The Long View: The great debate

The Long View
The great debate
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:59:00 03/24/2010

AFTER THE DUST SETTLES, it will be interesting to see how many voters watched the presidential and vice-presidential debates, and how many modified their choices accordingly. But early on, it seems to me two things are evident. First, the positive contribution debates can make to the general campaign has been reduced by having too many of them and too often under too many rules and different sponsors. We are generally familiar with the American model, in which during the entire campaign there are only three, sometimes two, nationally televised debates. In the United Kingdom, for the first time they are having prime ministerial debates, and there will be three of these, too, during a much shorter campaign period. Second, the debates ought to now shift to the last, remaining great debates the country deserves to witness: between the two leading contenders as well as their running mates.

The dictionary defines a debate as “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward” or “an argument about a particular subject, especially one in which many people are involved.” In 2004 the two leading contenders declined to debate each other, but in 2007, the senatorial debates attracted public interest – and attention. So far, the candidates, presidential and vice-presidential, have faced each other: most recently when Sen. Manuel Roxas II wiped the floor, so to speak, with Sen. Loren Legarda.

The leading contenders have been hammered in turn for missing some of the debates. For example, both weren’t at the very first debate, the UNDP MDG Forum (back in October when Francis Escudero was still in the running) or at the one sponsored by Pastor Quiboloy. Sen. Benigno Aquino III also missed the Romulo Foreign Policy Forum, while Sen. Manuel Villar didn’t attend the Harapan debate at University of Santo Tomas, and the FOCAP forum where Aquino turned up.

Faced with the logistical aspects of truly national campaigns, neither could ignore considerations on the ground despite the publicity offered by debates. On the other hand, the other candidates had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and fewer logistical considerations to consider in attending and ganging up on the leading candidates. That Great Gadfly, Richard Gordon, in particular, has taken turns hurling fire and brimstone with characteristic bravado at whoever happens to be leading at any particular time.

Aquino, however, has challenged Villar to a one-on-one debate. The NP standard bearer has accepted, but there doesn’t seem to be progress in the negotiations despite the well-known American presidential debate formats being proposed by the LP. One can only hope that both sides can agree on an organization to host the debate(s), a suitable venue, with the major networks agreeing to pool their coverage. There isn’t any point in reinventing the wheel, what with the contractual aspect of the American presidential debates available for downloading online: they are scrupulous in detailing everything from the placement of podiums, the provision of water and notepaper, the handling of questions, and so forth to prevent media editorializing or giving undue advantage to any party involved.

Whether the other candidates and their supporters like it or not, there are two leading contenders. Everyone has had ample opportunity to duke it out but the country deserves to see the two square off against each other. This will either redound to the benefit of one of the two leading contenders – or to the benefit of the others, since one might shine, or both might not. But by all means let’s compare apples, not apples and oranges.

Aquino’s challenge and its acceptance by Villar mean both have committed to a one-on-one debate, without prejudice to other debates being proposed or held, but which, really, neither needs to attend until they have settled their unfinished business with each other in what will be the Great Debate of the campaign. That is, if the NP standard bearer was serious about accepting the challenge or, even if he was, whether, having craftily calculated the risks, he now considers it a losing proposition to show up. Aquino has expressed exasperation with the foot-dragging of Villar, who, after all, has a marked disinclination to engage in interpolation in the Senate, unlike Aquino’s dogged reputation (dating back to his days in the House) for being the “last man standing.”

Villar himself followed his usual procedure by remaining silent, leaving one of his senatorial candidates to insist that Aquino’s claims to the contrary (he said his spokesman has approached the NP twice), they haven’t gotten anything and there’s no need to submit letters. This suggests, however, that the NP is playing for time, trying to figure out whether their candidate can afford to flee the field of combat yet again, leaving the fighting to his subordinates as he did when pinned down in the Senate.

The Nacionalistas have to buckle down to business and work things out with the Liberals as we approach the Holy Week vacation. Then the Great Debate(s) can take place in what will be the last leg of the campaign from the resumption of the campaign after Easter leading to election day itself. This is a risky proposition for both candidates, but the country should see whether one or the other, or both, deserve their leading contender status.

On the same principle of not mixing apples and oranges, there should be a separate vice-presidential debate between Roxas and Legarda as the frontrunners, a logical rematch after their recent encounter. A tandem debate only makes sense if the country votes on the basis of joint tickets, which isn’t the case as we elect the president and vice president separately.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

13 thoughts on “The Long View: The great debate

  1. I would have liked more candidates but this debate is said to be without prejudice to other debates being proposed or held, so this could be very interesting.

    Though I also hope Sen. Noynoy reserve some of his airtime left for whatever issues that may come out of the debate in case he performs better than Sen. Villar. Sen. Villar however doesn’t seem like he’d alter his ads no matter the outcome.

    Well good luck to both of them and good luck to you to Manolo.

  2. If both candidates have agreed to debate, then there’s no doubt that the debate will proceed. The format will only be finalized after both sides try to tweak it here and there, for their own advantage. That is normal.

    Since both sides don’t have a clear margin of victory, they can’t afford not to debate. It will happen. In the meantime, there will be trash-talking from both sides. It’s amusing to see Manolo Quezon talking trash himself. 🙂

  3. Speaking of thrash-talking, whoever has more thrash in the closet has more reason to fear a one-on-one debate because he has more to lose if those thrash were to be brought out of the closet. Villar’s fear of appearing in the Senate investigation could be an indication that he has more to fear from this debate and therefore we could expect more alibis from him to avoid such debate to happen.

  4. May iba pang ibig sumingit at sumali sa trash talk. Sige na nga! The more the merrier! Anyhow, it’ll be the candidates who will do the talking when the debate comes. 🙂

  5. Along with a focusing more on issue-based electioneering…the candidates and their supporters need to up their trash-talking game. I mean…seriously now, it’s getting a little boring. We need more imaginative trash-talking!

    Mar brought his trash-talking A game (although most of the comments were a little to on he nose, but I guess you gotta pander). I hope the presidential candidates follow suit in this debate. The potential for hilarity is endless. Nothing is more effective than a well-timed political barb, with just enough truth to hit home.

  6. I hope the debate proceeds, and I hope that Noynoy gets asked — will he if elected president disregard the Pilipinas Supreme Court decision on Mindanao MOA-Ad juridical entity? What will be other instances where he believes that a president can disregard recent Pilipinas Supreme Court rulings?

  7. What are the odds that Noynoy believes that a President can disregard the Supreme court temporary restraining order that is delaying the land-reform of hacienda Luisita?

  8. How will Noynoy explain that he used his mother’s position to bag contracts for his security agency? Best Security Agency, which Noynoy incorporated in 1986, even using Arlegui, the official residence of the President and her family at that time, as the headquarters of the agency? How will he explain how he secured government contracts with the likes of Philippine National Construction Company and sequestered companies under the Presidential Commission on Good Government ( the highly corrupt PCGG)? How can he explain how he was given, and he accepted, lucrative contracts from Lucio Tan and his companies, when Tan was in the government’s list as one of the most notorious Marcos cronies who was known for buying influence? Is Noynoy really clean? Is he pure as the driven snow? Or is he just hype and smokescreen? Remember Kamag-anak, Inc.?

  9. Noynoy should answer all thrash-talks against him,but is he afraid of the one-on-one deabate? Or any harapan debate for that matter? I guess not, he’s pushing for those or any debate. Villar on the other was using his ten-foot pole to ward off the debates, hehehe. Nanginginig ang baba at tuhod.

  10. A kangaroo court isn’t a debating forum. Even Ninoy Aquino knew that, when he refused to defend himself against charges that were filed against him by the Marcos government.

    Now, Noynoy, who tries to project himself as pure, must show the nation just how untainted he really is. Despite the national insult and embarrassment that is Hacienda Luisita, where he once held a position and derived compensation. And the lucrative government contracts his security agency cornered, even as his mother sat as president in Malacanang. And the pay-offs from Marcos cronies, such as Lucio Tan, whom his mother’s administration was pursuing in order to set an example that crime doesn’t pay. Well, Noynoy only knows too well how crime pays. He was at its receiving end, taking pay-offs.

    And, even as we speak, Noynoy’s campaign is furtively trying to forge alliances with his plunderer uncle, Danding Cojuangco. Trying to draw money and political support from a crook, whom his mother’s administration once tried to pursue, can’t be the paradigm of honesty, can it? Pure as the driven snow? Yeah, right! They may as well tell that to the marines.

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