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Who Passed and Who Failed in the First Philippine Presidential Debate

Philippine presidential candidates Jejomar Binay, Miriam Santiago, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Mar Roxas
Philippine presidential candidates Jejomar Binay, Miriam Santiago, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Mar Roxas. Inquirer photo

he first two-hour presidential debate held this past Sunday in Cagayan de Oro was quite revealing in that it brought together the top five presidential contenders on to a single stage allowing them to present their views, answer questions and rebut one another's arguments. While the format and design still left much to be desired, GMA Television and the Philippine Daily Inquirer deserve to be commended for putting it together for the Filipino voter.

Here's how we believe each of the participants did on a "pass" or "fail" basis:

Vice President Jejomar Binay. Binay's performance was average. He made no mistakes, and showed he had a reasonably good grasp of the issues. He was against the death penalty—which we liked, but also seemed to vacillate with regard to implementing the anti-dynasty provision in the constitution—which we didn't like. Having placed every member of his immediate family in politics, the Binay family is the personification of a political dynasty in the making.

Because of all the charges of corruption leveled against him, and his "average" performance in the debate, we have to give Binay a "fail." He offered us no compelling reason why he deserves our vote.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Santiago's performance was likewise, less than stellar. Gone were the firebrand antics and sharp retorts that once defined her public performances. Age and health issues seem to have dulled her performance edge a bit. When asked how she could manage as president when she had missed so many workdays in the Senate due to her hypertension and cancer, she offered no definitive statement other than that she was healthy enough to fulfill her duties as president.

Defensor gets an "fail" from us as well. She too offered no compelling reason why she deserves our vote.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte seemed out of his element at the start of the debate but quickly picked up his stride. While not as polished as some of his more seasoned opponents, Duterte got his points across. He articulated a very compelling reason as to why he deserves our vote: he would put an end to corruption, drug trafficking and criminality within six months of assuming office. While voter concern about his womanizing and his involvement with vigilante groups are still an issue, we give Duterte a "pass" for his overall debate performance.

Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares. Poe appeared the most articulate of the group. She did her best to parry the blows of inexperience leveled against her by coming prepared with facts and figures. She appeared to be the only one who sprinkled her answers with information that she read from notes she had on her lectern. While her eloquence was impressive, she was still unable to escape the fact that she is woefully inexperienced. Her retort that she can tell when someone is lying to her will not help her when a person advising her is not lying to her but offering the wrong advice. Poe's performance in the debate was very good but because the threshold to overcome her inexperience is so high, we have to give her a "fail." She failed to "wow" us or convince us that she can really do the job.

Mar Roxas. Roxas had the lowest threshold among the five candidates on stage. He has sterling credentials, has been in government for decades, and according to him, has never been accused of corruption. Roxas appeared to have a good grasp of the issues facing the country. He appeared the most "presidential" of all those on stage. We give Roxas a "pass." Because he has little or no negatives to overcome, as we noted above, he easily gets our nod of approval.

The GMA/Inquirer debate was good for the Filipino people. We'd like to see more of it before election. From this one debate, we were able to determine who passed our criteria and who didn't—just as every Filipino voter who watched it was able to determine who they liked and who didn't make the cut.

Candidates join hands at the close of the debate
Candidates join hands at the close of the debate. Lyn Rillon/Pool/AFP photo

With millions of Filipinos now living and working all over the world, complex global issues impinge more and more onto local politics, and the Philippines needs a chief executive with varied skills and broad experience than was required even just a decade ago. So more debates please so voters can separate the wheat from the chaff. Published 2/23/2016

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