The presidential debate hosted by CNN Philippines on Sunday, February 27, gave some of the lesser known candidates a chance to introduce themselves to the voting public, but not all of them had a time to shine in the crowded stage.
Among the presidential aspirants whose survey numbers had yet to breach the one-percentage point mark as of January, according to pollster Pulse Asia, were Faisal Mangondato, Ernesto Abella, and Norberto Gonzales.
While Leody de Guzman and Jose Montemayor Jr. had survey numbers similar to the three, the two were highly visible during the debate because of their live tussles on labor issues, among others.
Mangondato, Abella, and Gonzales, however, had a more difficult time manufacturing scene-stealing moments.
Abella, Duterte’s former spokesperson, also used to be a foreign undersecretary, but his presence was not felt during the segment of the debate which discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Philippines’ maritime row with China.
In a moment with Montemayor, however, Abella was able to assert that the country should not be afraid of debts as long as they will be accounted for and be put to good use.
“It is very important that we create a national industry where we can put for example the money we borrowed,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino, when asked how he will safeguard the country’s growing debt. “First, what we’re planning to do is develop agriculture into a mega industry.”
Gonzales, defense chief of the Arroyo administration, also only had few opportunities to flex his expertise on matters of national security.
One of those moments was when he was asked what his strategy would be in the West Philippine Sea dispute.
“We should strengthen the character and quality of our people first. That is why I have been advocating for national mobilization,” Gonzales said in a mix of English and Filipino, arguing that the Philippines should present itself as a country capable of withstanding external threats.
On the question of whether candidates are in favor of religious groups endorsing candidates, Gonzales also made clear his position that the Catholic church should not endorse a candidate.
“Those who are part of the Church should be non-partisan,” he said.
As pointed out by some Filipinos online, Faisal Mangondato appeared to be searching for words most of the time, perhaps because he was not speaking in his native tongue.
One notable moment from Mangondato was when he shared his view on the pandemic at the first half of the debate.
“We are faced with many calamities because of our sins. If we don’t follow our God, this pandemic will not be over,” he said in Filipino.
In the last segment of the debate, like other candidates, Mangondato was given the chance to describe what the first few months of his presidency would be like, should he be installed in Malacañang.
“I will put the government in auto-pilot mode,” he said. “This means, professionals in the civil service will run our government. They are the experienced undersecretaries with security of tenure, those who have been serving since the past administrations.”
Crowded debate stage
Montemayor, in one segment of the show, expressed his reservations about the debate format, which he said was unable to give candidates a chance to thresh out ideas.
“Like my exchange with Ka Leody, we were unable to discuss the issue in detail, so this is not a debate. It may be a forum, but this is not a classic debate that we expect,” he said. “But I still thank CNN, this is the first opportunity I get to introduce myself to the public.”
But as CNN debate moderator Pia Hontiveros explained, there were nine candidates on the debate stage on Sunday.
“Too many questions, too many candidates,” she said. “Maybe if there were fewer candidates, you could have the classic debate like in the United States for example.”
Of the 10 presidential candidates on the ballot, all but late dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attended the event. Marcos snubbed the event, opting woo voters in Pangasinan instead.