The presidential debate conducted by the Comelec in Cebu the other Sunday and aired over Channel 5 tended to be a bore. Vice President Jejomar C. Binay was taking time appearing onstage, and why, would later be explained by moderator Luchi Valdez. It turned out the vice president had inquired from Luchi on whether he could bring documents to the debate and the lady had said okay, not realizing that it was taboo according to Comelec rules. Fifteen minutes to show time, VP Binay was told he could not carry the documents he had with him to the podium onstage.
The issue delayed the presentation for more than an hour.
Credit Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe Liamanzares, and Secretary Mar Roxas for being, in showbiz parlance, good troupers, entertaining the audience at the University of the Philippines Cebu Auditorium with their light banter. That made the long wait bearable.
Duterte was his characteristic showman self, turning the interlude into what can pass for a stand-up comedy act, all to the crowd’s delight. At one point, when Roxas excused himself from the stage to do something, Duterte threw in a punchline: “Pangatlong ihi mo nayan.” The audience laughter drowned out his actual tease that Roxas was increasingly getting nervous, as betrayed by his urinating one too many. But as it turned out, Roxas went off stage to get a chair for Grace to sit on.
How nice to note protagonists who are depicted in the media as irreconcilable now engaging in cordiality to one another. The presidential contest is a friendly competition after all; with not one foe damning the other to perdition.
It’s just too bad that Roxas’ graciousness toward Grace was the exact opposite of his belligerence toward VP Binay. When the matter of VP Binay bringing documents to the podium was thrown by moderator Luchi Valdez to the participants for them to settle, it was all right as far as Duterte and Grace were concerned, but Roxas was intransigent in his insistence that VP Binay might not do so according to Comelec rules.
Roxas really did appear bent on demolishing the Vice President, making us wonder whether it was his handiwork to have the Philippine Daily Inquirer publish a Special Audit Report by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the construction of Makati City Hall Building 2, which report tended to show anomalies as to its cost. That report was issued November 2015 or a good six months ago, making the timing of the Inquirer story highly suspicious. Previous to that report were 11 regular audits of the same construction project, one of which was undertaken by an expert specialist who found no anomaly whatsoever. What the Inquirer published was the old, incomplete special audit report by COA, not mentioning that such report was contravened by an expert specialist audit which found no cost anomaly in the construction of Makati City Hall Building 2. By this act, what did the Inquirer do but impute an evil deed that was not there upon VP Binay? It served no other purpose than to continue assassinating his character.
Certainly that issue about the contradictory findings by the incomplete COA special audit report and the previous specialist expert audit report would have been among many other issues which VP Binay would have clarified before the nation with the documents he had in hand. But Roxas insisted on the Comelec rules and upon fraternal advice by Duterte and gracious persuasion by Grace, the vice president, evidently advised further by his lieutenants, finally agreed to proceed with the debate sans his documents.
Certain quarters came forward after the event, rating VP Binay as having performed beyond expectation. This smacks of apologia. If I were to do that, I’d be most unkind. Do I mean I had expected the vice president to perform far far less? That’s unconscionable.
Nothing about his performance in the debate is debasing of VP Binay. His apparent fumbling with words by which to counter Roxas’ pressing him for explanation on the so-called COA report just depicted the brave stand of a warrior already much wounded in battle but subjected to further stabbing on and on against which he could only defend himself with nothing but bare flesh because the shields he had brought by which to parry the attacks had been denied him: the documents, among which are the very COA reports pertinent to the issue.
Roxas simply spoke of a “COA Report,” but there is not one but actually 12 COA reports on the issue, one of the first 11 claiming to find no anomaly in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building 2 and the subsequent one, which is a banned incomplete special audit report, proclaiming anomalies occurred in the said construction. Which of these two reports is to stand? VP Binay is a lawyer. He knew it’s neither for Roxas nor for him to say; it’s for the court.
And that’s exactly what he blurted out at Roxas: only the court can rule on that COA report.
So what’s there to make an apology for regarding VP Binay’s performance in the debate? To many a viewer, he did good. Commented a tricycle driver, “Alam mo naman ang tao, lagging kampi sa binubugbog pero lumalaban.” Pitted against three, VP Binay stood his ground and just refused to buckle down. He even challenged Grace and Roxas to sign a waiver for disclosures of their respective bank accounts. He has no hidden wealth as the two were charging, and he signed such waiver pronto. It’s now for Liamanzares, Roxas and Duterte to sign their own and prove they, too, don’t have skeletons in the closet.
In fact, rating the individual performances now of the presidential candidates in the debate, I’d grade Roxas A, for stereotype grandstanding; Duterte A, for showmanship; Liamanzares A, for empty humbug; and VP Binay A, for simply being himself.
As one soft drink spiel put it years ago, “Paka totoo ka.”
Liamanzares took occasion to remind her co-participants that they were being presented to the nation for the people to judge their character. This turned out to be Grace’s most significant statement that night – and exceedingly ironic. For how so true it went for her. During one of the three “taas-kamay” interludes, the aspiring presidents were asked to raise their hands in agreement to the question: “Payag ka bang malibing si dating Pangulong Ferdinand E. Marcos sa Libingan ng mga Bayani?”
Very briskly, both VP Binay and Duterte raised their hands; Roxas froze, arms leaning on the podium; and Grace could not contain a betrayal of an inner fidgeting, as from a sudden blood surge, causing her right arm to throw slightly forward.
In Tagalog, you call that “Lukso ng dugo.”
I thought I suddenly felt Grace’s feeling of exquisitely minute blades slicing through her chest as she managed to stay the urging of her hand to rise. And I remembered Cory’s words: “Now I know why people would kill for the presidency.”
True enough, the imperatives of being president can prompt you to go the terrible extent of killing even the fact of your very own being.
In the final question-and-answer segment of the Miss Universe Contest 1969, Gloria Diaz was asked what she would do to entertain a man from the moon if he visited her home. She answered to this effect, “Oh, just the same things I do. I think if you stay in the moon for so long, I think if he comes over he’ll want the change in atmosphere.” For that, Miss Diaz won the Miss Universe Crown.
The point is, in every human endeavor, the ultimate test is in being true to yourself.
In a presidential debate where participants put a premium on vain values like grandstanding, braggadocio, and the extreme hypocrisy of denying your very own blood, just being you is the hardest thing to do.
On this note, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay passed the Cebu Affair of the Presidential Debate 2016 with flying colors.