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It is quite nice to see the move by the Commission  on Elections to educate voters through a series of televised debates. The first debate was hosted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA 7. I was sort of live tweeting my reactions but I wanted to expound more on my observations from last night.

Impressions

The first thing I’d comment on is the format. Each candidate was allowed to make an opening statement. Afterwards came three rounds with different themes. In each round, a candidate was paired with another. The first candidate was be asked a question (a la Miss Universe), and is given a minute and a half to answer. Then, the partner gets to comment on the answer. The first candidate will then have another 30 seconds to respond. At the end of three rounds, they again gave their closing statements. Round 1 was about their track record. Round 2 was about poverty. Round 3 was about Mindanao. Here’s a brief transcript of the opening statements, questions and answers, and closing statements for the 1st debate.

While the questions, particularly in the first round, appear to be well thought of and tailored to some candidates, this only allowed candidates to speak in broad strokes. As for opponent rebuttals, they weren’t really. Several times, they were in agreement with each other making it quite hard to make apparent what makes each of them “better” to vote for. None of the questions really were able to force candidates to differentiate themselves.

Mike Enriquez was a waste of space that even Jessica Soho wasn’t able to exude her journalistic clout to give the program some semblance of intellectual air. He was ineffective as an unbiased moderator, even trying to hype the crowd and the candidates as if he were a ringmaster at the town perya.

Here’s my roundup of my take on each candidate:

  • Jojo “Effective and Decisive Leader” Binay stuck with his “ganito kami sa Makati” mantra. However, he was actually quite composed with a way of speaking that appears calm, friendly, and . Beyond that, his answers weren’t of much substance relying on his manta/slogan’s appeal rather than sense. It’s well packaged swill though.
  • Miriam “Guarded by the Angel of Death” Santiago. As always with Miriam, she works with her wit and sharp tongue. She played with her strengths though she did seem too smart-sounding. Plenty of her arguments, like with her stand on the EDCA and taxation, relied on informed background knowledge to be understood. Given the time limit, she wasn’t quite able to contextualize.
  • Rody “Biology” Duterte. Ah, the fiery Davao mayor that found his foil in Senator Miriam. He was able to drop federalism and war on crime and drugs as part of his platform. But beyond the promises of six month period of results, he offered nothing really concrete on how he plans to execute (pun intended).
  • Grace “Chiz” Poe. Poe, surprisingly, appeared to be well-rehearsed and in command. She came prepared with numbers (which I have yet to fact check, do farmers really earn only Php17,000 per hectare of land) and plans of action to substantiate her platform. Though if you’d squint real hard, you’d probably think it was her running mate, Chiz Escudero, who was on stage. She seems to have picked up even the subtle intonation and vocal pace of the VP candidate
  • Mar “Banat” Roxas. Mar Roxas appeared to be well-stocked in bashing his opponents firing shots with his opening statements. He then closed with a very trapo appeal to people’s sense of drama claiming that he wanted his comfortable life be shared by fellow Filipinos.

I also observed the lack of stage presence by the candidates. I commented on my Twitter on whether or not they were coached on verbal and nonverbal communication. It seems that none of them even bothered by the JFK-Nixon textbook case of eye contact in televised presidential debates.

Winner

If there’s one winner to this, I’d say it’s GMA 7. They did have a lot of eyeballs watching. It even prompted our household to switch from UP’s Women’s Volleyball Team match to what’s up with the program. In between the rounds GMA showed political ads by the candidates and a couple of candidates for senator (Romualdez and Tolentino) which I assume were all paid air time. And they were long commercial breaks – enough to rival (or probably exceed) the commercial breaks that usually come with prime time telenovelas. So definitely a ratings and airtime revenue boost for the network.

In the program though, I’d probably give some props to Grace Poe with her well-prepared answers and composed handling of comments. Not that I agree with her but you got to give someone props for the effort. So I don’t quite know how these guys on Rappler scored it for Roxas.

Loser

Filipino voters. As always. If it was for entertainment, I’m sure we all had a few laughs at all the candidates’ gaffs and attempts to be adorable. Did the program actually inform us of what’s already been reported before? No. I’m sure none of us have been prompted to at least question our current positions or choices with that kind of program and with that kind of performance from the candidates.

Conclusion

I’m with many other who don’t seem to have a firm choice on president yet. And somehow we fear if we’d ever make a choice come election day. While the topics covered fundamental ills of Philippine society, I wished that they focused more on the controversial ones that polarized Filipino opinions as of late – topics such as the economy, national defense, taxation, SSS, RH law, gay marriage, education, social services, etc… and allow candidates to delve into the details of their platform concerning these issues. A Q&A doesn’t constitute a debate. We want candidates testing each other’s smarts and mettle. We want a format that can differentiate if not polarize candidates. I echo these points from Lawyer Ted Te. If all of the candidates claim the same and appear to be in agreement, voters will most likely base their choice on the cult of personality

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