Candidates veer away from debate topics to hit rivals

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - March 20, 2016 - 8:59am

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential candidates were haunted on Sunday night by controversies linked to them during the fireworks-filled debate that was characterized by name-calling and mudslinging.

Candidates veered away from the issues raised by panelists to take a jab at their rivals during the intense three-hour debate organized by The STAR, TV5, BusinessWorld, Bloomberg Philippines and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The digging of dirt started after Vice President Jejomar Binay said that he would follow the rule of law in the event that his son, former Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, is convicted by the court for corruption.

“Whatever will be the decision, we will follow. We must be a government with a rule of law,” Binay said.

Sen. Grace Poe, however, pointed out that someone seeking the presidency should also follow the rules of the debate. Poe was alluding to the discussions on whether Binay should be allowed to bring notes during the debate.

“It would be a good signal from those who are for rule of law if they respect the rules of the debate,” Poe said, adding that Binay should have attended the Senate hearings on the corruption charges against him.

Poe’s statement did not sit well with Binay, who hit back at the senator by bringing up the controversy surrounding the senator’s citizenship.

“You said you are a true Filipino. How can you be a Filipino when you took an oath as an American? You were ashamed of your origins,” the vice president said.

Poe responded by citing a law that recognizes Filipino expatriates as well as the contributions of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). She also argued that expatriates and OFWs are better than officials who are in the country but who are stealing public funds.

Binay to Poe: Ikinahihiya mo ang pinanggalingan mo

Binay to Poe: Paano ka magiging tunay na Pilipino e sumumpa ka na maging Amerikano? #BilangPilipino

Posted by philstar.com on Sunday, March 20, 2016


Binay then decried that there was conspiracy against him and insisted that Poe was ashamed of her country. A series of exchanges followed, prompting debate moderator and News5 chief Luchi Cruz-Valdes to intervene.

The Issue plaguing the Metro Rail Transit maintenance deal was also brought up when candidates were answering a question by The STAR’s editor-in-chief Ana Marie Pamintuan.

During the debate, Pamintuan asked how the Philippines can fulfill its commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 70 percent while allowing the construction of coal-fired power plants.  

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the United Nations is composed of hypocrites because it is requiring the Philippines to fulfill its commitment even if it is not a major emitter. He said the Philippines should be given funds to increase its use of clean energy.

Roxas, for his part, said power should not be expensive and that industrialization should create jobs. Binay, however, said Roxas is guilty of “analysis by paralysis” and accused him of acting slowly during times of disasters.

Roxas replied: “I do not move as far as corruption is concerned. My track record will prove it.” 

Binay then claimed that former MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol had linked Roxas to the corruption surrounding the train’s maintenance deal. He even called Roxas a disciple of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who reportedly said that a life often repeated becomes the truth.

Roxas denied that he is involved in the questionable MRT deal and that it was Binay who is following the principles of Goebbels.

Valdes again intervened and called on the candidates to go back to the issue of coal plants. Duterte said there is a need to open the industry to more players in the power industry to encourage competition.

There was also an instance when candidates did not give a direct response to questions.

When The STAR’s associate editor Marichu Villanueva asked Roxas to name three mistakes of the Aquino administration and how different would be his leadership from that of the president, Roxas merely cited his platforms.

The administration candidate also cited his often repeated lines about the bottom-up budgeting and his plans against corruption.

Accusations that the Aquino administration is pursuing selective justice resurfaced after Tony Abad of Bloomberg Philippines asked a question about Binay’s proposal to exempt employees earning P30,000 and below from income tax.

The discussions went to addressing corruption, which all the presidential candidates acknowledged as a serious problem. Poe, however, claimed that the campaign against corruption remained just a slogan.

“If you are an ally, you have projects. If you are not an ally, you have a case,” Poe said.

Roxas, however, denied this, saying even allies of the ruling Liberal Party have been charged. Poe, however, said important LP members like Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya, was spared from criminal charges. Abaya was tagged in the controversial MRT maintenance deal,

“I filed a recommendation (to file cases against Abaya) before the Ombudsman. It would be hard if there are people who pretend to be blind and deaf,” Poe said.

“The straight path is not being implemented in all agencies of the government,” she added.

Binay joined the discussion by saying that corruption still persists because many people are still mired in poverty in the country. Roxas, however, said he did not claim that the Philippine is now a paradise and vowed to continue efforts to address corruption in government.

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