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Poe 'Invisible Girl,' Roxas 'Mister Fantastic' – Palace

MANILA, Philippines – Even Palace officials were amused by the verbal tussles among 4 leading presidential candidates during the second presidential debates in Cebu on Sunday, March 20.

“It was sort of like watching the Fantastic Four on stage,” said Palace Spokesperson Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III in a briefing with reporters on Monday, March 21.

The Palace official likened opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay to the “Human Torch except he flamed down.” Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, meanwhile, reminded him of the Thing. “Everything was solvable by clobberin’ time,” said Quezon of Duterte.

Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II was Mister Fantastic.

“To our mind, he was Mister Fantastic. There was no topic that was beyond his reach and he showed an analytical mind, a scientific approach to problem-solving that demonstrated that he was a natural team leader,” said Quezon of President Benigno Aquino III’s anointed candidate.

But it was for a former administration ally that Quezon had the most today.

“I think we should pay a tribute to the – how would we put it – to the humbleness and the ability of Senator [Grace] Poe to be like the Invisible Girl,” said Quezon.

Poe, a neophyte senator, ran under the LP-led “Team PNoy” in the 2013 elections.

“She was so transparent and so – put herself so much in the background that you could see the glowing brain of Tony La Viña in what she was saying and at the same time, she allowed the sort of political choreography of her running mate [Senator Francis Escudero] to shine through in her handling of many of the challenges that were unanticipated,” added Quezon.

La Viña is the former dean of the Ateneo School of Government who advises Poe. He also helped her prepare for the first and second presidential debates.

The second presidential debate, held at the University of the Philippines Cebu, was decidedly feistier than the first iteration held in Cagayan de Oro City.

The 4 presidential candidates battled it out on live television, responding to questions from a panel of journalists and from other rivals.

4 candidates

Asked to expound on his assessment of Poe, Quezon said the senator “allowed the training and the guidance of one of the leading intellectuals of this country to shine through.”

“That's a sign, I would suppose, of confidence on her part,” he added. (READ: Poe was 'on point, aggressive' - Rappler adjudication panel)

The Palace spokesman then made a passive-aggressive dig at the senator for the “evolution” of her stand on death penalty and allowing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. a hero’s burial.

“That's a very smooth move and again that's the candidate who does that,” he said, when asked if he meant Poe’s actions and words were not hers but that of her advisers.

Poe was once wooed by the ruling party, led by party chairman Aquino, to be Roxas’ running mate. She eventually decided to run for president as an independent candidate.

Aquino, said Quezon, also watched the debate.

As explosive and exciting as the debate may have been, things started off on a rather slow – and late – start. The debate started more than hour later than scheduled over “confusion” on rules.

The camp of Binay had apparently prepared notes and documents to bring to the debate, contrary to long-agreed upon rules by all camps, Comelec, broadcaster TV5 and the Philippine Star.

The 4 candidates and debate moderator TV 5 news and current affairs chief Luchi Cruz-Valdes negotiated on-stage. In the end, Cruz-Valdes insisted that documents not be allowed on stage. (READ: #PHVote: Debate fiasco, Marcos-Robredo 'war')

“I think any sort of fair observer, everyone who watched would show that it was not a bright shining moment for the Vice President,” said Quezon of Binay, a former member of the Aquino Cabinet.

Although Roxas is “Mister Fantastic” to Quezon and most in the administration, his rivals definitely did not share the same view. Poe, Binay, and Duterte all took turns hitting Roxas for his supposed failures as a member of the current administration. –