A DEBATE among the senatorial candidates on the watch of the Commission on Elections is unlikely, officials of the poll body said Monday.
“Meron formal proposals na kailangan i-dispose of formally. Also, at pag-uusapan ‘yan sa Commission en banc ‘pag nagkaroon ng en banc meeting this week,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said when sought for comment. (There are proposals that need to be disposed of formally. Also, this will be tackled by the full commission in a meeting this week).
He added: “Ang concern lang diyan is time. Dalawang buwan ang natitira bago mag halalan at hindi ko alam kung may [na]titirang panahon pa para mag-organize ng isang full-blown debate.” (Our concern is time. We have two months left before the elections and I don’t know if there’s enough time to organize a…debate).
In an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday, Comelec chair Sheriff Abas also said in part, “(A)ng problema natin oras. Wala na kaming oras for an official debate.” (Our problem is time. We have no more time for an official debate).
Criticizing the government is part of democracy, senatorial candidates under the opposition Otso Diretso slate on Monday reminded President Rodrigo R. Duterte following his tirades against them.
In a Sunday speech during a PDP-Laban rally in Zamboanga City, Mr. Duterte questioned the capabilities and track record of the senatorial candidates under the Otso Diretso slate. He also complained that all the opposition has done was to criticize his policies.
“Sinong ipalit mo diyan sa ‘yang ‘Otso Diretso’ papuntang impiyerno? Totoo lang, hindi ako na-ano. Walang ginawa ‘yang mga tao na ‘yan puro criticize, hindi pa maniwala (Who will you vote instead of the ‘Otso Diretso’ who will go to hell? These people did nothing but criticize and they don’t believe you),” the President said.
In separate statements issued on Monday, former solicitor-general Florin T. Hilbay, human-rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno, and former Quezon representative Lorenzo R. Tañada III said it was the job of the opposition to question the policies of the current administration.
“We are still under a democracy, not a dictatorship, isn’t it? Nothing personal, it’s part of the job,” Mr. Hilbay said in a statement.
“Let us remember what my father (the late senator Jose W. Diokno) has said, ‘Yes-men are not compatible with democracy. We can strengthen our leaders by pointing out what they are doing that is wrong.’ It is the responsibility of the opposition to question, criticize, and provide alternatives in managing government. The President should not be onion-skinned- this is the spirit of democracy,” Mr. Diokno said in a statement.
For his part, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary C. Alejano said he offered solutions and alternatives to the administration policies he has opposed. He also deplored Mr. Duterte’s criticisms against the Magdalo, saying that their coup d’etat was based on corruption in the government and the lack of support for military troops in the frontlines.
“When I criticize your administration, I offer solutions and alternatives to policies which are detrimental to the country and the Filipinos. That is my role as a member of the opposition. My words have basis and they are matched with actions,” Mr. Alejano said in a statement.
Mr. Tañada said the slate’s proposal for a public debate must be organized immediately to give candidates time to explain their track record.
“Let us do the Comelec (Commission on Elections)-sponsored debate so the President would no longer speak on behalf of the candidates,” he said in a statement.
Aside from Messrs. Hilbay, Diokno, Alejano and Tañada, the Otso Diretso slate is composed of former senator and interior secretary Manuel A. Roxas II, reelectionist Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV, Marawi civic leader Samira A. Gutoc, and election lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal.
For his part, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, the opposition slate’s campaign manager, said a public debate among senatorial candidates would guide voters in choosing their leaders.
“It is important to look at the past or history of candidates who offer their selves to serve the people… Who have served for a long time honestly? Without abusing the power given them by the people? Without the obvious abuse in the flood of expensive tarpaulins and TV ads?” said Mr. Pangilinan in a statement.
“A serious debate on issues of gut, life, and livelihood — not cursing, threatening, or joking — would help voters in choosing the leaders who will lead them,” he added. — Camille A. Aguinaldo, with G.M.Cortez