VP Binay backs out of debate with Trillanes

Bea Cupin

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VP Binay backs out of debate with Trillanes
(3rd UPDATE) 'Ayoko na (I don’t want to do it anymore),' Binay told reporters in an interview over two weeks before his scheduled debate with Senator Antonio Trillanes IV

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Vice President Jejomar Binay has backed out of his November 27 debate with Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

Ayoko na (I don’t want to do it anymore),” Binay told reporters in an ambush interview at the Philippine Navy headquarters on Tuesday, November 11, when asked about the debate.

The Vice President, who celebrated his 72nd birthday that day, told reporters he made the decision on-the-spot, when asked to react to Trillanes’ statement that the senator would be the “underdog” in the debate.

“That’s what I don’t like. They’re making it seem that I’m a bully who’s taking advantage of him. My advantage, if ever I do have one, is that I want to talk about the facts,” Binay said.

Asked if there was any way for him to change his mind, Binay added: “Wala na (There’s no other way). That’s consistent with his personality….Kita mo naman ang demeanor niya (You’ve seen Trilllanes’ demeanor).” 

Binay insisted he was willing to face Trillanes up until his interview with reporters. “Hanggang ngayon umagang ito, handa ako doon. Ako nga ang nagmungkahi doon eh. Lalong pangit na ako yung aatras eh ako ang nagmungkahi (This morning, I was ready to debate. I was the one who suggested it. It would look bad if I backed out when I was the one who issued the challenge),” he said. 

But in a statement issued almost 6 hours after the surprise announcement widely criticized in social media, Binay’s political spokesman Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla provided a different reason for the Vice President’s decision – the Yolanda tragedy, which marked its first year anniversary on November 8.

“The Vice President realized that engaging [in] a debate with Senator Trillanes is a disservice to the millions who still have to recover from the Yolanda tragedy,” Remulla said.

Binay, as chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, plays an important role in the government’s post-Yolanda rehabilitation efforts. 

Remulla said Binay would be in Yolanda-hit parts of the Visayas, “putting all his efforts into the task of housing given to him by the President.”

“Now is not the time for talk but for action….The truth of the allegations is now in the hands of the Ombudsman,” he added.

‘Lamest excuse’

Trillanes said in an interview on ANC shortly after Binay’s announcement that he was “surprised” by the development and that he was hoping that Binay would face him in the debate.

“I was hoping against hope that he would somehow find the courage,” the senator said, adding that he was taking up “basic” debating skills to prepare for the face-off with Binay.

He deemed Binay’s reasoning – that the Vice President didn’t want to be portrayed as a villain attacking an “underdog” like the senator in a public forum – as “the lamest excuse you can ever get from anyone.”

“For somebody like him na gustong-gustong bumawi (wants to regain lost ground), that’s an opportunity for him to put me in my place. Nobody’s going to buy that (excuse),” Trillanes said.

Trillanes said he was surprised by the Tuesday morning announcement, since he spoke with Binay at 9:30 pm on Monday, and the Vice President did not mention that he was considering withdrawing from the debate.

“We were on the phone at around 9:30 last night. He didn’t say that he would back out of the debate,” he said. 

He added that he and Binay even attended the meeting facilitated by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the debate organizer, on Monday lunchtime to discuss details of the debate, including the topics, so he thought it was really pushing through. He added that Senator Nancy Binay was also at the KBP meeting.

“They thought that they can impose other conditions that will make be back out. But again, I bent backwards. They imposed the condition that they will be the first to give the opening statement and the last to give the closing statement and that will clearly put me at a disadvantage but nonetheless I accepted,” the senator said.

Trillanes said the Vice President apparently made the decision “when they realized probably that we’re really very serious about this.”

“He couldn’t muster enough courage to face me even in a debate,” he said, stressing that it was Binay who had challenged him to the debate.

Asked how he felt about the development, Trillanes said: “I’m ambivalent on the matter. It’s his loss. He blew up his opportunity. He’s going to be crucified for this and he’s practically destroying whatever credibility he has left in his body.”

KBP: ‘It’s out of our hands’

KBP president Herman Basbaño said in an interview on the same news channel that they were taken by surprise by the Vice President’s decision, considering the active participation of his camp in the debate preparations, but they respect his decision.

Wala na tayong magagawa doon (It’s out of our hands),” Basbaño said.

When asked, the KPB chief said they too had no inkling that the Vice President would withdraw from the debate, since he had more representatives at the pre-debate meetings than Trillanes.

Binay is set to meet his spokesman Cavite Govenor Juanito Victor Remulla  on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the now-cancelled debate. Remulla, in turn, was supposed to meet with the KBP on Thursday, November 13, to iron out the final details of the debate. 

Binay had earlier challenged Trillanes to a one-on-one debate to respond to corruption allegations hurled against him in a Senate probe.

The Vice President’s daughter, Senator Nancy Binay had given a preview of her father’s decision on Monday, when she told reporters that if the rest of the Binay family members had their way, the much-anticipated debate would not take place. (READ: Nancy Binay: VP ‘real underdog’ in debate with Trillanes)

Senator Binay had said that she would not want her father to “stoop down to the level of Senator Trillanes.”

Binay’s partymates and allies are also against the debate, which the Vice President himself had asked the KBP to organize and facilitate.

The Binay camp had earlier predicted that it would be Trillanes who would withdraw from the debate, after the senator had “imposed” a November 22 deadline on the debate. Trillanes later accepted the November 27 date set by the KBP.  

The Vice President had repeatedly declined invitations for him to appear at the Senate probe into the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2 that began construction during his term as mayor.

The Senate probe, conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee, has branched into various corruption allegations against the Binay family, made by the Vice President’s former allies in Makati.

Last week, he rejected the invitation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to appear at the hearing on the probe which had been specially arranged to accommodate him, citing the “behavior” of the committee members spearheading the probe, particularly Trillanes and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.