The second debate
IT was punishing from start to finish. What the Commission on Elections spokesman has called “more engaging”, and an earlier front-page story in the Philippine Star described as “well worth the wait,” referring to the one-and-a-half hours the public had to wait before the second presidential debate in Cebu City on Palm Sunday got started, I found as disappointing, although for different reasons, as the first one held in Cagayan de Oro on February 21.
In my book, only the vulgar and the shallow could have taken delight in the nasty bar-room brawl which the Comelec, TV-5 and Philippine Star tried to present as a presidential debate. Truth, civility and fairness quickly went out the window as the candidates verbally abused each other with no thought of the children and minors who were watching their show.
The only genuinely welcome thing I learned from the execrable two hours was from the reputed roughneck among the candidates, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who surprisingly turned out to be more gentlemanly and statesmanly than he had tried to portray himself in his earlier incarnations, and who asked the only worthwhile question of any of his fellow candidates. This deserves a full treatment later.
For starters, the public waited patiently for the show to get started at 5 pm as previously announced. There was a delay, but no one was saying the reason for the delay and how long it would take. Prof. Dindo Manhit, who used to work for the Senate and who now carries the title of political analyst, plus three other unnamed and unidentified talking heads on TV 5 tried to keep the viewers glued to their TV sets by talking about the candidates’ standing in the current propaganda “surveys” and the Comelec’s forced compliance with the Supreme Court ruling to furnish the Vote Counting Machine with a voter verification paper audit trail (PPVAT), as required by law, to assure the voter that the machine has read his vote right.
The talking heads were all genuinely supportive of the Comelec’s effort to circumvent the law and the Court ruling by offering to provide a voter’s receipt that contains no useful information about the precinct where the vote has been cast. Only Manhit was making any sense. The only female among the talking heads was also the least bearable of the lot: her facial expression and hand gestures editorialized every inanity she said, an absolute no-no in the trade. I had to wonder how she ever got the job.
Misusing children for politics
This babbling of the talking heads was twice interrupted by the political ad of Congressman Martin Romualdez, who is running for Senator under the banner of “malasakit,” and an unsigned political commercial, using very young children as talking heads. The children were asking: Is it true there is a candidate who likes to steal, another candidate who likes to kill? These were toddlers who were too young to have any political opinion of their own, and yet were being used to mouth the most rabid partisan campaign lines. The whole thing was obviously a political production intended to sway public opinion against Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has been rapped by his enemies for alleged corruption, and Duterte, who has not denied terminating criminals.
This particular commercial was unsigned by any sponsor, in violation of the Omnibus Election Code, and the fundamental rights of children. And yet it was repeatedly aired prior to the Comelec-sponsored debate without any corrective intervention or apology from the commissioners. Can Comelec Chairman Bautista explain why he should not be held accountable for this particular violation? Now,has this commercial been taken off the air?
Finally, the long-awaited debate began. TV-5’s Luchi Valdez Cruz introduced herself as the program moderator, without explaining why the public had to wait for one-and-a-half hours. The first question came from a certain Ed Lingao of the Visayan media, addressed to Mrs. Llamanzares; after whom, the other candidates joined in. What would she do with the proposed Freedom of Information Act, which has failed to pass under Aquino, should become president?
Mrs. Llamanzares tried to explain that the Senate actually passed its version of the FOI bill, but that “the Congress” failed to pass its own. This was an unforgivable slip for someone who wants to become the president. As a sitting senator, she was expected to know that the “Senate” and the “Congress” are not two separate institutions; the Congress is made up of two Houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, (Kamara ng mga Representante, as Roxas put it, without necessarily correcting Mary Grace). She made the same slip twice during the debate, which to me revealed her lack of understanding of government.
The others joined the discussion. But it did not occur to anyone to point out that the FOI bill cannot be the most important business on the agenda of the next government, and that in any case, it would be the task of Congress to enact it under a system where the separation of powers and the system of checks and balance shall have been restored. The most that the Executive can do is to include the FOI bill in its legislative agenda, which it submits to Congress for implementation.
Basic citizen right
Whether there is an FOI Act or not, the citizen has a right under our Constitution to access all public documents, except those involving national security and covered by the appropriate security classifications. As a newspaper reporter, when newspapermen still pounded the beat to produce their news stories, I used to expose the most sensitive government secrets without the help of anything remotely related to an FOI Act.
At the Interim Batasang Pambansa, where I sat from 1978 to 1984, I authored the proposed FOI Act, similar to the US FOIA, but this failed to prosper because the Committee on Finance could not accurately ascertain the financial costs of having to reproduce every public document that interested parties would like to access. This was before the digital age; the cost estimates may have drastically changed by now.
But it seems to me a patent error to presume that giving the public full access to mountains of official documents would automatically restore strict adherence to the Constitution, the rule of law and the sound administration of justice. It will not; only a moral revolution will. This requires the restoration of our sense of right and wrong, good and bad, legal and illegal, etc, nothing less.
Where Binay failed
Binay’s statement that he would, if necessary, sign an executive order making the FOI bill enforceable prompted Mrs. Llamanzares to chide him for his failure to answer any of the charges aired against him at the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee—-a point Roxas also repeated when his turn came. Both obviously had no understanding that the subcommittee was acting beyond its jurisdiction in its hearings, and Binay failed to educate them on this issue.
Mrs. Llamanzares and Roxas tried to hit Binay for his alleged corruption at every opportunity they had. He tried to present documentary evidence to ward off these accusations, but the “rules” of the debate, controversy over which (we now learned) had caused the one-and-a-half-hour delay, prevented him from presenting such evidence. The way I understood the rule was that no debater would read from any prepared notes. However, an official document, evidencing something or other, cannot and should not be considered “notes”, which could not be read into the record of the proceedings. But he was obviously a minority in the group and they simply outvoted him.
Binay had an excellent opportunity to get even with Mrs. Llamanzares and Roxas, but unfortunately failed to exploit it. He tried to make a big point of Mrs. Llamanzares renouncing and abjuring her allegiance and fidelity to the Republic of the Philippines, when she became a naturalized American citizen in 2001, but he failed to add, which would have been useful, that in the United States, no citizen who renounces his US citizenship can ever regain it, or if ever he does, can be permitted to seek any high office.
Binay allowed Mrs. Llamanzares to say that her “love of country” prompted her to “come home” and that Republic Act 9225, popularly known as the Dual Citizenship Law, allowed her to “reacquire” her Philippine citizenship. Binay should have pointed out that only former natural-born Filipino citizens, which she is not, could reacquire their citizenship. She “reacquired” her citizenship by falsely misrepresenting herself as a natural-born citizen, born of her adoptive parents.
On the basis of her two birth certificates, the only conclusion one can reach is that she was born twice, first as a foundling of no known parentage, and second, as the alleged daughter of her adoptive mother, Jesusa Sonora Poe, aka Susan Roces. Is this someone anyone should consider as a possible president?
As for Mar Roxas, who aside from charging Binay with corruption claimed that Aquino’s “daang matuwid” has gone after corrupt officials, without regard of their political affiliations, the VP could have challenged his rival to declare publicly whether he would authorize the prosecution of former president Aquino should he become president. The same question he could have put to Mrs. Llamanzares, who is now seen as Aquino’s “Manchurian candidate.”
What if midnight calls?
Not even Duterte asked this question. But he proved to be the statesman during the debate. At the last portion of the debate, when the candidates were allowed to ask a question of each other, and Binay, instead of asking the mayor a question, said he was not asking him any question because they were both “qualified candidates,” (an oblique reference to Mrs. Llamanzares, whose eligibility is still pending before the Supreme Court), Duterte replied by saying Binay was “more qualified” than he.
But Duterte asked the most important question during the debate, and he asked it of Mrs. Llamanzares. What would she do, if as President, she was awakened in the middle of the night, and told that our two Coast Guard cutters had been sunk by the Chinese at the Spratlys? She went into a spin and used so many words to say nothing. So Duterte restated his question: What exactly would you do, as soon as you get the report?
Her answer: She would rise from bed; she can’t just say it’s only 4 am, can’t this wait until five?—and call the Armed Forces Chief of Staff.
Sounds good. The bad news here though is that it was, in fact, the AFP Chief of Staff who had awakened her from her sleep. This simple detail tells us that the lady does not know enough about the presidency or government, and is simply not ready to be President.