First Presidential Debate By Alyssa Encarnacion | February 2016
The first Presidential Debate held in Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro, last February 21, 2016 featured discussions among the country’s five presidential candidates and their initiatives towards national reform. The debate was divided into three rounds, with each round focusing on a particular theme relevant to the Filipino people. Here’s a summary of the exchanges:
For the first round, the questions centered on the track record of the candidates. The questions generally targeted the perceived weaknesses of the presidentiables to see how they’d respond and defend their credibility.
This was started off with a discussion on the real estate owned by Vice President Jejomar Binay. It was pointed out that, based on his SALN, only two of his property were inherited from his parents. When asked where he had acquired the rest of his land over his three decades in service, his most substantive response was that he bought the rest using his earnings from law practice and his wife’s earnings as a doctor. There was no further clarification as to how he amassed that land from before the beginning of his stay in office in 1986 until the present.
For a more detailed look into Vice President Binay’s SALN, kindly go here.
For Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, she aggressively responded when asked whether she could physically handle the responsibilities of presidency, given that she is in Stage 4 of lung cancer. Although it was true that she attended less than ten plenary sessions in the 16th Congress, she argues that that was because her sickness reached its height at that time. Further, working as a senator, she said, is arguably as stressful as being the president of the Philippines. Hence, given her experience in the former, she believes she is capable of fulfilling a president’s duties. This was met with support from fellow candidate Davao Mayor Rody Duterte, who said he does not see Senator Santiago passing away within the next twenty years.
Afterward, Mayor Duterte, who is known for his cursing in public speeches, his womanizing, and his killings of criminals, was asked whether he felt the Filipino youth should follow his example. Without directly answering the question addressed to him, he justified his actions by saying that he would do anything to solve criminality and drugs, even if it meant getting the police and military involved. As for the womanizing, when Senator Grace Poe commented that he should control himself more around women, he claimed that it was condonable because “it’s biology.” As long as it’s done in private, he said there was no problem.
Senator Grace Poe was then questioned regarding her relative lack of experience in government compared to the other candidates. Although she admitted that her resume was the thinnest among the five, she argued that her time as a teacher, parent, MRTCB chair, and senator already provided her avenues to learn more about what the Philippines needs to improve on. She says these helped her assess which things needed to be discussed in the society. Even when grilled by former DILG secretary Mar Roxas, who claimed presidency wasn’t an “OJT,” she still stood by her stance that quality of work, not quantity, mattered more.
Lastly, for this round, former secretary Mar Roxas was asked to address problems in the projects he was in charge of, like the slow relief efforts of the DILG during typhoon Yolanda and the inefficiencies in the MRT system. As a response, he pointed out the projects he managed to execute efficiently, such as the contracts (worth Php 100 billion, for ports and airports), which were bid without controversy by the DOTC. Further, he refused the involvement of the private sector in the MRT system in order to avoid higher ticket fees for the passengers. Instead, new trains are coming and will be in use in a few months. When accused by Binay of doing nothing to help the people in Leyte after Yolanda, Roxas responded by saying that he did not politicize the disaster and in fact stayed behind for sixteen days to assist the victims.
A clearer perusal into allegations against Sec. Roxas’ misperformance may be found here.
The second round focused on poverty in the Philippines. The candidates were asked to elaborate how they would assist the agricultural sector, given that this sector is found to be the poorest in the country. Binay’s contribution focused mainly on subsidizing the fertilizers and post-harvesting costs of the farmers. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was another method he proposed, as it would help in the distribution of land to make it more productive. Lastly, he said irrigation fees should be abolished because these increase losses. His solutions focused on: 1) lessening the debt that farmers have to pay; and, 2) lessening the harms of lower prices of food and vegetables in the market.
When asked how she would feed the millions families starving in the country, Poe proposed giving free lunches to children in public schools in order to help them be more productive in their education. She was also willing to subsidize the agricultural sector so that they can be more competitive, most especially those who produce niyog, because the Philippines is the 5th supplier of niyog in the world.
After this, the problem of centralization of wealth was addressed by Santiago. Despite the economic growth of the Philippines in recent years, most of the wealth still circulates among the elite. As a solution to this, Santiago proposed a larger share of the budget to go to health, education, rural infrastructure, and social improvements, as these would help increase the productivity of the Filipino people.
To help the fishermen of the country, Roxas suggested lower interest rates so that their profit would increase, better technology such as fish finders (which will be installed in Dagupan should he become president), post-catching facilities (e.g. for chilling, packaging) which will help in the preservation of caught fish, and better infrastructure for more efficient transport of the goods.
Lastly, when asked how he’d solve the problem of rice cartels that are behind smuggling and price manipulation, Duterte’s response centered mainly on catching the members of these cartels “in three days” using his iron fist method. More than that, he’d set up food terminals to make food more accessible.
Lacking in the responses was a mechanism to explain how the money would be sourced for the proposals, which was arguably inevitable due to the time constraints in the debate.
For the last round, the questions all focused on issues in Mindanao, such as the conflicts being experienced in the region and poverty.
The first to answer was Duterte. When asked how he’d address the irregularities in infrastructure projects, he pointed out that 64% of the projects are in Manila while only 19% percent are in Mindanao. The disparity in budget is the cause of the bad quality of roads and bridges in the region. Since they are “not being given their lawful share,” it is no surprise that their infrastructure is not being developed as fast. Given that, he claims that federalism is the best solution to the problem. For Roxas, he was asked to respond to a PulseAsia survey which presented that 1.7 million people in Mindanao illegally use drugs. Roxas, agreeing with the findings, said that he would enforce different levels of policing (i.e. in the streets, cities, and even house levels) to eradicate illegal drug use. Although the original question included a follow-up on whether the death penalty was a viable solution to the issue, Roxas gave no clear answer as to whether or not he thought so.
Binay’s question focused on the Anti-Dynasty Bill, and when asked how he’d prioritize its implementation, he responded by reiterating the need for clearer parameters as to what a “dynasty” technically is. He also argued that there’s no point in banning someone from running for office if he/she is qualified and willing to do so anyway. When Santiago followed this up by pointing out that this was already in the Constitution, Binay simply agreed and said that implementation is the main problem left.
The next topic was about the EDCA, and how this would provide protection to the Filipinos amidst territorial disputes but at the same time militarize certain areas of the country like Lumbia airport. When asked about her stance on the policy, Santiago argued that she is against the EDCA because it should have gone through the senate first and not straight to the executive department. Since she claims this is a form of imposed sovereignty by foreign powers such as the US and China, she argues that negotiations, especially alongside other Asian countries, are a better alternative.
Lastly, Poe was asked whether she would push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law as president, given its failure as a result of the Mamasapano incident. She implicitly said she would via more inclusive, transparent, and sustainable negotiations with all groups involved, such as IPs, the MILF, Christians, etc. Better infrastructure, more jobs, and tourism were also her proposed solutions to help push for the BBL.
Alyssa Encarnacion is a member of the SESC Education and Research Core and the UP Investment Club. She is a former debater that tries to read about the world and what happens in it everyday. Her other interests include classical music, the Japanese language, and BBC Sherlock.
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