s bout with cancer were raised, Duterte added that he did not see the senator passing away in the next 20 years.

During his turn, Binay said his administration would be the antithesis of the Aquino administration, which he said was beset by “analysis paralysis.”

He said the biggest problem was poverty, and that he would address this in the same way he improved Makati when he was mayor there.

Duterte, on the other hand, emphasized his peace-and-order agenda.

“Why am I here? I am here because I love my country and I love the people of the Philippines,” he said. “There is so much corruption, so much crime and drugs are flooding [the country]….Nobody is minding it. If you give me the chance, by God’s will, I will stop it all.”

He said he would have no compunction about killing criminals—as long as this was done legally.

“If I become president, it would be bloody,” he said.

Asked about his reputation as a womanizer, Duterte said he was separated from his wife. 

“I am doing all of these in [the privacy] of a room. You don’t flaunt it...If you have to do it, why not? I am separated and my other wife, the nurse, is in the United States. So in between those years... it’s biology,” he said. 

Despite being a neophyte in politics, Poe said, she was not easily fooled.

She also said if elected President, she would bring transparency to government by issuing an executive order to implement freedom-of-information measures.

Poe also promised to allocate 30 percent of the national budget to Mindanao, push for food security, better health care services, housing and respect of gender rights.

“Many with experience have ruled, but the situation remains the same. What we need is someone who has concern, who has conviction and who can act swiftly to give solutions,” she said.

Santiago, who spent much of her time responding to questions about her health, said that as president, she would pump more funds into health and education.

She also urged voters to choose a leader who excelled in school, and showed professional and moral excellence.

At 70, she said she wanted to spend her next years in service.

“I do not want to spend the next six years lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself,” she said. “In fact, I did not lie in bed. I did not feel sorry for myself. I felt sorry for my country because graft and corruption are endemic and everybody speaks out but nobody has done very much.”

Roxas spent much of his time citing the accomplishments of the administration, and said he would continue its programs. 

He also said he would continue to implement a reinvigorated anti-crime program.

Asked why he wants to be president, Roxas said he realized that he had much more than many Filipinos.

“I have a job. I have savings. I know that my child will have a bright future because he has an education. If a family member gets sick, I am confident that someone will take care of them. I do not worry about what we will eat.... Why do I want to be president? Because I want you to have the same kind of life. Far from hunger, far from fear and free to dream,” Roxas said.

Topics: TV debate , Presidential debate , Manuel Roxas II , Jejomar Binay , Rodrigo Duterte , Grace Poe , Miriam Defensor Santiago
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