ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Some Mindanaoans frowned over presidential candidate and ex-senator Ferdinand “Bonbong” Marcos Jr.’s no-show during the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) presidential debates on Saturday, March 19.
From Sulu, Zamboanga, Bukidnon, and Cagayan de Oro, those who watched it also expressed disappointment that important issues and recurring problems affecting Mindanao took the backseat or were otherwise not tackled at all.
Zamboangueña dermatologist Anna Lissa Ruste-Chan said she saw presidential bet Vice President Leni Robredo’s jab at Marcos as “the best closing statement.”
Robredo said, “Kaya po huwag na nating hanapin ang ayaw namang humarap sa atin (Let’s no longer look for those who don’t want to face us)… True leaders show up, and man up… the best man for the job is a woman.”
Chan lauded the candidates for “doing their best.”
“Their mere presence in that debate meant that they are serious with their ‘application’ for their job except for one,” she said.
In Cagayan de Oro, lawyer Jose Edgardo Uy said Marcos’ decision to skip the presidential debates was an insult to the intelligence of voters and raised more serious questions about his candidacy.
Uy asked, “Nganong gaka hadlok kaha nas Junior sa debate? Naay gitaguan? Dili niya kaya kay dili siya kahibalo? Hadlok ma pangutana tinuod ba nga convicted siya? Hadlok sa pangutana kung tinuod ba nga bakak iyang Oxford degree? Hadlok mapangutana nabayran na ba nila ang P203-billion estate tax? Or naka menos lang gyud siya ug ang iyang running mate sa mga botante? Ngano kaha?”
(Why is Junior [Marcos] scared of debates? Is he hiding anything? Can he not handle it because he lacks intelligence? Is he afraid someone would ask if it is true that he was convicted? Is he afraid he would be asked if his Oxford degree is fake? Is he afraid he would be asked if his family paid their P203-billion estate tax? Or could it be that he and his running mate are belittling voters? Why?)
Nahdin Jubaira, executive director of the Sulu Area Coordinating Center of the Sulu provincial government, said he wished the presidential candidates discussed pressing Mindanao issues more during the debate.
Jubaira said a question should have been asked about exactly how the candidates would work for a longer-lasting or permanent peace in Mindanao.
“How about the Sabah claim? Shall it be allowed to remain unresolved and remain seasonal, only to be tackled for expediency’s sake or as ‘necessary issue’ just to elicit mileage?” he asked.
In Bukidnon, Malaybalay City-based engineer Bonzenti Panganiban said the matters on economic recovery, foreign debts, and the “Build, Build, Build” program struck him the most.
“I was hoping that the candidates also discussed alternative sources of energy and the preservation of the watersheds in Mindanao, and how we could harness solar power to reach every household as this is environmentally and financially sound,” Panganiban said.
Also in Bukidnon, former Valencia City mayor Leandro Catarata said the Comelec-sponsored public debate provided a venue for voters to make well-informed decisions.
Catarata said the televised debates were also leveling the presidential candidates’ playing field at minimal cost. “We pray for enlightened voters,” Catarata added.
While the candidates gave good answers, Catarata said Robredo stood out because of what he described as her “consistent and straightforward answers.”
Like Chan and Jubaira, Zamboanga-based computer technician Armand Torres said Robredo was also one of his favorites.
But Torres said he was also impressed with two other presidential candidates: Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.
Torres said, “Leni seemed to be very prepared… Mayor Isko was very wise, informative, and confident. Senator Ping Lacson is someone I find very intelligent, and I think he deserves to be the next President.”
Another said she hoped to see longer public debates so the candidates can expound their positions.
Dr. Arlyn Jawad-Jumao-as, a pediatrician from Basilan, said, “The time allotted for each speaker was too short for deeper explanations of their stands on the issues. For such an important event, the program time should be extended.” – with reports from Herbie Gomez/Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon and Grace Cantal-Albasin are Mindanao-based journalists and awardees of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship