Political debate needed

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Nearly one month has passed since the (official) campaign period started and we are now seeing the strategies of the political parties and certain candidates. Just like the early rounds in a boxing match, we see opponents feeling out each other, throwing jabs, very few haymakers and saving strength for the later rounds. Oftentimes, the disadvantaged underdogs are more aggressive early in the fight, egging the much bigger opponent to fall into the trap of being impatient and careless, causing him to make a mistake for an early KO.

To relate to basketball, the first quarter is the period when players heat up. Those who commit two fouls end up being benched to be played again in the last quarter, while those who score a streak of three-pointers are expected to spend 30-plus minutes in the game. An interesting strategy done during crucial plays is when there is an inbound pass, the defensive team commits a foul right before the ball is passed to reveal the play of the team in offense.

So, just like in sports, what the candidates do in the first 30 days is really not definitive of their actions for the rest of the campaign period, although it can be quite revealing and indicative. Surely, the candidates are advised well by their PR managers and it is important not to gas out early in the fight. It is well-known that a lot of spending is to be done during campaigns, both political and monetary.

For Otso Diretso, we see their strategy is to challenge head-on the administration’s bets to a debate. This is a good strategy for them since we saw in the 2016 presidential elections the nationally televised debates bolstered the popularity of Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte and he ended up clearly winning the presidency. Otso Diretso’s candidates have shown some potential and it would be a golden opportunity for them to spar with candidates from Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) or Partido Demokratiko Pilipino. I imagine Chel Diokno and Samira Gutoc shining in a debate if given the chance. The end-product may be similar to a video of a rookie NBA player getting a highlight reel dunk over a superstar like Lebron James or Kevin Durant – that video could go viral and win the candidate a few million votes.

Given this possibility, the HnP bets are downplaying the challenges by saying it would be better to debate in the Senate after they win the elections. This is an absolute farce since, sad to say, none of the Otso Diretso candidates, including Mar Roxas and Bam Aquino, seems to be shoo-ins to the Magic 12 as can be seen from the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys. Some of the favored candidates have gone on record to say that debates are not necessary.
If actions speak louder than words and if we look at how they have conducted themselves in the political rallies, then a song-and-dance number is much better than voicing out your platform to an electorate that is being dumbed-down on purpose.

The dumb-down strategy means resorting to ad hominem remarks, dismissing calls for debates and dribbling requests for interviews. It is to showcase what is most appealing to simpletons — your personality and charisma, best exemplified by a rousing love song to swoon the attendees in a campaign rally. The sad part is that this seems to be the most efficient way to win an election.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should not be blamed for being unable to come up with rules for a debate this late in the campaign season. There are 63 candidates for the Senate and it is impossible to have them participate in a Royal Rumble of sorts. However, the Comelec is at fault for not seeing this ahead.

Former Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista did the right thing in coming up with a required Presidential debate; I daresay that if he was still the chairman today, we would have seen the same thing for the senatorial race. Too bad, his personal circumstances have deprived us of this.

But for what it’s worth, my proposal for the senatorial debate is to have four non-confrontational town hall meetings, where each major national (not regional) political party will have one or two representatives, while the independents will also have one or two representatives, ending up with around 15 participants per meeting. Another proposal is to have only the top 20 candidates based on the surveys to slug it out in a free-for-all debate questioning, removing the TV lull-time of seeing candidates who have zero chance of winning ramble off promises that will never come into fruition.

Though all this is water under the bridge, I still hope that the candidates would not play a part in dumbing down the Filipinos. Debates are entertaining and intellectually stimulating and it is a chance for us to get our candidates right. Our country will survive only if we have the right people in government and I stand by my theory that we, as the Filipino people, are who we vote for.

Email: darren.dejesus@dejesuslegal.com

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