MANILA, Philippines - A number of presidential candidates and their running mates gave various comments following the cancellation of ABS-CBN's "HARAPAN: The Tandem Presidential Debate" scheduled for Sunday night.
Loren Legarda of the Nacionalista Party (NP) made it clear that her non-participation has nothing to do with her performance in ABS-CBN's vice presidential debate in the previous week.
In an online poll held during ABS-CBN's "HARAPAN: The Vice Presidential Debate" last Sunday, Legarda got the lowest vote of 4%. In the said poll, viewers were asked to gauge the "truthfulness" of the answers of vice presidential debates.
Jay Sonza of Kilusang Bagong Lipunan also got a score of 4%. (For the full results of the HARAPAN vice presidential polls, click here.)
"Ako'y na-set up, whatever, ipagpaliban na lang iyon. Marami talagang hindi naniniwala, paano ba iyon ako'y ginawang kulelat? Di ba 4%? So parang hindi kapani-paniwala, pero ayoko nang pahabain (I was set up, whatever, let's put that to rest. Many didn't believe the results, how did I lag in the debate? It was 4%, right? It wasn't believable at all, but I don't want to make an issue out of it)," Legarda told ABS-CBN News.
Legarda added that she and NP standard bearer Manuel "Manny" Villar did not back out from the debate because they never confirmed their participation in the first place.
Manuel "Mar" Roxas, vice presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP), explained that he and Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III backed out from "HARAPAN: The Tandem Presidential Debate" after most of their opponents withdrew from the debate.
"Nakakalungkot na ang mga kapwa ko kandidato ay umatras sa nakatakdang debate. Dahil dito, ang mga botante ay nawalan ng tsansa na makilalang mabuti ang mga kandidato na nais nilang iboto sa nalalapit na halalan (It saddens me that our fellow candidates backed out from the scheduled debate. Because of this, our voters lost a chance to get to know the candidates they want to elect in the upcoming polls)," he said.
On Friday, several presidential and vice presidential candidates said they won't be able to participate in the said forum.
Former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada said he and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino were too busy campaigning to make time for ABS-CBN's debate.
Meanwhile, former defense secretary Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro of Lakas-Kampi-CMD said he has already saturated forums and debates and now needs to concentrate on doing campaign sorties in the provinces.
For his part, Teodoro's running mate Edu Manzano saw television debates as another view for mudslinging among candidates. Manzano shunned ABS-CBN's "HARAPAN" debate last Sunday.
The only tandems who confirmed attendance for the scheduled debate are Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon and former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Bayani Fernando (Bagumbayan-VNP) and Bro. Eddie Villanueva and former Securities and Exchange Commission chief Perfecto Yasay (Bangon Pilipinas).
Gordon and Fernando, who claim to be the country's "transformers" as part of their nationwide campaign, said they opted to participate in ABS-CBN's tandem debate so Filipinos will get to see "what the candidates are really capable of."
He made the statement as most candidates -- as with every campaign season -- tend to make a lot of promises in their political advertisements in television, radio, print, and the Internet.
"[Hindi maganda] kapag hindi natin nakilatis ang presidente at ang nakikita lang natin iyong make-believe world. Ang dapat na makita natin ay kung ano ang kaya ng lider ," Gordon said.
Fernando, for his part, said that it takes a strong will to participate in a tandem forum such as ABS-CBN's "HARAPAN."
"Ako'y nalulungkot sa isang banda at nag-atrasan iyong mga katunggali namin para sa debate ng HARAPAN na dapat ngayong gabi. [Pero] ako'y natutuwa sa isang banda, at least nakikita natin na kailangan na rin talaga ng tibay ng loob [para sumali dito]," he said.
Supporters of the Gordon-Fernando tandem assembled in front of the Far Eastern University on Sunday, the supposed venue for the cancelled "HARAPAN" debate.
"It's the people's right to know what our candidates want to do for our country, thus the debate. We don't want it all to end with their speeches," said Alfred Adave III, one of the volunteers in support of the Gordon-Fernando tandem.
With the cancelled debate, a replay of the "HARAPAN: The Vice Presidential Debate" from last Sunday will be aired on ABS-CBN, Studio 23, the ABS-CBN News Channel and the Filipino Channel. -- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News