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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, April 25, 2016

After last night's presidential debate, the internet becomes final battle-ground for 2016 elections. ABS-CBN accused by netizens of “Davileak” in episode involving simultaneous TV teaser as Mar expounded on his objection to 'contractualization.' The three debates have shown shared understanding of basic issues haunting our country, but difference will lie in how much effort and sincerity winner would demonstrate to solve them.







After last night’s televised presidential debate---the third and final in the series, held in Dagupan City---the internet has become the final battle-ground for the 2016 elections. Every issue is hot  and today’s exploding issue in the internet is the appearance of the teaser at the bottom of the TV screen last night, that quoted LP candidate Mar Roxas as stressing how he has battled giant enterprises. Nothing wrong with what he said, but the issue was that at the precise moment when he started explaining his stand on “contractualization,” a.k.a. “endo” or “5-5-5,”  a  viewer, quick on the draw, noted that the teaser appeared simultaneously with the start of Mar’s statement.

How, netizens now ask, how was the teaser’s typist able to foretell Roxas’ statement? The prevailing belief of many netizens is that ABS-CBN, which broadcast the debate, had gotten hold of advance material from Roxas who was, in turn, fed questions ahead.  Karen Davila, co-host of last night’s debate, became a prime suspect, with the netizens quickly labeling the episode as “Davileak.” Were there other such leaks?

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This incident has raked up anew controversy over ABS-CBN’s alleged bias for the Aquinos and now for their candidate Mar Roxas---owing to the long history between the Lopezes and the Aquinos that traces to the turnover of the seized station in return for virtually nothing in the Cory presidency. This issue has been a sore point for citizens disenchanted with the current ruling regime, but it also shows how piping hot the political climate has become.

One reason is that thanks to the internet today’s netizens can freely offer their views and slug it out with those disagreeing with them, unlike in previous exercises when such opportunities were very limited.  I have covered elections since the controversial 1987 elections between Ferdinand Marcos and Cory Aquino that was marred by the walkout of Comelec computer programmers and fraudulent canvassing in the Batasan in favor of the strongman;  but I must say that the elections of 2016 promise to be quite unforgettable too.  More surprises before it's over?   Abangan.

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After listening to last night’s debate I connected easily to a quotable quote posted by netizen Elgin Castillo Lazaro from Suzy Kassem, the Egyptian-American essayist, firm director and poet (who also goes by the name of Blue Panther 777). Says Suzy Kassem: “Elections are highly-publicized puppet shows. Many puppets in the show are handled by the same owner, and regardless of their different costumes and voices, their agenda is one and the same. The man with the most puppets in the show usually wins the audience” (emphasis BOC's).  

The puppets in last night’s debates were not the candidates, but rather, these were the various positions the candidates made on various issues raised, which tended more often to be similar, if not the same. They offered the same stand on the various issues---the conflict with China, contractualization, the hideous traffic, poverty and the appalling lack of health care for the poor and marginalized, the pathetic plight of our OFWs, etc.

The commonality of issues and solutions only meant that our country’s predicament is appreciated by all the candidates---but the big difference would be in the effort they'll put into solving all these problems.  Indeed, as Suzy Kassem put it, the man with the most puppets in the show usually wins the audience's vote, but the success or failure of the winner will only be evident at the end of his or her term. Thus we’ll see more puppets belonging to other candidates in the next elections, etc---a never-ending cycle until real and lasting solutions come up.  

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The final debate was civil and polite compared to the two previous ones. Early in the debate Mar Roxas tried to pull the direction to allegations of VP Jejomar Binay’s corruption, which the latter sought to stop by citing a Tagalog saying: “Nagbibingi-bingihan or kaya naman nagbubulag-bulagan ang aking katunggali;  ilang beses ko nang hinarap ang issue na ito.” Mar wouldn’t give up the jab at his longtime rival, however, as he presented the Mar-Leni  team as “disente at marangal.”  Unfortunately, however, this team is so closely associated with the P-Noy administration that its various scandals and incompetence is that tandem’s task to defend.

On the other hand, Binay continued to project his fabled care for the poor and marginalized, as epitomized by the fact that, as he claimed, when he first ran in Makati many people there were surviving on “toyo at kalamansi only.” But it’s obvious that Binay has been humbled by the merciless accusations against him in the Senate committee dubbed as the “Yellow Ribbon Committee,” for nearly a year and a half, even though he has more bragging rights to hands-on executive experience than any of his rivals.

Meanwhile, folks expected a trashing of leading candidate Mayor Duterte (who jumped 12 points ahead of closest rival Grace Poe in the latest SWS survey) because of his jest-in-rape remarks, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, there was a more contrite and even self-deprecating candidate who didn’t make offensive remarks about women. He made folks laugh at his hyperbolic proposal to jet-ski to the nearest island in the disputed West Philippine Sea and plant the PH flag there, to prevent Chinese incursions---never mind, he said, if he becomes a martyr in so doing.  

There’s something child-like about this notorious character that probably explains why he shoots up despite all the media canon-balls.

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 Grace Poe appealed to the emotions of women supporters by assuring them of a caring and responsive government should she make it, but I find her views of perennial problems we natives have encountered in this country unappealing--- for the simple reason that the solutions she offers are those of her advisers rather than truly hers. This is because Poe left in 1991 and stayed away as US citizen until 2010----except for intermittent visits here on a balikbayan dual-citizen visa acquired in 2006---when she accepted the job of MTRCB Chief (she finally lost her US citizenship in 2012). 

I have always maintained that Sen. Poe has no business parachuting here from her prolonged stay in America and going for the jugular on the strength of being FPJ’s adoptive daughter---she should have started at a humbler post.  VP Binay might have meant to precisely dig at Poe’s parachuting here when he stressed that he is BFF---“Binay Filipino Forever.”

One sign of sincerity, though, is the fact that, as she admitted in the debate when pressed on this point, her husband, Neil Llamanzares, has renounced his US citizenship. Actually, Llamanzares took the first step: pledging loyalty to PH last April 7, before the Greenhills barangay chair in San Juan, Metro Manila. The final step would be his actual renunciation before a US consular official, which hasn't happened yet.   

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And so election campaign 2016 lurches on to its last two weeks, highlighting many problems besetting our country and people. In the TV debates I found the plight of Perla so touching. Commuting for as long as six hours daily---or for 1/4 of her day---and suffering pay cuts as a result of being tardy, Perla arrives home from work to her children already asleep and all she can do is kiss them goodnight; chances are they’d still be asleep when she crawls out to go to work.This is the plight of perhaps millions of commuters crying to high heavens for relief. Roxas claimed that every month 12 wagons are added to the train system, but many of them have not run well. 

Then there’s Amina from Western Mindanao, who decried that until now her family lives in an evacuation center due to the continuous war there.  To her question as to who can bring genuine peace to the strife-torn island of promise, candidates Mar Roxas and Rodrigo Duterte replied, the BBL. In fact, Roxas promised that if he becomes president he'd fight for passage of that draft law that's being rejected by majority of Filipinos. Duterte, on the other hand, asserts the need to “correct historical injustice,” and that “Nothing will appease the Moro people than the BBL.” 

For VP Binay, however, poverty remains the root cause of strife and war, and  I would subscribe to this approach, as the BBL is most divisive.

Another problem highlighted by the debate is the proliferation of drugs. Mayor Duterte spoke of how drugs have reached the hinterlands, with agents of drug lords now selling the dreaded commodity even to farmers’ children, in exchange for pigs and carabaos!

Truly ours is a country awaiting rescue.  Let's vote wisely on May 09.

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