The sound of silence
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2019 - 12:00am

As tradition would have it, there is now a growing interest in the proposed debates between candidates particularly between the Administration and the senatorial candidates under the Liberal party. It was actually the Liberals who hurled the challenge at the Duterte camp, who perhaps realizing their intellectual and legislative disadvantage against the Liberals have generally ignored the trap. Yes, I call it a trap of sorts because as the saying goes: “A fish is caught by its mouth” and once the administration candidates open theirs or engages the liberals, chances are there will be no returning or escaping. As the book of proverbs teaches: “Even a fool when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his mouth is esteemed a man of understanding.”

In terms of debating skills and experience, I tend to believe that the Liberals have more experienced public speakers, litigation lawyers and a deep bench of intellectuals with the likes of Tañada, Hilbay and Macalintal compared to the administration team. So the Duterte team was wise not to engage the competition. Besides which campaign debates in the Philippines is nothing more than entertainment and free media material. Gone are the days when debates focused on real issues and were done by real experts. Nowadays, many candidates are only experts in how to stay in power and public office and how to make public office hereditary. In a country where 90 percent of the voters are immature or ignorant of political truths and realities, the only benefit of debates is to watch one candidate insult the candidate you dislike but could never insult. It’s like spitting at the politician by proxy and having the privilege to laugh to your hearts desire.

Instead of debates, the COMELEC or some big business organization should sponsor a series of public interviews where real experts in various fields get to interview candidates just like in a job search or interview. Rather than letting the politicians set the AGENDA, the panel of experts take turns to ask the candidates about their real life qualifications for the position they aspire, what their track record is, what their background, alliances and causes are as well as to address questions directly fielded by the voters. Given that 60 to 70 percent of senatorial and congressional candidates are repeaters or term extenders, the public would then have a chance to know who among the candidates are pro-poor or anti-poor, pro-business or anti business etc. Instead of entertainment value, we should all push for educational and informational value in our encounters with the candidates.

Debates merely fuel anger and division and often times becomes the knife that cuts too deep at a person’s character. Whether at home, among friends and even among political competitors debates are merely something we fall back on to air our frustration instead of sharing our plans. The book of Titus chapter 3 verse 9 – 11 teaches us:

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; They are self-condemned.”

George Bernard Shaw said it best: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

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When lobbyists and Lawmakers moved to liberalize fuel prices they said we would have cheaper fuels. We don’t.

When lobbyists and Lawmakers moved to liberalize electric power rates they said we would have cheaper electricity. We don’t.

Time and again legislators and Presidents have made promises about cheaper prices and better services but to this day, it is the people and the private sector businesses that are finding ways and means to provide for better services, services that should be given free based on taxes Filipinos pay. Once again, a former President and now Speaker of the House Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wants us to believe that the Rice Tariffication law will result in lower rice prices and a blessing to rice farmers once P10 billion in tariff is collected annually. Unfortunately our long history of taxes such as VAT under the Arroyo government and our long history of broken promises of cheaper commodities is enough proof that the Rice Tariffication law will only result in SHORT TERM REDUCTION or lowering of prices the same way as it was with fuel and power rates.

The false or over promised 10 billion fund for farmers is suspected of being a big fat lie and will only benefit companies doing business in the agri-sector. Based on what is suppose to be in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law only P1 billion will go directly to farmers as LOANS. Not subsidies, not grants, but loans. If they are educated or sophisticated enough to deal with government bank representatives. 40 percent will fund farm machineries or mechanization and the direct beneficiary would be suppliers. 40 percent will go to seed development and acquisition, which once again will directly benefit multinational seed companies. It remains unclear where or to whom the remaining 10 percent will go to!

In the mean time, Arroyo’s pet law has effectively cut the hands of the National Food Authority by removing all their regulatory and rice inventory maintenance powers. This leads to 25 percent of NFA employees and officials losing their jobs but with no available severance pay. As a result of the NFA’s powers being removed, the agency’s sustainability and source of operating income is all but gone. In one fell swoop Speaker Gloria Arroyo has brought about the demise of the NFA and a sure fire formula for more poor families to join the New People’s Army and make the richest – richer.

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