News Commentary

5 things to look out for in the VP debate

Jovan Cerda - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines - The vice presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections will take place this Sunday, April 10. What can we expect from the candidates vying for the second highest post in the land?

1. Will Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. survive attacks about martial law and his family's alleged ill-gotten wealth?

If survey results are any indication, the aspirant from Ilocos Norte is proving to be the most divisive candidate in the vice presidential race. 

In the Bilang Pilipino - Social Weather Stations (SWS) Mobile Survey on voter preferences released on March 31, Marcos placed second among respondents with 26 percent, just behind frontrunner Sen. Francis Escudero who got 31 percent.

Worth noting, however, is that Marcos is also the candidate least liked to win by respondents, with 22 percent against him winning the second highest post in government.

In social media alone, posts about him are instant subjects for heated arguments between his supporters and those against his political ambitions, conjuring a meme-war of massive proportions.

Among the many issues hurled against him by his critics, two stand out: his denial of his father's wrongdoings during the martial law period and his having benefited from the billions of pesos allegedly stolen by his family from the country's coffers during his father's two-decade rule.

During the vice presidential forum that GoNegosyo hosted a month ago, Marcos came under attack from Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo for the extra-judicial killings and other forms of injustices during the martial law regime. 

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), meanwhile, has also doubled down on showcasing the seized assets of the Marcos family, among them the multi-billion jewelry collections of former first lady Imelda Marcos. PCGG went as far as launching a virtual exhibit of the collections, in an effort to remind people about the excesses committed during the dictator's rule.

In response, Bongbong said that it is unlikely that martial law will again be imposed in the country, as the current status quo is different from before. He added that they will follow the courts' decision on issues involving his family.

While it can be expected that the senator will assume a defensive stance in the debate, he is also under pressure to lay down his platform amid a flurry of attacks that have the potential to dilute his message.

2. Will other candidates gang up on the frontrunner?

Since the start of the pre-election preference surveys, Sen. Escudero has generally maintained his grip on the top spot along with his partner Sen. Grace Poe who is running for the presidency.

Escudero received a 31 percent rating in the March 31 Bilang Pilipino-SWS Mobile Survey and 25 percent (tied with Marcos) in the March 20 survey by Pulse Asia.

The vice presidential aspirant has never been the subject of a recent political scandal and he is currently safe from black propaganda. This gives his opponents more reason to launch a curveball or upstage him in the debate.

Escudero's performance in the debate is bound to send either of two messages: If he fares poorly, it can be perceived that he has been rendered complacent by his high ratings. If he comes out strong, it will show how protective he is of his lead from the other candidates.

3. Will Robredo deliver a performance that will finally give her the lead over the frontrunners?

Critics are saying that Robredo is peaking at the right time in the surveys -- starting at 1 percent last year to inching within striking distance of Escudero and Marcos.

Based on the GoNegosyo vice presidential forum alone, Robredo is a candidate who does not pull punches -- she is not afraid to rebut Escudero and Marcos, at the same time amplifying her message that she is different from all the other candidates for vice president.

Robredo, however, is in a tricky situation. While President Benigno Aquino III is stepping down from office with nearly the same amount of popularity he had coming in, personalities and groups critical of his administration have been more vocal than ever in criticizing the government and the ruling Liberal Party. Naysayers have pointed out the administration's perceived ineptitude in handling various issues -- from the government's response after Typhoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) to the farmers' bloody rally in Kidapawan which was attributed to the government's lack of support for the drought-stricken farmers.

Robredo may be put in a position that will force her to defend the government, or she may do it her way and criticize her own party for its shortcomings. 

Defending the current administration has been one of the salient features of the Mar Roxas campaign, but so far it has not yet delivered in terms of catapulting the presidential candidate to the top spot in the surveys. Robredo may go on defending the government on the assumption that people are more willing to give her the benefit of the doubt given her relatively clean image. She may also take a cue from the president's enduring popularity, which means despite everything, people still trust the narrative of "Daang Matuwid."

However, criticizing the ruling party and specific people who have been the subject of public scorn will send a message to her detractors that she has not been "tainted" by the Liberal Party and she stands for what is right, regardless if it entails calling out people who are members of the current administration.

4. Cayetano, Trillanes and Honasan under pressure

So far, Sens. Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Gregorio Honasan have yet to lead in recent poll preference surveys -- the three of them occupy the lower half of rankings of vice presidential candidates. The debate is a huge opportunity for the three to come out swinging and sway voters to their favor, and the they are under enormous pressure to excel given that it takes a lot more effort for them to win the race at this point.

Apart from making his own brand stand out, Cayetano is hard-pressed to match the popularity of his partner, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. Trillanes, on the other hand, needs to cover a broader base, given that he is the only candidate without a partner. For Honasan, it's about tapping into Vice President Jejomar Binay's core base while insulating himself from criticisms against the embattled candidate.

A single debate alone is not likely to give a miraculous boost to these three candidates' candidacy, but a persuasive performance and a compelling message are sure to create ripples in the news, social media and on the ground. With less than a month to go before the people cast their votes, these candidates need strong momentum that will tip the scale in their side.

5. The candidates' ambitions

Vice presidents have traditionally occupied Cabinet positions in the government. For Binay and Noli De Castro, it was the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB). It was the Department of Foreign Affairs for Teofisto Guingona Jr. and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Certain state agencies, like HLURB, DSWD and the Department of Interior and Local Government, give vice presidents a wide reach among local governments and citizens across the country, and they could very well serve as a springboard for a campaign for the presidency.

The debate is an opportunity for the public to look deeper into the inner minds of the candidates, and what their plans are in case they win the post. While it could be an indication of what their fields of expertise are, their preference of Cabinet position may give a clue on their future ambitions.


vuukle comment
  • 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!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with