News Commentary

Debates, forums and the final stretch of Elections 2022

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda - Philstar.com
Debates, forums and the final stretch of Elections 2022
Presidential candidates Bongbong Marcos and Vice President Leni Robredo on the campaign trail in April 2022.
Marcos, Robredo campaigns

Each presidential election in the Philippines has a new focal point – and naturally so. As States evolve, so do our priorities as citizens. In 1986, it was freedom from tyranny. In 1992, it was statesmanship. In 1998, it was relatability. 2004 and 2010 had a clear raison d’etre, which was the fight against corruption.

2016’s focus was an odd one however, which shifted people’s attention away from issues to the medium of communication instead – and social media was the star of the show. This was very similar to how the USA in 2008 saw younger voters as the catalysts for conversion via the internet – and how Saturday Night Live inadvertently was integral to the Trump presidency in 2016, although social media was weaponized to a more effective, albeit more sinister, purpose in the Philippines with the advent of troll farms.

This time around, the focal point is undoubtedly the presidential debates and forums.  A noteworthy area of potential impact by these debates is their capacity for agenda setting, where the salience of a given policy or campaign issue in the public consciousness arises (or is raised) and this plays to the strengths or weaknesses of a particular campaign or candidate. 

To help voters compare the platforms and programs of our presidentiables, we featured on Pamilya Talk highlights of these debates, particularly the candidates’ COVID-19-response platforms.  After all, the pandemic gave the electorate an important tool in assessing the capabilities of these candidates in crisis management and in expediting healthcare programs and other basic services needed by their constituents.

With the magic of YouTube and Facebook, we can now also easily watch and review these debates and forums to help us decide who will we vote for.  Since the Philippines is very much a family-centric state, it is important to take note of the policies and stances of the candidates and how these relate to the most nuclear of families so that we can discern appropriately who has our best interests at heart.

Dynasties and democracy

On dynasties, Sen. Ping Lacson raised a very good point in one of the debates about how the country needs an enabling law on political dynasties, as local government units and the partylist system allow for dynasties in a practical but not technical sense, therefore rendering the constitutional provision moot. 

Vice President Leni Robredo also mentioned how political dynasties, which are personality-based, weaken the political parties that a bicameral political ecosystem such as ours rely on.

However, it bears noting that the word “dynasty” is highly politicized.  There are those who believe that a dynasty in and of itself is not a bad thing if the dynasty is progressive and values public service above self-advancement or familial enrichment. In fact, if a family can produce generations of career public servants who, categorically and objectively speaking, have been able to provide their constituents with the best quality of life, strong economic systems, and uplifting legislation that promotes progress, then this dynasty is exactly what the Cambridge dictionary describes: a series of leaders who are from the same family. Nothing more and nothing less (Watch our Pamilya Talk interview with University of the Philippines Prof. Aries Arugay and Dr. Jose Victor Torres from the De La Salle University’s Department of History for a deeper discussion on political dynasties).

These points would not have been raised, however, were we not a democracy, a political system that protects the peoples’ freedom to object, to oppose, and to find better ways than what currently exist. A cornerstone of democracy is freedom, and the exercise of freedom in a public forum is the best example of a strong democracy at work. If we are to teach our children anything of value, they must understand the value of these freedoms and, like journalists the world over, they must decide for themselves what they are not willing to compromise.

Lessons in leadership

Debates and forums are important because they show us, clear as day, that there are people in power who are thinking about our futures, about our families. As a leader, it is important to set examples, to condition people’s minds to be receptive to your brand of leadership. Showing your ability to be presidential requires so much more than an orchestrated PR campaign, because the campaign period, debates and all, are an examination of your authenticity and your empathy. Your respect for the process. Most of all, your humility, and professional courtesy to your colleagues is being measured, and one can only hope that it will not be found wanting.

Tests of leadership are important in times of crisis. Perhaps this is why the deliberate snubbing by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. of almost all debates and forums rankles so many people. Marcos may be the scion of a political line that enjoys a halo of nostalgic deference, yet he has not maximized the opportunity to show that he can hold his own in a debate with his peers. “It’s just a debate,” some say. “It’s not that important.” But studies have shown that debates are integral to a campaign. They increase issue knowledge, issue salience, and can even change preferences for candidates’ issue stands. They have an agenda-setting effect, can alter perceptions of candidates’ personalities, and are known to affect voter preference based on all these indicators. 

It may not be spoken about yet for fear of trolls attacking and drowning out legitimate concerns.  But I am sure that this has caused many supporters to abandon their candidate as they lack the proof they need that he has their welfare in mind. As candidate Ernesto Abella said, the Filipino voter is becoming more mature, and people need more than kissing babies and striking visuals on social media to carry a banner. They need to show receipts of their candidate in action to justify their decisions to their community.

This justification is exactly what supporters of other candidates enjoy, and this difference only serves to widen the divide between Filipino voters. Those without actual proof of their candidate acting as a leader among leaders are easily branded as “blind followers”, “fanatics”, and other unpleasant monikers which undermine rather than empower Filipinos and create a very us vs. them mindset. It is what is known in philosophical and psychosocial discourse as Othering, or the exclusion of people from a normative understanding, and painting them as somehow less than those who have the proof that society requires as proof of legitimacy.

The Filipino family

With May 9 just around the corner, we are left with the choice of who will act and pass legislation with our families in mind. We need to keep ourselves from Othering our fellow countrymen, no matter how adamant they may be, as discourse cannot happen without openness. As in our families, a house divided cannot stand. A country divided may not prosper – and what every family needs as the pandemic has begun to wind down, is prosperity. 


Watch Pamilya Talk on Facebook, YouTube, and Kumu (@JingCastaneda – 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday & Wednesday). You can also follow my social media accounts: InstagramFacebookYouTubeTwitter and Kumu.  Please share your stories or suggest topics at [email protected] 


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