By CONG B. CORRALES
and NITZ ARANCON
ALL the five presidential candidates yesterday faced each other in the Mindanao leg of the “Pilipinas Debates 2016” at the Capitol University (CU) where they were confronted by issues that have long been hounding them. They however expressed disappointment over the time limits imposed on them during the debate.
All roads led to the CU as the top candidates and their supporters gathered for the first of three presidential debates, the only one in Mindanao.
Security was as tight as Malacañang’s as organizers enforced a four-tiered security check on the debate audience, including those in the media center.
There was a slight commotion at the debate venue when some 70 people bottle-necked at the theater lobby.
Outside the venue, the atmosphere was festive with supporters of presidential candidates cheering and chanting–some even brought drum and bugle corps.
Inside the mini-theater, the stage was a stunning display of sequence and gold of Maranao-inspired drapes and musical instruments of kulintangs and tambols.
People from different walks of life came to be enlightened. They were entertained instead.
Right off the bat, Liberal party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II, without naming names, criticized his rivals one by one, and asked people to choose him instead during his opening statement.
Vice President Jejomar Binay claimed he turned Makati around, and claimed he made the city government the richest local government unit in the country.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago vowed to jail all corrupt politicians if she gets elected President.
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he only needed three to six months to rid the country of criminality.
For her part, Sen. Grace Poe promised to allott 30 percent of the country’s budget to Mindanao.
All candidates entertained the audience punchline after punchline.
The debate consisted of questions regarding specific issues that have hounded the candidates while the more substantive Mindanao issues were just railroaded with the candidates giving one-liners.
Binay was asked of his landholdings, and he responded by saying his landholdings are not really that many. He said some of it were inherited while the others were bought when he was still lawyering.
Santiago was asked about her health. She quipped that she intends to spend the rest of her remaining years serving the country.
“It’s my right to run,” said Santiago.
Duterte said he did not see Santiago “passing away in the next 20 years,” a quip that drew laughter from the audience.
Santiago added she wants to spend her last years serving the country and throwing corrupt politicians in jail, “except Duterte.” This drew another lively guffaw from the audience.
Duterte, in turn, was asked on the extrajudicial killings in his city and alleged philandering. At first, he said that most of the issues about him were true. He admitted to having “girlfriends,” saying “I’m separated from my wife and my other wife is in the States. It’s just biology.”
Poe, for her part, was asked about her lack of experience in government. She responded by saying that it did not really matter and likened the presidency to a mother taking care of her children.
With this, Roxas exclaimed: “Hindi OJT ang pagiging pangulo.”
Roxas was asked on the response of government to typhoon Yolanda. Roxas insisted he did not leave Tacloban until everything was in place. He also used the opportunity to lash at Binay for acting like a “rock star” during the Yolanda debacle.
“He (Binay) made a brief appearance, then disappeared, riding a chopper,” said Roxas.
The candidates were unhappy with the time constraints, and were one in saying that two hours were not enough for them to discuss issues.
After the debate, Duterte complained to local media present that it wasn’t really a debate but an extended “question and answer.”
“How can we express our platforms when we were given only 60 seconds?” he told reporters outside the debate venue.
He said he asked organizers to extend the debate by at least another hour but organizers did not grant his request.
“Useless,” said Duterte, complaining that they were only given very little time for their rebuttal and reaction.
But several times during the debate, Duterte said he agreed with his rivals, and there was nothing to rebut.
Duterte said he may not take part in the Visayas debate unless the organizers agreed to give the candidates more time.
Roxas told reporters before leaving CU: “Kulang ang panahon para pag-usapan ang mga issues. Hindi naman puwedeng pag-usapan ng isang minuto o 30 segundos ang mga issues natin.”
Roxas said what happened was mostly “photo ops, sound bytes, at pasakalye lang.”
Binay immediately left the CU after the debate, followed by Santiago, and Poe. Like Roxas and Duterte, they, too, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the debate, saying they didn’t have enough time to expound on important issues.
Commission on Election director James Jimenez said, “Medyo bitin nga yung format. They were not really able to present their plans. As for the coverage protocols, we will definitely tweak it. We will apply what we’ve learned here so that what happened here will not happen again.”