No sparks: ‘Not a debate, but speed dating’

Voltaire Tupaz
No sparks: ‘Not a debate, but speed dating’
'Tell me your dreams, hopes, and aspirations, and let me see if I like you,' says a sociologist who monitored the first presidential debate

MANILA, Philippines – Several professors, activists, and experts who closely followed the first PiliPinas 2016 presidential debate held in Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday, February 21, believe the event was hardly a tussle of visions and platforms.

“That wasn’t a debate, that was speed dating. Tell me your dreams, hopes, and aspirations, and let me see if I like you,” said Nicole Curato, a Filipino sociologist based at the Center for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance in Canberra, Australia. 



Lyceum of the Philippines University-Laguna professor Michael Eduard Labayandoy attributed this to the debate style.

“The debate format is problematic. It did not encourage continuity, deepening of positions. Much needs to be clarified,” Labayandoy said. 

Oxfam’s Marie Nunez agreed, saying this explained why there was “not much insight on level of understanding or sharpness of analysis of issues.” 

“I wish the candidates would deal with the more important issues of inequality, climate justice, the automatic debt appropriation law, and tax and fiscal justice,” Professor Ed Tadem, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) president said.

Evan Tan, a member of the executive committee of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, was also disappointed, saying that the debate failed to tackle a current burning issue – gender discrimination.


For Curato, there could have been a “real debate” if the candidates were matched “based on policy difference.”

But for activists, regardless of the format, the event could not have possibly elicited fundamental policy differences.

“I didn’t see much debate, which pretty much reflects the narrow range of choices we have in May 2016. The candidates can’t really brawl on key issues and platforms because, unfortunately, they don’t really disagree on much (apart from finding each other disagreeable),” Ibon Foundation executive director Sonny Africa said. 


According to Africa, the “personality-oriented traditional politics” that prevails in the country explains this.

Check out the debate commentary from partners of MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm. 

Five presidential candidates – Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe, former interior secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago – attended the first debate.

The event was organized by GMA-7 and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. –

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