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The CNN Philippines Vice Presidential Debate: Who We Liked, Who We Didn't Like

Vice presidential candidates: Cayetano, Escudero, Honasan, Marcos, Robredo, Trillanes. Photo: collection of screen-grabs from the CNN debate

The CNN vice presidential debate held at the University of Santo Tomas campus in Manila on April 10, gave Filipino voters the chance to see and hear the top six contenders side be side, answering questions and interacting with one another for well over an hour. Like the millions of Filipinos who watched the debate on television or streamed it from the internet, we were able to form our own fairly distinct opinions about each candidate.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano
By far Cayetano was the most articulate. His responses were usually sharp and to-the-point. His readiness to call out all who have wronged the country, like Vice President Jejomar Binay, the Marcoses, former President Gloria Arroyo, Janet Napoles, even  the president, shows the firmness of his convictions. Cayetano in our opinion would certainly make a good vice president ... maybe even president.

 His party's push for the establishment of a federal form of government however creates a lot of questions and complexities that will most likely hobble a Duterte-Cayetano administration, should they win. Fighting crime, eliminating corruption, and stimulating the economy are already huge tasks by themselves. Things will get significantly more complicated when you throw in a constitutional convention to revise the country's constitution to allow for the creation of a federalist form of government. Six years seems way too short a span of time to accomplish all those goals.

Senator Francis Escudero
Escudero talks in a strange, funny way. He reminds us a bit of GMA-TV news anchor Mike Enriquez who speaks in a contrived unnatural accent, similar to the way American announcers spoke in the old newsreels created during the first half of the twentieth century. Escudero may fancy himself as a modern-day Balagtas. Unfortunately, we sometimes couldn't get past the accent and found ourselves paying little attention to what he was actually saying.

What we found telling however was Escudero's answer to the question by CNN International correspondent Kristie Lu Stout as to how the Philippine-American alliance should evolve. Escudero immediately launched into accusations that Filipinos are looked down upon as "little brown brothers" by Americans. According to him they belittle the Philippines simply because America is a bigger and richer country. At best, Escudero exhibits signs of an inferiority complex that could hobble Philippine-American relations should he be elected vice president.

Senator Gringo Honasan
Honasan appears to be the closest thing to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in Philippine politics. Like Palin, he speaks in short disjointed sentences that a listener has to first deconstruct in order to get what he is trying to say. Honasan's long career in politics is his primary selling point in his bid for the vice presidency.

For Honasan, the pinnacle of his popularity was the minor role he played during the EDSA revolution. Everything else has been downhill since then.

Senator Bongbong Marcos
One thing we can give Marcos is that he does not rattle easily. Despite a group of hecklers in the audience chanting "Never again to Martial Law," not to mention ceaseless attacks from his co-debaters, Marcos managed to keep his composure and even dish-out a few attacks of his own.

What is extremely troubling in our view is the seeming "separate reality" that Marcos lives in. Despite the mountain of evidence that details the crimes, the abuses and the plunder that went on during his father's martial law regime, Marcos steadfastly refuses to apologize or even acknowledge any wrongdoing by his family. Put in a position of power, it is almost a certainty that Marcos will move Heaven and Earth to exonerate the crimes of his parents. We are reminded of the saying: "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. As far as we're concerned only an indescribably idiotic electorate would elect an unrepentant Marcos to an office that is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Congresswoman Leni Robredo
Like Cayetano, Robredo was also one of our favorites. She was articulate and despite being a neophyte legislator, she appeared to have an good grasp of the various issues facing the country. When asked by CNN's Ivan Watson how her future administration would deal with China and the competing claims to the Spratlys? Robredo's answer was spot-on. She agreed with taking the matter to the United Nations for arbitration. While waiting for tribunal's decision she would modernize the military to be able to better stand up to China. She wanted the Philippines to take a leadership role by forming strategic alliances with neighbors like Indonesia and Vietnam, against China. Last but not least, Robredo would deal with China only in multi-lateral negotiations; never bi-lateral.

Robredo also showed she had no problem going head-to-head with her more boisterous male rivals despite her somewhat soft-spoken nature.

Senator Antonio Trillanes
We thought Trillanes had a good debate as well. For us Trillanes came in third behind Cayetano and Robredo. He's honest, trustworthy, straight as an arrow, very tough on corruption ... and appears to hate Binay with a passion. Unfortunately, running as an independent without a running-mate or party apparatus Trillanes has little chance of winning the vice presidency. He's relying on the Magdalo group to bolster his chances of winning. Trillanes' term as senator ends in 2019 so win or loose, he remains a high-ranking public servant for the next three years.

Lastly, while this debate was far better than the last presidential debate moderated by Luchi Cruz-Valdez, this debate's moderators Pia Hontiveros and Pinky Webb still left much to be desired. We thought Hontiveros' side comments were mostly shallow and unprofessional. She would have done much better if she kept those comments to herself. Also, the questioning of candidates appeared sloppy and not well thought out. For example, Ivan Watson's very important foreign policy question regarding China and the Spratlys was only directed at Robredo and Trillanes. What about the others? We would have wanted to hear what Cayetano, Escudero, Marcos, and Honasan also had to say on this very vital subject. Poor planning and mediocre moderators sadly, destroyed it for us. Is this the best "PILIPINAS DEBATES" can do? Surely, we can do better. Published 4/11/2016

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