‘Final debate a major challenge for presidential candidates’

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The third and last presidential debate to be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Phinma-University of Pangasinan in Dagupan City would be much more challenging for the candidates, according to Malacañang.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB yesterday the bets will be challenged “physically, mentally and emotionally, because all of them are already tired. The campaign is on the homestretch. So, let’s see what is on display and then we can judge on Monday.”

In this light, the Palace again reminded the public to make the right choice in the coming elections and heed warnings from credit rating agencies, for instance, on the need to sustain reforms and continue economic growth.

Standard & Poor Ratings Services affirmed the country’s BBB long-term and A-2 short-term sovereign credit ratings, citing the country’s strong external position, its big foreign reserve and low external debt.

But S&P warned that the country’s ratings could drop if there would be a slowdown in the government reform agenda or reverse of the current economic gains. 

Quezon said the Philippines has obviously improved its credit standing and this reflects in domestic loans that became favorable to consumers.

He said the investment grade was a vote of confidence in the Philippines and that S&P was right in issuing a caution because the country strived hard to attain such high credit rating.

As the new administration takes office in the middle of this year, Quezon said it would be free to alter, reverse or amend the existing economic policies.

But he said the country’s high ratings would not be forever and these must be nurtured and protected.

“So, it’s a timely reminder to all of us to vote on the basis of a responsible frame of mind,” he said.

Ready for debate

Liberal Party presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II is well prepared to face his rivals in the last debate before the May 9 elections, his spokesman said yesterday.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez said Roxas can give substantial and practical statements on the various topics expected to be raised in the debates, including foreign policy, health, job security, concerns of overseas Filipino workers, peace in Mindanao conflict areas, metro traffic and public transport and education.

“This debate is important because this is the last time the presidential candidates will be facing each other and talk about what they know,” Gutierrez said in a telephone interview.

He said based on studies of previous elections, 20 to 30 percent of voters make a decision two to three weeks before the polls.

Gutierrez said Roxas will emphasize during the debate and the last weeks of his campaign two things: that he has a clear plan for the country and that he is a “decent” candidate with no involvement at all in corruption.

Binay prepares for debate

Vice President Jejomar Binay yesterday held an ocular inspection of the debate venue at the University of Pangasinan.

He had no other scheduled sorties, but did not disclose details on how his camp is preparing for the debate this afternoon organized by ABS-CBN and Manila Bulletin, in partnership with the Commission on Elections.

Binay also welcomed the announcement of fellow presidential bet Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago that her health has improved after taking an anti-cancer medication.

“Thank God. That’s good news,” Binay told reporters when asked for his reaction about the statement of the senator.

In a video uploaded on Facebook, the senator, who is suffering from lung cancer, said her health has returned to normal after undergoing the trial medication.

“I’m perfectly normal now, as you can tell just from my voice and from the way I speak,” she said.

The senator is expected to attend today’s debate, which will also be attended by Binay, Roxas, Sen. Grace Poe and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Santiago missed the second debate in Cebu on March 20 as she had to undergo the trial on the new medication.

Over the past weeks, she had returned to the campaign trail and spoke before supporters in various universities across the country.

The improvement in her condition was noticeable as she was able to walk without support and speak without her voice wavering.

The issue of health has hounded Santiago, who is trailing in the pre-electoral surveys since she announced her candidacy.

Since then, other bets – particularly Binay and Duterte – have been challenged to bare their medical records.

Binay has since announced that he is in the peak of his health, releasing a medical report to prove it.

Tight race

For Sen. Serge Osmeña III, the presidential race remains too close to call, with the May 9 elections just two weeks away.

“It’s still a tight race. No one can predict the outcome,” he told the Pandesal Forum at the Kamuning Bakery Café in Quezon City.

Osmeña, whom Senate colleagues acknowledge is good at reading survey numbers, said based on previous surveys, only about 20 percent of voters have decided who is the presidential candidate they would vote for.

“That is the only firm portion. The rest is loose,” he said.

He said voter preferences could change in the last two weeks of the campaign even if the latest surveys showed that Duterte has widened his lead over his rivals.

He said each candidate would now try to avoid committing mistakes in their campaign and in their statements in the homestretch.

“This is now a game of mistakes,” he added.

He said even the vice presidential race remains tight, despite the survey lead of Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“Leni Robredo is surging fast. She had 22 percent against the 25 percent of Bongbong (Marcos). She came from single digit. Of course, you cannot discount Chiz (Francis Escudero) and Alan (Cayetano),” he said.

Commitment to environment

Civil society groups, on the other hand, have called on presidential aspirants to take a stand on environmental issues besetting the country.

“There has been no definitive commitment from our presidential candidates to work in protecting our environment, including our oceans and the livelihood of those most dependent on our resources,” said Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, the largest marine conservation group.

The Philippines is home to more than 52,177 endemic species, making it one of the 18 megadiverse countries in the world.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said heavy exploitation of fisheries translates to lower catch and income for coastal communities. – With Paolo Romero, Janvic Mateo, Jess Diaz, Louise Maureen Simeon, Eva Visperas, Evelyn Macairan


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