The Vice Presidential debate last Sunday has been the talk of the town for the past couple of days, eclipsing even the last fight of Pacquiao. People have generally praised CNN Philippines and Inquirer for moderating a good debate. It was probably as good as it can get, even though I had the feeling I was watching a beauty contest, complete with foreign judges asking the questions (thanks John Mangun of the Business Mirror for completing the picture).
The one line synopsis: They may as well have touted this as Cayetano vs. Marcos. All the other candidates seemed to get less airtime and just blended into the wallpaper.
Biggest Winner: Alan Cayetano – In one minute, this young man almost convinced me who I should vote for for VP and President. I never thought twice about him before, but after his performance at the Vice Presidential debates I am left wondering how close we often get to dismissing good options just because of prior prejudices.
All the Vice Presidential bets have been pretty much ignored by the press, except for Marcos (because of his controversial run) and Robredo because of the huge machinery and administration support.
We have all seen the Duterte phenomenon, the packed rallies, the grassroots support. But I have never before been exposed to Cayetano. Previously relegated as an underdog with little hope of ousting Marcos or Escudero for the lead, Cayetano just announced to everyone that he is still a viable choice.
Was it all play-acting? Was it the savvy manueverings of a trained politician? Perhaps. Attacking the leader in the polls (BBM) is a proven strategy if you have been a laggard. Citing specific stories of individuals is another effective strategy used by Obama, Clinton, and most other US political candidates to get points across. Cayetano used the technique in his opening statement to great effect: a woman OFW who lost her job due to being detained by tanim bala; a young girl and her mother in the Kidapawan rally; a waiter whose commute time doubled to 3 hours due to the worsened traffic and public transport situation.
Cayetano gave Filipinos the bombast they look for in their public figures. They want a leader with fire in the belly. From the perspective of most mileage gained from the debates, Cayetano was the clear winner as I scored it.
Biggest Loser: Leni Robredo – Speaking of fire in the belly, what is up with Leni Robredo? I know she is the remaining hope of the Daang Matuwid crowd as many have given up on Mar. It is hard to put a Robredo down, sainted husband and all. But I just don’t see it. Where is the fire? For that matter, where is the spark?
If I interview a job candidate and ask what their plan is for the next 5 years, I want to see ambition. If they are ambitious I know they will work hard for me. All the VP candidates want to be President except for Gringo and Leni. Leni’s response was basically saying I’m not really interested in all that stuff, I just want to help poor people. And you know she is telling the truth. This makes me question whether she thinks she is too good for this job and is just applying for other reasons. One gets the feeling she doesn’t understand power or politics.
Given a choice of cabinet posts, Robredo says she wants to be anti-poverty czar. It makes me wonder why she just doesn’t go work in Gawad Kalinga, or a similar NGO. What about the economy, Leni? What about jobs? What about China?
She simply does not project as a leader. I have spoken to people of her batch in UP and they do not even remember her. She was not active in the student government or any political organization. Granted she had to cope with being a wife and mother, but announcing that she had to retake the bar before passing also does not inspire confidence. Instead, Leni projects as a well-meaning, NGO-type widow and housewife. A good person and patriot but can she swim with the sharks? Unfortunately, the impression I get from her debate performance says otherwise.
To be fair, Robredo is only the biggest loser because of the magnitude of the wasted opportunity. Many were considering her due to her non-trapo image. (Escudero also was a loser in the debates owing to his odd speaking cadence and voice which became the butt of many social media jokes. But how many votes did he lose? The same people making fun were not going to vote for him anyway.)
Worse, the mileage she got from playing the anti-Marcos crowd earlier prior to the debates just faded as Cayetano stole the show and championed that crowd.
A note on Bongbong Marcos – One must always strive for objectivity when discussing the controversial young Marcos. Objectively, he handled himself well. He was able to parry hecklers in the crowd, the attacks from the other candidates, and was able to get in a few zingers of his own. His best soundbite was “this administration will use anything they have against me, because I am a Marcos and the President is an Aquino”. Mar Roxas must have cringed from wherever he was watching. BBM approached it all like he was having fun, smiling and rebutting, when hotter tempers (again, Roxas) would have lost it. The more Marcos is attacked by this admnistration, the more he gains in strength and stature. And he knows it. His statement about being a unifying figure that will focus on the future, rather than the past, was a solid uppercut punch to the polarizing plexus of Malacanang.
A postscript note for my dear friend Pia Hontiveros, I know it is hard to resist taking a dig at BBM but that crack about “relax, we are not going to talk about corruption…” was not very professional. Other than that you and Pinky did a good job. Granted the bar was really set low.