By Catherine S. Valente | The Manila Times
CLARIFICATIONS were made on Friday by the camp of former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. or BBM and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and that of Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo and Sen. Francisco Pangilinan on perceptions that, respectively, they were chickening out from public scrutiny and were using the Catholic Church to advance their campaigns for the presidency and vice presidency in the May 2022 elections.
Lawyer Victor Rodriguez, Marcos' spokesman, denied having said that national and local candidates of the UniTeam bannered by the former senator and the Davao mayor will no longer participate in any organized debate.
"The statement being attributed to me with the title, 'WALA NG DEBATE PARA SA MGA KANDIDATO NG UNITEAM MAGMULA PRESIDENTE HANGGANG KONSEHAL (THERE WILL BE NO DEBATE FOR CANDIDATES OF UNITEAM FROM PRESIDENT TO COUNCILORS)' is a complete falsity and downright lie," Rodriguez added in a statement.
"Isa po s'yang fake news o pekeng impormasyon na may layong iligaw ang ating mga kababayan mula sa katotohanan (This is fake news or information that aims to sway the public from the truth). There is no such statement coming from me nor the BBM-Sara UniTeam," he said.
According to him, the quote was part of the "gutter politics" that rivals are supposedly using against Marcos, in particular.
"This stunt is part of the continuing gutter politics that our adversaries have employed against [Bongbong], and, out of their desperation, will only get worse as we progress with our campaign," Rodriguez said.
Marcos spokesman reiterated that this year's polls are "all about the future and as such, we [Filipinos] deserve more than your gutter strategy."
"I appeal to those behind this to please respect the intellect and dignity of the people, practice restraint in the spread of your fake news and outrageous lies," Rodriguez said.
"The time has come for you to show love for our country and we invite you to join us in our efforts to elevate the level of discourse and end your destructive culture of gutter politics," he added.
Rodriguez's counterpart in the Robredo-Pangilinan camp also denied that the two top candidates of the Liberal Party (LP) are taking advantage of the pulpit to push forward their candidacies in the May 9 elections.
Ibarra "Barry" Gutierrez 3rd, also a lawyer and the Office of the Vice President spokesman, in another statement said Church visits of Robredo are simply for "conversations and prayer" and are sponsored and arranged by the parishes themselves.
"Lahat ng pinupuntahan ni VP Leni ayon lagi sa imbitasyon. Ito ay mga conversation and prayer with VP Leni na ino-organisa mismo ng parokya at hindi campaign event (All of VP Leni's visits are based on invitations. These are parish-organized conversations and prayer with Vice President Leni, not campaign events)," Gutierrez added.
Netizens have criticized Robredo's campaign for using the Church as a political platform.
Social media photographs have shown the vice president and Pangilinan conversing at the Cathedral-Shrine and Parish of the Good Shepherd in Fairview, Quezon City, stirring controversy.
Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso's camp has also criticized Catholic parishes that support candidates for president and vice president as "inappropriate."
Gutierrez said the parishes are giving their time to meet with Robredo because they share the same values and views.
"Kung desisyon ng parokya na i-offer 'yung espasyo, tiwala kami na dahil 'yun sinasalamin ni VP Leni ang prinsipyo at paniniwala nila (We are confident that if the parishes opt to provide their venue, it will be because VP Leni is a reflection of their values and beliefs)," he said.
On Tuesday, the vice president said she saw the Church as a partner in "doing good and bringing good" as she appealed to religious leaders' assistance in combating electoral misinformation and reaching out to voters.
Perhaps, the denials from the Marcos-Duterte and Robredo-Pangilinan camps could be put to a test using a lie detector.
Aksyon Demokratiko candidate for vice president Dr. Willie Ong also on Friday proposed employing the machine particularly during debates to determine whether candidates for president or vice president are telling the truth about their accomplishments and what they plan to do for the people if they get elected to office.
"Kahit anong tanong pwede from A to Z. 'Pag alam mo, sagutin mo. 'Pag di mo alam, sabihin mo aaralin mo. Wala namang perfect eh. Ang mahalaga. tingnan mo [kandidato] kung sinungaling ba? Corrupt ba? O talagang tutulungan kayo. Kung gusto nyo nga, may lie detector para mas maganda (You can ask the candidate anything from A to Z. If you know it, answer it. If not, say you will study the issue. Nobody is perfect. The important thing is to see if the candidate is a liar or corrupt or he [or she] is there to really help you. If you really want, a lie detector is [a] better [judge]" Ong told reporters when asked about his thoughts on Commission on Elections-sponsored debates, specifically on the issue of releasing to candidates the general topics to be covered in the discussions slated on March 19 and 20.
Team Isko chief campaign strategist Lito Banayo earlier revealed that former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos, Marcos' campaign manager, wrote him a letter asking him and other campaign managers for a meeting to determine ground rules for the scheduled Comelec debates.
In the letter, Banayo said, Abalos argued that it would be more proper and prudent if all aspirants were given an opportunity to talk about the format, which will include issues to be tackled, the time allotted for each, the right to respond and rebut a debater's arguments and who the moderator will be, among others.
Banayo, however, pointed out that it is not proper for the candidates to discuss among themselves and dictate the terms of the debate format to the poll body.
"It is not for us to talk and have a kind of collusion between candidates. That doesn't look good. There must be a level playing field. We should let the institution in charge of elections decide on the ground rules," he said in a news conference held earlier this week.
A candidate for senator, apparently, would rather engage in determining what the appropriate age for criminal liability is.
Saying "children are not born evil," former Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque Jr. on Wednesday expressed opposition to a bill seeking to lower to 9 years old the criminal liability for minors.
Roque, a human rights lawyer, added that he believes that children's minds are still developing until the age of 15.
"Naniniwala po ako na dapat panindigan natin ang obligasyon natin sa, 'yung karapatan ng mga kabataan (I believe that we must uphold our obligation to, the rights of the youth)," he said during the SMNI Senatorial Debate 2022 held on March 2, 2022, in partnership with The Manila Times.
"Naniniwala po ako na ang utak ng bata (I believe that the child's brain) is still in the process of development until they hit at least the age of 15. Until the time, we should exert all efforts to reform and to show the right path to all children," Roque added.
Citing Unicef Philippines, he said studies show that brain function reaches maturity only around 16 years old, affecting children's reasoning and impulse control.
But proponents of the plan to lower the age of criminal responsibility believe that children as young as 9 are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment.
The House of Representatives earlier moved to amend Republic Act (RA) 9344 or the "Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006" and included the call to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and even down to 9 years old.
RA 9344 exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability.
But Roque, a member of the nonprofit organization Onesimo, which helps physically abused street children and their families in Manila, said rehabilitation and guidance could be done for these children.
He added that his late aunt, retired judge and former prosecutor Lilia Lopez, was a pioneer in advocating for the rights of children in conflict with the law.
Roque said Lopez had pushed for a separate detention center for children.
"It can be done po; walang bata na ipinanganak na masama ang budhi (no child is born with a bad conscience)," according to the former Palace spokesman.
In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte called on Congress to lower the age of criminal liability "to ensure that the Filipino youth would accept responsibility for their actions and be subjected to government intervention programs."
A similar bill has been filed at the Senate by Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd on the ground that criminal syndicates exploit provisions of the law by using minors in the commission of crimes.
Sotto's bill, however, seeks to lower the age of criminality to 13.
In filing the bill, he also cited a study done by the Child Rights International Network, which showed that the average minimum age of criminal responsibility in Asia and Africa is 11, while it is 13 in the United States and Europe.
The Philippine National Police has aired its full support for the bill lowering the age of criminal liability, also citing juvenile delinquents who have been deliberately committing grave criminal offenses, apparently knowing that their age rules out prosecution under the existing law.
WITH REPORTS FROM MOISES CRUZ AND FRANCO JOSE C. BAROÑA