The candidates’ debate and what happens on Monday

It is better to have the candidates face the public together in a forum or debate than none at all.

Both the Diskutiran Townhall Debate on April 19, 2022 and the Candidates’ Forum ten days later gave the electorate, at least those interested enough to watch live and online, an idea of where the aspirants stand on various issues affecting the island community and the nation.

For starters, the twin events provided an inkling to the audience a gauge, however limited, of the intellectual capacity of the candidates based on how they answered the questions.

One particular aspirant for vice governor went on and on about “check and balance” and never did answer if in his 15 years as local legislator he had one ordinance authored and approved. (His own campaign leaflet listed only 10 resolutions and not one ordinance).

Another, a former mayor, exhibited his shallowness by asking an opponent who was responsible for the “Bagong Timpla” tag.

Vice Governor Shirley Abundo, who took over when Gov. Joseph Cua was suspended for a year, vowed that she would be a governor without someone who thought he was higher than the governor.

On the other hand, Gov. Cua fended off questions on the status of EBMC, whose income during the pandemic was affected by its being a dedicated COVID-19 hospital and his suspension. He said that what it needs is an expansion of the hospital and additional services.

A question by a panelist on how to end vote-buying should have been directed at COMELEC, not at the candidate.

Cua also stressed that Capitol hiring policies are based on the top five applicants and on the chief executive’s wide latitude of discretion.

As expected, the Cua brothers came under questioning on how the Sangguniang Panlalawigan would assert its independence vis-à-vis the executive but the two argued that they do respect their own choices and that the board is a collegial body and not the presiding officer’s alone.

Among the congressional bets, it was Atty. Oliver Rodulfo who made the biggest splash in calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system, allowing labor-intensive infra projects up to P50 million to provide jobs, and, in opposing divorce, argued that most men are by nature cheaters but they should not leave their families.

On the same question on divorce, former Cong. Cesar Sarmiento admitted he got separated from his wife and that he believes in the sanctity of marriage.

Eulogio Rodriguez was the only one who looked out of place in the two events, at times scrambling to blurt out answers. According to a naughty opponent, the former mayor immediately looked at his smart phone as soon as the one-minute “thinking” period at the forum began.

Like most poll bets, Cong. Hector Sanchez harped on his accomplishments in health, infrastructure, livelihood and, most particularly, his submarine power cable project.

It was the incumbent who, in both the debate and the forum, clashed with the former solon on their respective accomplishments.

Now, whether the memory of their pronouncements would be erased by the sight of cold cash in the last days of the campaign would be up to the voters.

We all have seen this happen before, in all elections since the EDSA revolution, whose promise of an enlightened democracy was immediately trashed by widespread vote-buying in the 1988 polls.

Those who are not buying votes, out of either principle or lack of resources, are banking on voters finally taking a chance on the candidates’ qualifications and platforms.

Those who do chose to buy votes are simply trying to ensure victory on top of their accomplishments.

Who wins?

Your guess is as good as 19th century French writer Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, who once said: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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