IF what we saw and heard in the first presidential debate last Sunday (as hosted by GMA-7 in Cagayan de Oro city), is an indicator of the state of the presidential race, I would have to say that our country is in trouble. We’re not going to have the watershed election in May that we all hope for – watershed being a decisive break from the present morass of ineptitude and a harbinger of change. We won’t see a new president who will offer a transformational vision and program for the nation.
From what I saw, none of the candidates is really prepared to confront head on the problems of the nation. Neither GMA network nor Inquirer was prepared to ask them the tough questions or to insist on answers.
Neither wit nor humor
There was a numbing predictability to the questions, and a dullness to the candidates’ responses.
Oh, sure, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was asked about the state of her health.
Vice president Jejomar Binay was asked about political dynasties.
Mayor Rody Duterte was asked about his women and kissing sprees.
Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares was asked about her lack of experience, and told that there’s no on the job training (OJT) in the presidency.
And former local government secretary Mar Roxas was asked about his performance in crisis like Yolanda.
The two-hour debate emitted neither wit nor humor throughout, despite the presence of the usually irrepressible Senator Miriam.
This was because none of the questions and none of the answers dealt with the issue of what each candidate would bring to the table in terms of vision, programs, policies, and solutions, if they are elected president.
Throughout the debate, I never got the sense that any of the candidates has done a strategic audit of the problems facing the nation, let alone attempted to come up with a policy agenda to deal with them.
Will this pass for vision?
Tell me if any of this qualifies for vision in your book.
Grace Poe declared that her first act in office will be to issue an executive order to pass the freedom of information act, as if passing laws would forthwith become the business of the presidency, and cease to be the duty of Congress.
Mar Roxas talked candidly about being born to relative comfort, and about his family being secure from want or fear. He said he wants to see all families attain the same level of security, under his leadership.
Jojo Binay talked about his long experience in solving problems and making decisions, and how in Makati, they successfully addressed the problems of poverty and inadequate social services. He seeks to replicate the local record on the national stage.
Senator Santiago pledge herself to stamping out corruption, and to completely end the looting of the public treasury by government officials.
Mayor Duterte declared that within six months of his presidency, he will remove drugs, corruption, and stamp out criminality in the country.
Only-Filipino policy led to superficiality
I don ‘t know if I’m alone in thinking this, but I believe we would have gotten a better sense of the capability, eloquence and depth of the candidates if the organizers did not exile the English language from the conversation.
The only–Filipino policy produced questions and answers that could not grasp the complexity and severity of the problems the country is facing today.
The historian Horacio de la Costa once said that whenever we Filipinos have something complex to say, we turn to English. The complexity of problems and solutions was missing throughout the debate because the candidates were locked into facile Filipino formulations of the problems and solutions.
Consequently, no one showed a serious grasp or understanding of the problems. No one cited the statistics that describe the nation we are today. And no one offered any memorable sound bites for us to take away.
Technically first-rate, intellectually wanting
The technical aspects and coverage of the debate were impressive. Patterned after the CNN debates in the US, the debate had three rounds, with each round focusing on a specific issue.
TV, radio, internet were on hand to cover the event at the Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro. It was broadcast live over GMA-7 and Super Radyo dzBB. It was also live streamed on GMA News Online (www.gmanews.tv) and INQUIRER.net, two big news websites in the country.
GMA-7 also allowed viewers to make their sentiments known through the Emoji Meter, which allows them to instantly react to what was happening during the debate.
Internationally, the event was broadcast live in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, USA and Canada, and was aired delayed in the Asia Pacific region.
These technical niceties aside, the debate was sorely lacking in depth and intellect. The moments of excitement were few and fleeting.
There was one critical exchange between Roxas and Binay, when Roxas pointedly drew a contrast between the Makati of the Ayalas and the Makati of the Binays, He alleged widespread poverty and drug use in Binay’s side of the city. This jolted Binay momentarily.
Binay made a comeback of sorts when he lambasted the administration’s policy of underspending as a key reason for underperformance and failures under Aquino.
There is a little-known WB study that examined the main causes of the country’s underperformance in education, health, and transport. It found that, while spending efficiency is a problem in transport, shortfalls in the size of public spending is the key cause of underperformance in all these sectors.
Poe made a startling promise, hoping to ingratiate herself with the Mindanao audience. She promised to devote 30 percent of the national budget to Mindanao if she becomes president.
30 percent? She still has much to learn. She could lose more votes than she will get with this extravagant promise.
A world-class event?
At debate’s end, each candidate was given 60 seconds for their closing statements.
It is a moment ripe for the taking by a prepared sound bite.
But no one believes enough in his/her candidacy to eloquently plead for a minute why he/she should be vested with the majesty and powers of the presidency.
Sensing a less than enthusiastic public verdict , Comelec chairman Andy Bautista tried to review the event himself.
He declared: “It was a world-class event in substance and form.”
It was a mercy that the spectacle finally ended.