I was expecting clashes among the presidential candidates but nothing of the kind happened. If you were in the world of boxing and watching a sparring session of a world class campaigner for the heavyweight championship of the world, you would be tempted to throw rotten eggs and ripe tomatoes at the stage. It was not of national class. It was a class of local officials pandering to the crowd – just like the ordinary traditional politicians who know nothing better.
There were no well remembered lines. There was nothing incandescent that they said which could excite an intelligent crowd. It was so pedestrian you wanted to go to sleep. However, since the presidential candidates are concrete examples of the people of this country, it was good listening for the fun of it. To borrow a line often quoted by persons with a modicum of intelligence – the people get the leaders they deserve.
For the entertainment and information of voters throughout the country, here is my evaluation of the candidates in alphabetical order.
Vice-President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay
He was the worst performer of the evening – nothing new, nothing great. The same Jojo tried to defend the indefensible – the story of graft and corruption that characterized his rule in Makati City as documented by his former friends, Vice-Mayor Mercado and Atty. Bondal. There is a new twist to his story though – that he inherited his stupendous wealth from his parents supplanted by his earnings as a lawyer and that of his wife who is a doctor. According to some knowledgeable people from Makati City, the story is a fairy tale. If he were that affluent, why did he go to court in a jeep with his barong tagalog inside his attaché case? What a tall tale indeed! And amazing multi-millions or billions as an heir of an unknown economic empire, as lawyer with a doctor for a wife, and as mayor of Makati City and as Vice-President, this man Jojo must be a financial wizard or a magician.
I understand this Jojo finished his law at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. There was nothing to show for it during the debate. It is good to remind VP Jojo that UP stands for the tradition of excellence, adherence to the aristocracy of the mind and the training of exceptional national leaders. His performance during the debate showed none of these – there was no excellence, no aristocracy of the mind and there was nothing exceptional to show.
As lawyer, VP Jojo should remember two things from his student days, if he studied his lessons well – that evidence to be believed must not only come from the mouth of a credible witness but must be credible in itself and that denial is the weakest defense in a criminal case. If PNoy and his crowd have the goods on him as the witnesses against Jojo had detailed in the Senate hearings, I am afraid that VP Jojo will have to look forward to spending the rest of his life in jail.
His option as a UP graduate is to withdraw his candidacy for president and retire in silence to a life of leisure and obscurity, after all, as some people told me, VP Jojo declared in a party of friends sometime ago that he is as rich as Bill Gates. How true, I really don’t know. Maybe the hosts in the next debate should ask Jojo Binay this question.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago
The old ebullient Miriam that I knew was no longer on that stage. She really looked sick and jaded. The old celestial fire was gone. The statements no longer had the same razor-edge sharpness and sting that floored almost everyone that debated with her in any forum. I think Miriam is past her prime. She has lost her season. Her best season was when she won but did not get the presidency against Fidel V. Ramos. The presidency is no longer within her reach. As a highly intelligent individual she ought to know that. It may have escaped her though. As they say, ambition knows no bounds. The best that Miriam should do is to rest and relax and forget about the presidency. She should write her autobiography and unmask in its pages the many fools who pass around as leaders in this country.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte
He ran true to form. He was, as usual, the Master of Admission – admitting his killing and womanizing habits, and what he has got just to please the crowd. His language was vulgar which separates him from the rest of the civilized world. His appearance and his performance disqualify him to be president of the Philippines. He may be good for Davao City but he certainly is very, very bad for the Philippines. He is not only an embarrassment to Mindanao; he will definitely be a scandalous embarrassment to the country. He should retire and relax, and try to find cures for his ailments so he can continue enjoying his lust for life with Viagra. Doing that, he will spare the children and the decent elements in this country of his vulgarities and profanities. Duterte should know that the country is not a beer house or a bawdy house where he would be a natural.
Senator Grace Poe
Senator Poe was the surprise of the evening. Considering that she has the least experience among all of them in terms of years of public service, she came well prepared and had direct answers to questions while expanding on her agenda for the country. She showed spunk and intelligence, even if she had only two years in the UP Extension Division in Manila. She was cool and unperturbed by the nature of the questions. She looked and sounded presidential among all of them. Poe has the least experience in graft and corruption, in incompetence and political pretense. She reminded me of FPJ, her father, who told me once, as his erstwhile lawyer, that the senators were all wrong in thinking that they could hold him by the nose. He said that he had plans for the country and would implement them when he got proclaimed as president. FPJ won the election but he lost the proclamation. Too bad, that man had character and he would have become a very good president with the help of people of his choice. He would have become a Ronald Reagan for the Philippines.
Based on her performance during the debate, she may have the same character as her father. And if she has, she could be a fine president a thousand times better than and different from Cory and Gloria combined. But probably not just yet; she needs more seasoning. But if elections come anyway, for one reason or another, Senator Grace Poe is the only choice for President, especially after the death of Representative Roy Seneres.
Secretary Mar Roxas
Mar would have been my sentimental favorite, if I believed in elections now, for several reasons. I was quite impressed by President Manuel Acuna Roxas, Mar’s grandfather, as an orator. He was the kind of orator who reminds me of two classic personalities in ancient times – Cicero who made Romans listen when he spoke and Demosthenes who made people march when he spoke. I was perched as a kid on the shoulder of my father, Pedro Adaza, Jr, mayor of our town – Catarman, Misamis Oriental then – for about twenty-years, during the granting of independence at the Luneta. Boy, was Manuel Roxas electrifying! The mellifluence in his prose was quite overwhelming. Paul McNutt, America’s representative during the ceremonies paled into insignificance.
The other reason is Senator Gerardo “Gerry” Roxas, Mar’s father. He was my concept of a good President of the Philippines. Since I was a Liberal then, he was my choice as the LP presidential candidate but events overtook him. He was a forthright and principled man, qualities so rare these days among our politicians. I thought that Mar could resuscitate the character and the qualities of these two outstanding men but Mar is a disappointment. He has no charisma just like the other presidential candidates. He has more alisma than charisma. He was mouthing the PNoy line, the matuwid na daan. It does not ring bells of hope; it sounds like a horn warning of a continuing calamity. One thing about Mar Roxas though, he has no known record of involvement in graft and corruption.
Other salient observations
The format of the debate was pretty bad. Whoever conceived of the idea of firing a question at one candidate and making just another candidate comment on the answer should have done better. The organizers should have studied the ongoing debates in the USA. They are well conceived and the format is quite intelligent. The questions of the hosts were longwinded and, no offense meant, the hosts could have done better in divining the appropriate questions.
The debaters did not present any vision for the country. They sounded like broken phonograph records repeating the same hackneyed statements that they parrot in the course of the campaign. There was no demonstration of character. As a matter of fact, they are just plain and simple characters acting their roles as though they are in a grade B movie. They were all flat with no incandescent passion in the espousal of their ideas. Not even Duterte who, as usual, came out with his theory of fighting criminals with criminality, celebrates immorality and lack of respect for law, his obvious lack of knowledge of the Constitution with his denigration of the due process clause, and his complete failure of understanding that in this planet Earth, the most fundamental value is the inviolable character of the human person.
The most important lessons of the debate are the following: 1) Not anyone of the presidential candidates is fit to be the leader of our country for the next six years; 2) Election is not the way to solve our current problems with decisiveness and finality; 3) Our voters and our people should be given the shock treatment so they will learn what democracy is all about and how to choose a leader for the country who could bring us to the Promise Land; 3) We need a Constitutional Transition Government for the next six years to effect revolutionary cleansing in our country; 4) In that constitutional revolutionary government, we need a leader who is brilliant, knowledgeable and highly educated, with a vision for the country, with undying commitment to God and country; with integrity and discipline to translate vision into reality.
These are the lessons learned from the debate and to repeat what George Bernard Shaw and Robert Kennedy once wrote and said: “People see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” Why not the package of my dreams which is the Philippines of tomorrow?
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