The Manila Times : Junk these absurd debates, let's have a Marcos-Robredo one-on-one

28 March 2022

By Rigoberto Tiglao | The Manila Times

OUR presidential debates (and worse, the vice-presidential), if their formats are not drastically changed, are just a sheer waste of time. They deprive voters of a real opportunity to really know the candidates.

To have four, five debate participants, including those who would win only in an alternate universe, is ridiculous and absurd, and I am astonished at why the Comelec (Commission on Elections) and even private entities undertake these and seem to revel in having them as hyped-up events held in five-star hotel ballrooms.

That "Deep Probe" format is worse: how sadistic (I dare say, stupid) can its organizers be to have the likes of Jose Montemayor, who I swear had a mad look in his eyes and who can't even fix his tie, and Jose Ma. Sison's candidate, Leody de Guzman with his constant salesman's grin, lectured us for half an hour with their nonsense with otherwise intelligent interlocutors ridiculously nodding their heads at their gibberish.

I admire the panelists though for their willpower in maintaining their deadpan looks, suppressing their laughter at the ridiculous responses of Montemayor and de Guzman.

Look, because I got so pissed off listening to these clowns the other day, I switched to Netflix — making me miss Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s segment, which I hear was very informative of the candidate. How many Filipinos did that?

The only people who really profit from these are the handful of megalomaniacs running — I'm convinced two among the presidential candidate are insane or crackpots — who in their delusion think they can be president when everything would tell a rational man they have more chances of winning in the US billion-dollar Powerball lottery.

Who?

Who the hell is candidate Faisal Mangondato? In the vice-presidential race, the quintessence of a megalomaniac is the 77-year-old Walden Bello, now a nobody in Bangkok but because of these absurd debates can even hurl curses on national television at the two front-runners in this race, among the most respected Filipinos now.

Our presidential debates started only in the 2016 elections. As many things we undertake without knowing why, we mimicked this enterprise from the Americans who have had 16 such debates starting in 1858.

Like many things we ape from Americans, this one's a flawed copy, the US presidential debates are between only two people, the candidates of the two main parties, the Republican and the Democrat. And needless to say, because of each party's rigorous nomination process, they are the most qualified to be fielded by the two parties.

As a New York Times opinion article on this topic put it; "The debates test the performative aspect of leadership: stamina, mental agility, wit." In our case, especially in the case of Leni Robredo, it only tests her memory in repeating the lines her handlers and wordsmiths have given her.

That the debate includes only the candidates of these two parties actually is not the rule of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization set up by the two parties in 1987 to formalize and organize the debates.

The actual rule is that a candidate can participate in the debate if he or manages to get at least 15 percent in five polls on presidential preferences. That rule had excluded the Green Party's Ralph Nader from the debates in 2000 despite his insistence to join them, that he even tried to crash one, but was stopped by a security guard at the entrance. He had been polling only 3 and 6 percent.

Cut-off

This "cut-off" rule is so logical, I am astonished we do not adopt it. It would filter out candidates who run only to feed their egos, don't have a chance of winning, but reduce voters' opportunity to learn about the important issues confronting our country and to really find out the qualifications of those who would want to be our leaders. Do we really need to hear that crackpot cardiologist's arguments that we need to cut diplomatic ties with China or that Red labor leader mouthing decades-old slogans, when they won't win anyway?

If we limit participants only to those who have some, even the slightest chance of winning, panelists would have more time to probe the candidates' real thinking on particular issues, they will have more opportunity to spar with each other intellectually and voters will be much more informed of what kind of people the candidates are.

The 2016 debates were better off than those for these elections since there were no cretins running and only five real candidates — Jojo Binay, Grace Poe, Rodrigo Duterte, Mar Roxas and Miriam Defensor Santiago. If the 15 percent cut-off rule had been adopted, only Santiago would not have qualified, as she was garnering only 3 percent in the polls, while the other four all had at least 20 percent.

It is only those four who had a chance of winning with each having at least a 20-percent preference rating, so voters were entitled to listen to the four in a presidential debate. (Duterte instead just made fun of Roxas, for example, asking him if he was too nervous that he kept on going to the bathroom. Cleverly, he didn't bother with Binay.)

But what kind of contest features a fight in one arena among four contenders? Only the wrestling "matches" of the World Wrestling Federation — which everyone knows aren't real fights but entertainment shows.

One-on-one

Only through a one-on-one debate will we really know the qualifications of a presidential candidate.

In the current cycle, only two candidates, of course, could pass that 15-percent threshold, Ferdinand Marcos (60 percent in the PulseAsia February 18 to 23 poll and 60 percent in the Laylo Report), and Leni Robredo (60 and 17 percent).

The next president can only be either Marcos or Robredo. Isko Domagoso is using this cycle, preparing — both financially and politically — for 2028, while Sen. Panfilo Lacson is in retirement-fund raising mode, raising lots of money that his Reporma Party wanted some of his loot and demanded he shell out P800 million for the political vehicle had been using at no cost. The rest of the candidates are cuckoos on an ego trip. Don't spend another minute or peso giving them a soapbox. They should just blabber in the barbershop.

C'mon guys, don't we want a one-on-one between Marcos and Robredo? An hour of such debate will give us real insights into who should be president.

If the Comelec won't do it, let's have, ehem, my favorite newspaper, The Manila Times, challenge the two to such a debate, although I'm quite sure one of them will readily agree, while the other would make lame excuses.

Let Comelec keep calling its stupid debates and I'm sure only Montemayor, de Guzman and Mangondato — maybe Manny Pacquiao — will be attending, while the one-on-one will be the event of these elections.