As far as these debates as public fora for presidential candidates go, what is being revealed is how local media are a failure.
One needs to be specific about presidential “debates,” with quotation marks because (1) technically, these are not debates, given those rules of no notes, given the fact that candidates tend to be undisciplined, and get away with not answering questions; and (2) there was the Vice Presidential “Debate” done by CNN Philippines.
The latter is a hard act to follow, flawed as it was. Those yes or no questions, for example, are stupid and do not add anything to the discourse. To be fair with CNN (and TV5 before it), I have a feeling it’s the Comelec who’d thought that up (because why would we have to deal with the stupidity twice?).
CNN Philippines shows us how it’s done
Of course there was some good ol’ fingerpointing and kabastusan, something which both Pinky Webb and Pia Hontiveros tried very hard to rein in, but really: how can you do that with Alan Peter Cayetano treating this forum like a suntukan sa kanto, complete with leather jacket?
Webb and Hontiveros kept their cool through out, even when Bongbong Marcos was interrupted by hecklers before he could begin his opening statement, and even when Cayetano was getting more bastos by the minute, obviously wanting to bait Marcos into losing his temper.
But Marcos was a million steps ahead of him, refusing to be baited, refusing to lose his temper. He was ready for questions, whether framed intelligently – as with the ones that Webb and Hontiveros raised – or framed as attacks, as with Cayetano’s.
The stars of this show were Webb and Hontiveros, who were thankfully calm and collected, even with an audience that was ready to heckle and boo candidates. It was a welcome display of confidence and credibility from our media, after seeing Mike Enriquez pandering to the audience, asking them “gusto niyo pa baaaaa?!” or something like that, and after seeing Luchi Cruz-Valdes failing to keep her poise in the face of candidates like Grace Poe, who answered questions about her nationality by invoking the OFW experience – as if she was an OFW.
Webb and Hontiveros kept their cool, laughed when it was appropriate (i.e., the yes/no questions), said let’s cool off just in time for commercial breaks. I wish they would turn off the microphones if only to keep candidates under control. It might seem disrespectful, but there is nothing that has made me lose respect in our candidates than these public “debates” and fora, where they reveal how they do not answer questions, they do not listen to answers, and they spew numbers and statistics knowing full well that there is no facility for cross-checking those statements.
Hard act to follow
CNN Philippines will be a hard act to follow for ABS-CBN.
For starters, the latter, despite its insistence that they are unbiased, is more obviously politically embroiled than GMA or TV5. And unlike Karen Davila and Vic Lima, who assert that ABS-CBN cannot be biased given those Pulse Asia surveys they commissioned which show Marcos leading in the VP race – because you know naman the history of the Lopezes with the Marcoses – we should all be looking at the biases that ABS-CBN has revealed about itself as an institution since EDSA86.
It had no issue with having its media people run for government posts, i.e., ex-VP Noli de Castro. And then it had no issue with bringing him back into news and public affairs after his “stint” as VP – like he wouldn’t be politically tainted at all at that point.
Korina Sanchez’s wedding with Sen. Mar Roxas was an ABS-CBN exclusive, when he was the sure Liberal Party candidate for President in 2009. This was before Noynoy Aquino was pushed and encouraged to run, on nothing much but the death of his mother. And speaking of Aquino, must we discuss Kris and who she is, what she stands for, as a political creature?
The one time I actually thought ABS-CBN News and Public Affairs credible was when Maria Ressa was there, trying to police the ranks, trying to make it more credible. Of course that didn’t last long, and for whatever reason – depending on which grapevine you’re listening to – Ressa left ABS-CBN.
Davila herself is not devoid of biases that she thinks unproblematic – she posts about these on social media after all. Say the fact that she was at Chiz Escudero’s wedding, all the way in Balesin. She greets the Romulos regularly on her radio show, too, like they’re not running for public office. Sure she might be friends with these politicians, but she should know it already taints her as a media personality, including the fact that she gallivants with the elite like it’s nobody’s business.
And lest she thinks everyone believes that she has no biases, it is clear that she is biased against Binay, and Duterte, and Marcos. Review her work on radio and you’d know which candidate she’s pushing for. And no, this is not to question her based on who her friends are. This is to say that she has revealed her biases even more than ABS-CBN has, and these are biases that she does not even keep in check.
I mean look at Hontiveros. Her sister’s running for the Senate, and was head of Philhealth. But you’d be hard put to catch Pia defending her sister, or even daring to speak about her and her political affiliations. The same for Webb, who to me proved her mettle when she refused to speak on, or even deliver news about, her brother Hubert, bad or good, even when he was later freed.
Snub the debate
With Davila in charge, and given ABS-CBN’s biases, and given how the past presidential “debates” have turned out, one is pretty sure that there will be nothing here but the now long-drawn out non-discussion about corruption that is set up to merely pin down Binay. Look at the topics for the past debates: tell me if you’ve learned anything at all about nation and these candidates’ platforms on those subjects.
Always the question is “what will you do?” versus so “how will you do that exactly?” Always the question is “what have you done?” versus “how did you do that, and who did it to silence and oppress, how would you do it better?”
On radio, I caught someone on dzMM defending ABS-CBN’s Harapan Ng Bise event and the fact that it still ended up being about corruption. She said: they can’t stop candidates from talking about what they want to talk about.
The next debate is about free basic public education, OFW concerns and employment opportunities, the maritime dispute with China, peace for Mindanao and other conflict areas, Metro Manila traffic and the public transportation system, access to basic health care and services, and jobs and unfair labor practices.
But in the end, despite the death of farmers in Kidapawan and the hunger of millions of farmers, not to mention 26 million Filipinos in poverty; despite the rape joke and the murders and human-rights violations of one candidate; despite the American citizenship of a candidate’s husband who is also allegedly a soldier serving the US, what will this ABS-CBN town-hall forum end up talking about?
Say it with me: corruption. What a relief for all the other candidates!