MANILA (UPDATE) - Opposition coalition Otso Diretso on Wednesday challenged other senatorial candidates to face them in debates instead of complaining about “negative campaigning” during political sorties.
Two weeks since the start of the campaign period, administration and opposition candidates have been having a tit for tat over different issues including the decision of corruption-tagged former lawmakers to run again for the Senate.
Hugpong ng Pagbabago candidates Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and Jinggoy Estrada, who is on trial for allegedly pocketing P183 million in discretionary funds during his time as senator, had also slammed the Otso Diretso slate for touting their clean record at the expense of other candidates.
But lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the problem is the exchanges never happen face to face.
“Ang problema magkakaroon ng forum, debates pero 'yung mga bumabatikos sa'min hindi naman humaharap sa debate,” Romulo Macalintal told reporters in a forum.
(The problem is there will be a forum, debates, but the ones criticizing us cannot face us in the debates.)
“We are challenging the administration slate to a debate anytime, anywhere, kahit anong format, kahit ‘Fast Talk‘ pa (whatever the format, even a 'Fast Talk' type,” said candidate Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno, whose response in the 'Fast Talk' round of Sunday's "Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate" went viral.
“Kahit na 13 versus 8 OK sa'min yun, kahit 4 versus 1 OK sa amin 'yun basta magkaalaman tayo,” he said.
(Even if it's 13 [candidates] versus 8 that's OK with us, even if it's 4 versus 1 it's OK with us, as long as we get to see what we're all about.)
Otso Diretso candidates - who continue to suffer from low voter awareness - have been lauded on social media for their performance in televised debates, while pre-election survey frontrunners have yet to participate in these public exchanges.
Senatorial aspirants should prove that they could argue for or against measures that will be tackled in Congress, said another candidate, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said.
“Hindi dapat puwedeng sabihin na tumatakbo ako dahil sinabi ng presidente,” Alejano said.
(You cannot just say you're running because the President wants you to.)
“Importante na marinig sila dahil ang trabaho ng mga kongresista ay magbalangkas ng mga batas. Kung hindi sila sisipot, ano ang magiging basehan ng taong-bayan?” he said.
(It's important that they also be heard because it is the job of lawmakers to make laws. If they don't show up, what will be the basis of the people?)
‘SURVEY TOPNOTCHERS SHOULD ALSO BE TOP DEBATERS’
Other opposition candidates Florin Hilbay and Samira Gutoc urged other senatorial hopefuls to “subject themselves to public scrutiny.”
“Kung top performers sila sa surveys, dapat top
discussors din sila. You should also be subject to public scrutiny,” Gutoc said, noting that survey top notchers have yet to appear in public debates.
(If they are top performers in surveys, they should also be top discussors. You show also be subject to public scrutiny.)
Gutoc did not give specific names but several reelectionists and administrations bets have been ranking high in pre-election surveys.
“'Yung ibang kandidato takot na maresibuhan 'yung mga ibinibenta nilang ideals,” Hilbay said.
(Other candidates are scared that the people would take proof of the ideals they are propagating.)
“Mayroon diyan na tumatakbo daw para sa mahirap pero may kaso ng pandarambong. Mayroon naman na para daw sa kababaihan pero tahimik sa mga isyu na laban sa kababaihan,” he said.
(There's one there who is running for the poor but has a corruption case. There is one who is running for women but is quiet on issues concerning women.)
He did not name names but three candidates- former senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile-were charged with plunder in 2013 after they allegedly pocketed millions-worth of discretionary funds through ghost organizations.
Revilla was acquitted by the Sandiganbayan but was instructed by the anti-graft court to return P124.5 million to the national coffers. He is still facing 16 other counts of graft and had posted bail for his temporary liberty.
Estrada and Enrile are both out on bail while on trial.
Another administration candidate, Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, who championed the Reproductive Health Bill during her time as senator, was slammed by critics for staying mum amid President Rodrigo Duterte's jokes about rape and rape victims.
When asked who they want to debate with, Diokno said he wanted a rematch with Marcos.
“Dahil malapit na ang people power, siguro kung ituloy na namin ni Gov. Imee ang aming debate,” the founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law said.
(Because the anniversary of the [EDSA] People Power [revolution] is approaching, maybe Gov. Imee and I could push through with our debate.)
Diokno’s father, former senator and Marcos critic Jose W. Diokno, was arrested without warrant and jailed without charges shortly after Marcos' late strongman father declared martial law in 1972.
The scions of Diokno and Marcos filed their certificates of candidacy at the same time in October 2018 and was pitted against each other during the GMA-7 debates.
Gutoc, the lone female candidate of the opposition, wants to debate against other women candidates.
“I’d like to see the women candidates. I’d like to see where they stand on issues [like] gender, rape jokes,” she said.
Gutoc, a former Moro assemblywoman, resigned from her post after Duterte’s rape joke.
“I’d also like to see lesser visible candidates to make sure that those not in the top 12 will get the equal opportunity to be heard,” she said.
MAKE DEBATES MANDATORY
Macalintal, meanwhile, said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should make election debates mandatory.
“Para pantay-pantay, ang dapat na qualification ay dapat humarap kayo sa taong-bayan,” Macalintal told reporters.
(For fairness, candidates should face the public.)
“Dapat ang Comelec magkakaroon ng debate at 'yung mga hindi a-attend, disqualified,” he said.
(The Comelec should hold debates and disqualify candidates who fail to attend.)
Candidates are duty-bound to present themselves and their stance on issues before voters, said Macalintal, a veteran election lawyer.
“Kinakailangan siguro malaman ng taong-bayan kung sino kami at sino sila,” he said.
(Voters need to know who we are and who they (administration candidates) are.)
“Kasi ang nangyayari ay salita sila ng salita na kami ay naninira. Mabuti pa 'yung kami ay magharapan para makita sino ang nagsasabi ng totoo at sino ang nambobola,” he said.
(It's better for candidates to face each other so the public can see who's lying and who's telling the truth.)
Re-electionist Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who is running under the administration’s banner, earlier filed a bill institutionalizing the airing of debates during campaign seasons.
Under Pimentel’s Senate Bill No. 2147, broadcast media companies would be required to mount debates featuring candidates running for public office.
The debate should "include a discussion of the candidate’s program of government and their stand on the most pressing issues affecting their respective constituencies,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel had initially confirmed to attend Sunday's ABS-CBN debate but did not show up, sending word on the day that he had pressing matters to attend to.
Hilbay, meanwhile, said other campaign laws should also be amended to ensure an equal playing field among candidates.
“I will be more than open to redrafting election laws para matanggal 'yung impluwensiya ng sobrang daming pera sa election (to remove the influence of money in elections),” Hilbay said.
At least 20 senatorial candidates have spent at least P10 million for political advertisements from January 2018 to January 2019, a recent study from the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed.