THE gloves came off at the second presidential debate in Cebu Sunday, with the four candidates openly attacking each other over competence, nationality and allegations of corruption and extra-judicial killings.
After a one-and-a-half hour delay over a disagreement about the rules, the debate at the University of the Philippines Visayas quickly turned into a venue for heated arguments and personal attacks among the candidates.
The heated exchanges were the result of a new debate format that allowed candidates to address questions directly to their opponents, and also gave more time for rebuttals.
When Senator Grace Poe asked Vice President Jejomar Binay why he never attended a session at the Senate to address the allegations of corruption against him, Binay attacked Poe’s nationalism, and asked her how she could call herself a true Filipino when she had taken an oath to be an American citizen and abjured her allegiance and fidelity to her country.
Poe shot back, saying in Filipino: “If you stay in the country but you plunder and steal, what’s the point?”
Binay, who faces a plunder charge, said: “Madam senator, the way you speak, it’s as if I’ve already been convicted.”
Poe retorted: “Why, was I talking about you? I’m not saying it’s you because I believe in due process.”
In another exchange, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called administration candidate Manuel Roxas II “weak, indecisive” and a “moron” unfit to be president.
He also called him a fraud and once again questioned his having graduated from Wharton.
Roxas said Wharton itself had written that he was a graduate for the school, and that Duterte was “dangerous” because once he had formed an idea, he would not consider anything else.
“You’re closed-minded,” he said. “You do what you believe [is right even if it isn’t]. You could kill [a person].”
Duterte replied: “That’s the problem with you. You are not capable of killing. You can’t be a leader.”
He said Roxas performed poorly during Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ in Eastern Visayas.
“You can’t handle stress,” he told Roxas, then turned to the audience and said: “This guy is a weak leader… We have a moron here.”
Duterte also criticized Roxas for being unable to stop crime, including the making and selling of illegal drugs in the national penitentiary.
But Roxas said the illegal operation had been exposed and stopped.
At another point, Poe also questioned Roxas’ claim that the administration followed the “straight path” and punished erring allies just as they did their opponents.
But Poe said the administration protected those who were important to it, including Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, despite the allegations of corruption against them.
Binay also accused Roxas of being behind the demolition campaign against him, comparing him to Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who believed that a big lie told repeatedly would eventually be believed.
Roxas spent most of his time defending his and the administration’s track record.
“The World Bank, Transparency International, the World Economic Forum have all said that the Philippines has greatly improved and [that we] have come a long way in cleaning the government.
The leaks have been plugged. We are not perfect but we continue to do this,” Roxas said.
Roxas also chided his rivals for questioning the administration’s campaign against corruption.
“You can check the records. All are being charged. The Sandiganbayan has the records. LP or non-LP are being charged and a decision will be made whether you are guilty or not guilty,” he said.
Roxas also defended his role during Typhoon Yolanda, saying 93 percent of the budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government had already been released for rehabilitation.
Roxas also denied Binay’s allegations that the DILG under his watch had P7 billion in unliquidated cash disbursements—saying that was based on an outdated Commission on Audit (CoA) report.
He said the findings were addressed in 2015, and chided Binay for using old data to attack him.
Roxas said if he were elected president, he would pass a strong Freedom of Information (FOI) law—the same promise that President Benigno Aquino III made before he became president.
Binay also said he would support FOI and would do so by way of an executive order.
In a show of hands among the candidates, none said they would support a divorce law.
Only Poe and Duterte said they would support a return of the death penalty.
Duterte and Binay said they would support a burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.