Hugpong bets no-show at Otso Diretso debate challenge

Sofia Tomacruz
Hugpong ng Pagbabago bets were at a campaign gathering in Meycauayan, Bulacan, at the time the debate was set to take place

DEBATE CHALLENGE. Otso Diretso senatorial candidates show up at Plaza Miranda for their debate challenge against opponents from Hugpong ng Pagbabago, who were at a campaign event in Bulacan. Photo by Jeff Digma/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Although Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) chairperson and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte said her party was “willing” to debate with opposition bets, HNP senatorial candidates were a no-show at Otso Diretso’s debate challenge at Plaza Miranda on Monday, February 25.

The opposition senatorial candidates of Otso Diretso earlier challenged their opponents to a debate on some of the country’s most pressing issues, to be held on the 33rd anniversary of the EDSA Revolution. The set time of noon, however, came and went with no sign any debate would take place.

From the Otso Diretso senatorial slate, candidates who appeared were human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, former Quezon congressman Erin Tañada, election lawyer Romy Macalintal, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano.

Diokno said it was unfortunate that HNP bets chose not to show up to discuss issues. He said citizens have the right to know where candidates stand on issues so they can decide who they would vote for in the May polls.

“Hindi po ito gimik. Kami po ay naniniwala na ang pangangampanya para sa Senado ay hindi po laban ng tarp. Hindi naman tayo gagawa ng tarp sa Senado. Ang pangangampanya para sa Senado ay para malaman kung sino ang may track record, kung sino may paninindigan, at kung sino may kakayahan na maging senador,” Diokno said.

(This is not a gimmick. We believe that campaigning for the Senate is not a tarpaulin war. We won’t be making tarps in the Senate. Campaigning for the Senate is so that people know who has a track record, who takes a stand on issues, and who has the qualifications to become senator.)

Diokno earlier suggested February 25 as the day for the debate – an interesting pick as it is the anniversary of the bloodless revolution that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986.

Diokno is the son of the late former senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno, a staunch critic of Marcos’ iron-fist rule and a stalwart of the country’s human rights movement.

Meanwhile, HNP counts among its senatorial bets the late dictator’s daughter Imee Marcos, who is the incumbent Ilocos Norte governor. (READ: 33rd EDSA anniversary marked as Marcoses plot comeback)

People’s right to know

Like Diokno, Tañada and Hilbay said the battle for the Senate should be about solutions to issues that Filipinos face, such as high prices of goods. These solutions, they said, would become the agenda of the next Senate.

“Importante malaman ng taong-bayan kung bakit hindi sila sumasagot…. Sila ba ay takot? Ang mga damdamin nila kinikimkim nila kapag alam nila mali ‘yung ginagawa? Kami po ay handang tumayo kapag alam namin mali ‘yung isang polisiya,” Tañada said.

(It’s important for Filipinos to know why they’re not answering…. Are they afraid? Do they stay silent when they see wrongdoing? We’re ready to take a stand when we know a policy is wrong.)

Hilbay also said, “Hindi kami ‘yung tinalikuran dito, ang tinalikuran dito ang taong-bayan na naghihintay nilang makipag-usap sa taong ordinaryo.” (They didn’t turn their backs on us, but on ordinary citizens who waited for them to talk.)

Asked why other opposition bets such as ex-interior secretary Mar Roxas, reelectionist Senator Bam Aquino, and Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc were not present, Tañada told Rappler the candidates had prior activities lined up for the day.

‘Negative campaigning?’

The opposition bets likewise denied that the debate was “negative campaigning” against their opponents. HNP earlier vowed not to engage in “negative campaigning” after Otso Diretso made clear its “anti-corruption” messaging.

Alejano said bringing up issues where candidates may be put on the spot was not “negative campaigning,” but setting the record straight. He called on senatorial bet Bong Go, in particular, to explain the government’s stand on the West Philippine Sea as he was the “face” of the Duterte administration.

“Kung sinasabi nila negative campaigning [ito] dahil ayaw nilang i-raise ang issues na tatamaan sila…. Important na malaman ng taong-bayan hindi lang ‘yung positive…. Huwag natin itago ‘yun kasi records ‘yun eh. I-call out sila kasi kung merong mali, ang mga taong-bayan ‘yung magsu-suffer,” Alejano said.

(If they’re saying this is negative campaigning, [it’s] because they don’t want to raise issues where they will be put on the spot…. It’s important to know not just what’s positive…. Let’s not hide the negative because those are on the record. Call them out if they’re wrong because it’ll be the citizens who will suffer.)

Macalintal said the opportunity to debate is in fact “positive” as it would give candidates the chance to clarify issues and present their qualifications.

“Dapat magkita-kita kami para malaman kung sino talaga nagsasabi ng totoo, ng tama o mali (We should face one another to know who’s saying the truth, what’s right or wrong),” he said.

The Otso Diretso candidates said they remain open to debating with HNP bets any time, anywhere.

“Sila na po ang magtakda kung ano’ng araw, ano’ng lugar – pupuntahan po namin sila (They should just name the date, name the place – we’ll go to them),” Tañada said.

HNP bets were at a campaign gathering in Meycauayan, Bulacan, at the time the debate was set to take place.

As administration-allied bets, HNP’s senatorial candidates have more resources and machinery in their arsenal compared to the Otso Diretso slate, most of whom are lagging behind in preelection surveys, so far. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.