What in the Worlds

POGI FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE - RJ Ledesma (The Philippine Star) - February 2, 2016 - 9:00am

When I’m not slaving over a column that will elicit an occasional smirk from my three female readers, I’m a host and motivational speaker where my only puhunan is laway. For that puhunan, I have to thank four years’ worth of college (and a wee bit of graduate school) intervarsity debate.

Here’s my confession: I was a debate addict. I started my collegiate debate career with interschool debates. As a sophomore, I took it to a higher notch with the Australasian debates (a debate competition open to Australia, New Zealand and Asian countries). Then, as a junior, I went full-on with the World Universities Debating Championships. College life was a blur prepping for debating competitions in Malaysia to Australia to Singapore to the United States to Ireland. It was nerve-wracking. It was stressful. It was glorious.

Admittedly, I didn’t get too far in the global debating circuit as the local debating community was just starting to be exposed to the dynamics of international debate. But it was through debate that I learned a lot about the importance of wit and humor. I learned all about international relations (and the lack of them). And I learned about the differences between Australian, Irish and Singaporean beer. 

So my pink parts were bursting with pride when a team from my alma mater, De La Salle University, bested over 200 teams that qualified under the English As A Second Language (ESL) category to win the ESL Grand Finals in the recently concluded 36th World Universities Debating Championship held in Thessaloniki, Greece.

I met with debaters Mikee de Vega and Jason Dizon to find out how they prepared for the Worlds debate, what it was like debating against Haaa-vahd University, and what it was like debating in the ESL Finals.

 RJ LEDESMA: What is World Debating Championships all about? Is it all about traveling to another country to argue and drink and do things that your parents would not approve of and then posting it all on Snapchat?

JASON DIZON: Pretty much. (Laughs) It’s a weeklong debating competition with nearly 400 teams from over 70 countries (where you debate about) internationally relevant and important topics.

MIKEE DE VEGA: The debates can be stressful as the competition happens over Christmas. So after (a full day of debates), people get really drunk.   

I’ve always suspected that the answer to world peace is beer goggles. What exactly are internationally relevant topics? Is it all about ISIS and Climate Change and AlDub?

We mostly debated “First World” issues. There were issues on feminism and racism and Marxist resolutions. And issues that parliaments might have to deal with, like how to treat labor, sunset clauses and having expiration dates on constitutions. 

Riveting stuff. No wonder you need the alcohol. So is there a specific format for the debate or is it a free-for-all talk to the death?

JASON: It’s the British Parliamentary (BP) format. It’s four two-man teams competing (simultaneously) in the room. During debate, you compete against three teams, two teams arguing against you while the other team is arguing on “your side”; but you have to come up with better arguments (than them). And you’re all speaking in turn.

That sounds as confusing as deciding who to vote for in the 2016 Presidential Elections.

MIKEE: There’s a time limit of seven minutes per speech. You can interject while someone is speaking for about 15 seconds, but you have to say “Point (of information)” and wait until it is accepted. So you can’t really butt into someone’s speech. It’s kind of like a gentleman’s court. 

So there is no punching or b*tch-slapping involved? How many times do you have to debate? Do you debate until you lose your voice or until you lose your mind?

JASON: (All the teams) debate in nine (preliminary) rounds. If you lose your voice or your mind, you still debate nine rounds. (Laughs) If you qualify for the higher rounds in the open break, you have to go through (assuming you aren’t eliminated) four more rounds and the finals. If you qualify for the higher rounds in the ESL, then (assuming you aren’t eliminated), you have to go through two more rounds and the finals.

Wow, you’re really giving your salivary glands a workout. Whether or not you qualify for the higher rounds of the Open Break or the ESL, you still debate nine rounds?

MIKEE: Yes. In the preliminary rounds, you can compete (against any of the 400 participating teams). It’s tiring also because you don’t know what to expect in each round. Your opponents (from different countries), the motions to be debated and the judges change every round. So every round you’ve got to do something different to try to win.

Walang swimsuit round?

The rounds also become increasingly difficult. When you gain more points, you go against people with the same amount of points. So it only got harder and harder from us with every succeeding round.

JASON: Our scores (in the debate rounds) were tracking towards qualifying for the open rounds. It’s just that we lost our last round when we went up against King’s College London (a eventual semi-finalist) and Harvard (the eventual grand champion of the Worlds). If we had other opponents for the last round, we might have qualified for the open break! (Laughs)

Must have been quite an experience to go toe-to-toe with the best English language debating teams in the world.

That’s when you understand why you are ESL. (Laughs)

MIKEE: I actually liked that last round because it exposed how much culture can have an impact in terms of understanding the debate. The debate was about the law and moral culpability being part of punishment. We’re both legal management majors, so we set up the debate to be about the judiciary. But the other teams wanted it to be a legislative sort of debate. Eventually, we got boxed out of the debate. Having said that, it was a high-level round. Our coach said that was one of the best debate speeches we had ever delivered. But I think it was only fitting if you went up against eventual champions. (Laughs

So it’s safe to say one of the toughest competitors in the Worlds was Harvard?

JASON: Yes! By far, it was Harvard. Filipinos are proficient in English. But the Harvard students’ command of the English language (was at another level). What took us a couple of sentences to explain, they could say in a few words. They were giving out more and more ideas in a lesser amount of time. Second, their grasp of concepts was just a lot more comprehensive than other teams in the tournament. During our debate, I was thinking, “Fine, we’re losing, but we’re also learning at the same time.”

You got your butt kicked, but you got your butt kicked by literally the World’s best debating team. So how do you prepare for the motions that you are going to debate?

MIKEE: They don’t give us the topics (ahead of time). You just have to be as well read on a variety of topics — feminism, LGBT movement, globalization, international law. For example, on feminism, you should have a general working knowledge of what feminism is, what it advocates and its current issues. That’s something we do all year round: read up.

Our congressmen might not survive the nine preliminary rounds of the Worlds debate.

JASON: To prepare ourselves, we also had argumentation and rebuttal drills and actual debates. There was also some emotional preparation because we had a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss in the National Championships (right before the Worlds) that grounded us prior to competing in the Worlds.

What was it like competing in the higher ESL rounds leading the Finals?

The penultimate rounds became more and more exciting because (I felt) it was a testament to how much we were growing as debaters. 

How did it feel when you were debating in the Finals? 

MIKEE: It was like a defining moment in your life. It was a very big theater and you could see everyone in the audience. It was overwhelming.

After the debate, did you feel that you guys won?

JASON: After the round, we weren’t sure how we did. But when we came down from the stage and proceeded through the audience, our friends were hugging us, shaking our hands, saying “Brilliant speech!” and congratulating us in advance. So we had an idea that we might win.

Looks like debate is going to be a life-long habit for both of you. What is it about debate that makes it so addictive?

MIKEE: I started debating because I thought it would be good preparation for law. But we’re taking legal management and the worst thing you can do is argue with your professor. (Laughs) Aside from the fact that I’m learning a lot (through debate), I like the adrenaline rush before the debate starts.

JASON: I enjoy the thrill of combining ideas and rhetoric to create good speeches. I keep on debating in tournaments because of the thrill before the results are released. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. It’s the thrill.

Remember that thrill! Because you’ll need it when you eventually attempt to debate with your wife. And that is a debate you’ll never win.

* * *

For comments, suggestions or a tongue-lashing, email Ledesma.rj@gmail.com or visit www.rjledesma.com. Follow @rjled on Twitter and @rjled610 on Instagram.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with