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Roxas’ 1st presidential debate: ‘A-Game’ prepared

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Among the 5 presidential candidates gearing up for the first Commission on Elections (Comelec)-sanction presidential debate on Sunday, February 21, it can be argued that Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II is among the most equipped.

While almost all of the presidential hopefuls have vied for a national seat in the past, only Roxas and opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay have experienced gunning for the vice presidency. Roxas, of course, lost that 2010 battle.

But as far as debates are concerned, it’s Roxas and Binay who have experienced the scrutiny and pressure that comes with a national debate featuring candidates of the country’s highest posts. (READ: The Leader I Want: Mar Roxas' to-fix list for 2016)

In the lead-up to the February 21 showdown in this city, Roxas cleared his schedule of any sorties or public engagements. His last public appearance was on Thursday, February 18, when he spoke before private school administrators and teachers.

“He's been getting used to the format, especially the time limits. Fortunately, we don't really have a problem on substantive issues because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of policy and data,” Roxas’ spokesman, Akbayan party list Representative Ibarra Gutierrez, told Rappler in a text message on Saturday, February 20.  

Added Gutierrez, who also speaks in behalf of the LP-led “Daang Matuwid” coalition: “The focus is how to fit what he wants to say within 90 seconds. We've prepared our A-Game, and we look forward to a friendly, interesting, enlightening exchange.”

Roxas is set to fly to Cagayan de Oro city Sunday morning.

Numbers and data have always been Roxas’ strength – for better or worse. In speeches and forums, the former trade chief and investment banker rattles off data and statistics easily. (READ: Mar of the People)

But making those numbers make sense to the ordinary Filipino will be more important given the format of the debate, where candidates are allowed to answer in 90 seconds, make an answer in 60 seconds, and a rebuttal in 30 seconds. 

The last time Roxas was on-stage for a national debate was in 2010, when he faced off against Senator Loren Legarda. At the time of the ABS-CBN-sponsored debate, Roxas and Legarda were the front-runners of the vice presidential race.

Binay would eventually come from behind to win the vice presidency.

One of the highlights of the 2010 debate was a heated exchange between Roxas and Legarda on the lady senator's priority on the environment. Roxas questioned why environment was the center when the Philippines was among the smallest contributors to the problem of climate change.

Legarda countered by saying the country was among the most vulnerable, citing Panay, where Roxas traces his roots, and Antique, where Legarda traces her roots, as examples of devastating natural disasters can be.

Roxas hit back by asking Legarda – in fluent Ilonggo – what the country can do to ease the effects of climate change. Legarda did not answer the question immediately, instead explaining first that while her grandmother hails from Antique, she was raised in Tagalog-speaking areas.

The LP bet scored the highest on believability, based on a “truth-meter” ABS-CBN gave to the audience watching the exchange live.

During that 2010 exchange, Legarda also tried to score Roxas for supposedly shifting political allegiances throughout his career, according to a Philippine Star report. Roxas was trade secretary of Joseph Estrada and later, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

During his stint as senator, Roxas would be among the most vocal in calling for Arroyo’s ouster.

Roxas hit back at Legarda, saying: “Hindi ako nag-iiyak-iyakan sa Senado nung hindi natuloy yung impeachment ni Pangulong Erap. Hindi ko pinag-resign si Erap. Maayos kaming naghiwalay ng landas. Usapang lalaki, nagkaunawaan kami.”

(I did not cry in the Senate when the impeachment of Erap Estrada didn’t push through. I did not call for Erap’s resignation. We parted on good terms. Man-to-man, we had an agreement.)

To this day, Estrada speaks fairly well of Roxas, despite their political differences. Estrada, who has since been elected Manila mayor, once said Roxas was among his best Cabinet officials although he is unlikely to support the LP bet in the 2016 polls. – Rappler.com