MANILA, Philippines - For the first time, eight of the country's presidential candidates gathered together in a presidential forum to convince the youth that they are fit to lead the country if elected president in the May 10 poll.
There were pointed jabs but few fireworks in the ANC Youth 2010 presidential forum at the De La Salle University campus on Taft Avenue, Manila as the eight presidential candidates laid down their platforms of government and tackled subjects such as the reproductive health bill, corruption, and the legacy of President Arroyo.
The eight who attended the event were former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Sen. Manny Villar, Sen. Richard Gordon, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, televangelist Eddie Villanueva, environmentalist Nick Perlas, and Olongapo councilor JC delos Reyes.
In an interview on ANC after the forum, Prof. Edna Co of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) praised Gordon, Aquino and Madrigal for making a clear impact on the audience during the forum.
Audience members, on the other hand, said it was Teodoro, Gordon and Aquino who made a favorable impression during the event.
Co praised Gordon for being a good communicator and giving straightforward answers to all of the questions. "He was speaking from a very clear position on what his views are on most of the issues," she said.
She also gave plus points to Aquino for his improved performance but noted that the Liberal Party senator should articulate his positions better instead of issuing "motherhood statements."
"He didn't waver as much as in previous forums, but there is room for improvement," she said.
She said Madrigal came across as "strong, brave and clearly ideological" considering that it was her first time to attend a presidential forum.
"She had strong criticism coming from a neoliberal position, and whether you agree with her or not, she had very categorical answers for the questions," she said.
Finally, she said the audience missed former President Joseph Estrada who skipped the forum since he had to shoot a campaign ad.
During the forum, Madrigal made pointed asides at Villar over the latter's alleged budget insertions in the C-5 road extension project.
“Hinahamon ko ang mayayaman na senators na ilabas sa website and lahat ng insertions na nakabuti sa businesses nila. [I challenge my fellow rich senators to reveal on a website all the budget insertions that favored his businesses.]” Madrigal said.
In response, Villar said he had already answered the controversy numerous times and had placed his answers in his website.
Asked why she was lagging in the presidential surveys, Madrigal said she did not believe them since some presidential candidates could influence the results.
Co said the brief back-and-forth between Madrigal and Villar over the C-5 issue was held back by time constraints. She said, however, that Villar lost points when he threw the issue back at Madrigal and told her to read his website.
"In a way, he was brushing it aside. Most in the public would have wanted him to answer," she said.
During the forum, Villar leveled his own aside against presidential frontrunner Aquino as a way of defending his expenses on TV ads.
Villar said he is amenable to a proposal to limit campaign spending but noted that infomercials were a way to level the playing field against the more popular candidates.
"In limiting campaign spending, we should not shut the door to those candidates who are poor, whose mother was not a celebrity, whose sibling was not a celebrity, so that they can be known...Even though I have a lot of infomercials, I don't think I can reach the level of popularity of a popular celebrity or a popular mother," he said in an apparent jab against Aquino. Aquino's mother is the late president Corazon Aquino while his sister is popular TV host Kris Aquino.
Asked about his advice to candidates who had no money, he said: "It depends on what you do. For example, in business, if you have no money, it's probably because you don't know how to manage. You will be giving a big problem to the country if you run when you can't even manage your business."
Gordon, however, said the people should not be afraid of rich candidates. "Kahit mayaman ang kalaban, wag matakot!" he said.
He also vowed to give free Kindle e-book readers for public school students and raise the monthly salaries of public school teachers to P40,000 if elected president.
Several candidates gave opposing views on the controversial reproductive health bill, which advocates sex education for primary and secondary school students.
Delos Reyes said he sees no need to support sex education since he believes the youth have "natural" or instinctive knowledge of sex.
"Palagay ko po ang isang kabataan, may sapat na natural na kaalaman kung ano ang mangyayari kung siya ay sumipi. (I think youth have enough natural knowledge of what will happen if they have sex)," he said.
He also said he believes distributing condoms to the youth, as part of safe-sex campaigns, "promotes promiscuity and infidelity."
Aquino, meanwhile, softened his stand for the RH bill and said he wants several amendments in the measure.
“There are provisions that I cannot support,” Aquino said. “I was mistakenly labeled as co-author [of the bill]. Actually, I’m listed as interpellator, and I’m waiting for my opportunity."
“But having said that, I still think that this is a problem that we cannot bury our heads in the sand. Kailangan natin tugunan. Habang hindi inaasikaso ang problema, tuloy lalaki ang problem at tuloy ang pasakit sa taongbayan,” he added.
Should Arroyo face charges?
All but one of the candidates agreed that President Arroyo should face charges for various misdeeds during her term including alleged massive cheating in the 2004 elections and large kickbacks from the NBN-ZTE and fertilizer fund scams.
Villanueva blamed the Arroyo administration for gross misgovernance and said the rule of law must be applied on those who have done wrong.
“Bigyan natin ng katarungan ang ating taong bayan (Let us give justice to our people),” he said. “No man should be above the law."
Perlas said Arroyo should be made to answer for the Northrail, Southrail and ZTE-NBN scandals. "What are the geo-political imperatives behind the ZTE, Northrail, Southrail and the investments of the Chinese in the mining industry? She opened up the country for long-term lease to foreigners even while issues of agrarian reform and ancestral domain of lumads and Muslims remain pending," he said.
Reyes, on the other hand, went one step further and said corrupt government officials from the time of the Marcos dictatorship should be made to account for their actions.
For his part, Teodoro said anyone could file a case against the President as long as they have the evidence to convict her of a crime. "If I help pursue a case against her, people would think I was participating in a whitewash. If I don't join, they would say I am not doing my job," he said.
He added: "Mt principle here is anyone can file a case...I will not interfere. Let justice be done."
Co said the question on Arroyo's accountability was particularly telling since the next president would have to deal with the past president before he or she could move forward.
"It's one of the issues that some sectors of society will put before you and will haunt the next administration," she said.
She noted that Teodoro was put on the spot by the question, especially since he is the administration's bet in the election. "I think Teodoro was put on a tight situation. He was trying to be safe on certain issues such as Gloria Arroyo. He even wavered on the RH bill," she said.
Co said presidential forums allow the public to know the candidate but may have a limited effect on the popularity surveys. She added some of the candidates should learn how to be an effective speaker during public forums.
"It's not just what ideas you carry but how you put across the message. Sometimes you have quite a lot there but the communication and the way you put it across is not effective so you are subjected to different levels of appreciation by the audience," she said.
Source: ABS-CBN News