Calls her debate gaffe a ‘career-defining moment’
In the six presidential elections that she has covered since the infamous1986 snap elections, seasoned broadcast journalist Luchi Cruz-Valdes has never experienced an election-related conflict of the same intensity she did during the second round of “PiliPinas Debates,” sponsored by her home network TV5. She knew right away she had to tender her resignation.
In what she labeled her “Red Sea” moment—referring to the biblical parable where Moses parted the Red Sea to help Israelites flee from the Egyptian army—the 55-year-old veteran recalled the event she admitted was caused by lapse in her judgment.
“First of all the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay was the last one to confirm their attendance. Si VP daw kasi hindi comfortable with debates because of his volume—he’s very soft spoken and he speaks slowly. So [Rep.] Toby Tiangco [of Binay’s camp]called me up, Thursday before the Sunday debate to ask me kung pwede bang magdala ng notes,” Valdes recalled for the record.
“Now, this was—and this is—my mistake, [because]I said yes. I really didn’t know that there was such a rule. And no one from our staff told me as well. So it was my direct mistake but it was the oversight of the entire production staff,” Valdes added.
The News5 chief admitted that her mistake didn’t dawn on her until the debate itself. She shared that on that day, even the President’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda who was with the Roxas campaign, asked her if she allowed the Vice President to bring notes onstage.
“‘Yes I did,’ I said. Dun na nagkagulo,” Valdes recalled. And as it turned out, the notes the Vice President’s camp were referring were folders upon folders of documents.
“At that hour, Secretary Mar was so mad at us and I knew that he had every reason to be so… but suffice to say he would just not allow the debate to continue with Binay there with notes.
“I tried to convince Binay that he can do it without the documents, nagmamakaawa ako. Hindi raw, nag-practice daw siya with the documents, so ayaw.”
Consequently, the miscommunication between Valdes and the Vice President’s camp caused the hour-and-30-minute long delay in the debate and prompted netizens to call it a “failure,” some even making a joke out of the whole thing, changing the title to “Pilipinas DeLate”.
“So ang nangyari, Binay’s camp refused to allow the debate to go on if the vice president would not be allowed to bring his documents. That’s what held up the debate. All the other three were willing to go on without Binay. Commission on Elections Chairman Andy Bautista tried to convince the Binay camp but at the same time allowed us to continue without the VP, and kami rin feeling namin, kung ayaw talaga ni VP Binay na hindi kasama yung notes niya, wala na kaming magagawa but the show must go on. But ayaw nila [Binay camp] kasi nga unfair daw, magmumukha pang he ran away from the fight.”
Red Sea moment
“I would tell you—you know I’m a Christian—it was my Red Sea moment. You’re like facing the sea, your choice is to drown yourself or to surrender to the enemy again,” the news and current affairs head honcho explained to The Manila Times.
“At that point, wala na akong masabi, ginawa ko na lahat, pero wala talaga. Sabi ko sa producer ko, so this is it, this is my end. Because I knew! I didn’t have to be fired, I knew I was going to resign, I was like, ‘Oh my God!’”
But as fate would have it, what she thought was the untimely end of profession actually turned out to be the defining moment of her 34-year career.
“Just when I said, that’s it, I am going to resign I heard Senator Grace Poe and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte entertaining the audience outside! On their own, they stepped onstage and they started talking to the live audience and the audience were laughing. So lahat kami nagulat.”
With a leeway presenting itself, Valdes immediately made her move. “And that’s when my boss said to me, ‘Luchi just start it already—explain to them apologize,’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ I mean, it was the least I could do. I would have done anything to save the show and apologizing was like wala sa akin yan, murahin niyo na ako kung gusto niyo pero talagang kasalanan ko kaya aakuin ko.”
Off-air Valdes owned the blunder and made an impromptu apology. The said apology was later posted online and convinced other netizens to retract their bashing and call out her professionalism.
“So I went out there and then I explained to them and then I apologized. I said it in the most respectful way I could, and I had no idea that that little move of mine to apologize would be so appreciated by the majority,” Valdes sincerely said.
But despite the praises, Valdes was also aware of the bashing, “Of course other people had other opinions and I respect them for that kasi palpak talaga yun. I was called ‘amateur’ by some and people said, ‘Ano ba yan napaka simple na rule!’ Tapos parang others thought that I was anti-Binay because of that, etc. That’s par for the course.”
Besides from recognizing her misjudgment, Valdes also shined throughout the debate as she effectively moderated the exchanges, including the most heated ones among the presidential candidates.
“My moderating job in the debate was a defining moment, I think, for me.
Lagi naming sinasabi, sa journalists, unfortunately most of us will never have defining moments—it’ll just be a day to day plodding looking for great stories to tell. So your happiness should derive from telling your story every day, kasi kung ang happiness mo ide-derive mo dun sa kasikatan mo, hindi mangyayari yan, unless God gives you a defining moment, na hindi mo sinasadya,” Valdes evaluated.
The multi-awarded broadcast journalist added, “So it became my defining moment, I didn’t even know it, but how old am I? I’m 55, and ngayon lang talaga ako parang wow, ngayon lang ako nakilala. Meron ngang mga comments na, ‘I didn’t know you even existed!’”
In the end, Valdes regarded the blunder as a blessing.
“Most of us will never have those, so we have to be happy with just doing our work. Ako above all else, that’s so important. Sabi nga nila, if you love your work, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” she finally noted.