Monday, July 20, 2009

Presidentiables’ Fora

As early as January of 2008, this writer suggested that civil society groups and media start planning and thereafter sponsoring a series of debates all around the country’s regional groupings. We called the proposal a “winnowing” process by which people can gauge the competence and character of those who would be president. Since the usual opinion research polls would be done periodically, the impact of these debates should eventually show in the surveys. But it was important, I stated then, that the debates, or forums if you wish (because strictly speaking, a debate is more structured and will not fit a plethora of participants), should begin early enough. I suggested April of 2008, and every month thereafter. I further suggested that the monthly forum should go to each of the country’s 16 administrative regions, and not be confined merely to Metro Manila. By so doing, even issues specific to each of the 15 regions distinct from Metro Manila may be discussed. More importantly, I suggested that it be covered live by broadcast media. If they began on April of 2008, half of the country would have been covered by November 2008. Resuming the series in January 2009, we should be about through with all the regions by August or next month.

It was my hope that the presidentiables’ fora would winnow, and thus reduce, the plurality of candidates. Those who would fare miserably shall have been hooted out by public opinion after four or five such encounters. And surveys would not be a function mostly of paid media, i.e., advertising. Note for instance that those who have been using the airwaves to present their contrived wares, using public funds or private profits generated from public influence, are also the ones who have continually shunned any such intelligent encounters. Noli has been content with being the poster boy for Pag-ibig, using up 160 million in public funds, or 500 million, according to Atty. Ernesto Francisco’s accounting. His good friend Manny Villar has, according to Nielsen ratings, spent some 322 million pesos on national TV ads from September 2008 to May 2009. He should have spent some 400 million just for TV ads by now, including that 120-seconder paid ad “interview” by Boy Abunda inside his “poor man’s hovel”. I would estimate that the guy has blown some 800 million pesos minimum since he started his presidential quest, to include a humongous “free” media budget, not to include foreign excursions to Europe, Egypt and other parts, with Nacionalistas and NP’s-to-be in tow.

But nobody took my suggestion of an early form of winnowing seriously, except Pia Hontiveros of ANC, as well as two presidentiables who expressed intent to participate. Eventually, ANC took the lead in coming out with an ANC Leadership Forum, which began in May, with another in June this year. Appearing in the first live telecast were Gilbert Teodoro, Mar Roxas, Ed Panlilio, Chiz Escudero and Dick Gordon. The next forum featured Joseph Estrada, Loren Legarda, Bayani Fernando, and Jojo Binay. Ping Lacson stole the show by announcing his withdrawal. Noli and Manny were no-shows.

Last Thursday, two such forums materialized. One was sponsored by former President FVR, with Mar, Gibo, BF and Chiz showing up. The other, on rain-soaked Plaza Miranda, with TV cameras showing live how a handful of spectators braved pouring rain and occasional howling wind, to listen to Erap, Loren, Among Ed, Chiz, Dick and Mar.

The most memorable statements from the FVR forum came from FVR himself, who had a message for Gloria --- who goes up must come down, restating Newton’s law of gravity using as metaphor the trek to the summit by a bunch of Filipinos with motives far more noble than Gloria’s decadent political career. The other was literally a no-brainer. The audience was aghast when Gilbert Teodoro, responding to the question about which of the MDG’s he would prioritize, confessed, honestly at least, that he did not quite know what MDG’s meant. Those are the millennium development goals, unveiled in the year 1999, to show how disparate the Third World (I prefer to use Fourth World to show how poverty has dehumanized the people of most of the Third World) has become compared to the rich countries. Gilbert is likely to be the PaLaKa official candidate for president, because he would never condescend (or so he shows) to becoming senator under Noli’s presidential standards.

Believe me, at the rate these presidentiables’ fora are losing currency, we will end up with a public getting more disinformation from paid media, and even paid “free” media, as bases for “discernment”. What a country!

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Which is probably why former Sen. Ernesto Herrera wants them stopped for being “premature”. Some of the participants are not likely to run anyway, he said. Kinsa kaha, Manong Boy? Si Among Ed, si BF, si Dick --- kinsa?

Per the former Cebu-Bohol senator, some of them are just using their participation to perk interest in themselves, while eventually settling down for a lower post. Have these debates or forums after November 30, when it is clear who is running, Senator Boy suggests.

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Anti-graft crusader Mar Tecson of San Miguel de Mayumo in our native Bulacan writes against the format.
If the intent is to “gauge how each of the presidentiables will perform once elected”, the forums thus far fail to elicit enough such information. Many are reluctant, Mar observed, to “reveal their platforms for fear that these may be judged deficient and/or copied and used by their opponents”.

Mar suggests instead that a “taped interview be done separately and at different times with each of these presidentiables, in (such) a way that there will be no copying of answers”.

He suggests the following questions:

(1) In your perception, what are the top ten most important problems of the nation, and how will you address each problem?

(2) How will you address each of these additional top problems?

“This way, if the presidentiables are intentionally or unintentionally forgetting to present some controversial problems or issues, these problems/issues will be asked just the same, to which each of the presidentiables will be constrained to give his answer/reaction. Thus, omission of other important problems/issues in the gauging of presidentiables will be avoided”, Mar elucidates.

“I suppose the presidentiables' ability to govern --- not just the ability to answer extemporaneously --- will be better tested if they are informed beforehand of the questions to be asked. After sometime, the taped interviews can be shown by media for the information of the entire nation”, he further suggests.

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For now, what sticks out is the clear intent of two so-called leading candidates (per SWS and Pulse Asia), Noli and Villar, to snub such competitive forums. The fact that they still remain in the lead pack nonetheless infer that the average voter does not care about issues. Or, hopefully they take note of these “cowards” who would not fight squarely. Why, even Erap has been participating, and has come out pretty well compared to some.

Okay, let’s wait for the next quarterly survey, the field work for which will be about SONAta-time till the second week of August. Results will come out on September. By then, we should have a clear picture of who else, other than Ping Lacson and Jojo Binay, will have surrendered their quests for the presidential plum.

* * *

On rather sad note, may I ask our readers to increase the level of prayers for the health of former President Cory Aquino? The developments are not too encouraging.

But let me give you a recent profile in her courage, more so, her nobility.

In a mass given by close kin at the Makati Medical Center where she has been confined, the officiating priest asked Cory is she was praying for a miracle from God for her health. She said NO. Rather, she prays for “a miracle, for our country”.

I write this with tears welling in my eyes. Deep inside, Cory may be asking herself painful questions: Was Ninoy’s dying in vain? Was her standing up for democracy also in vain? “Democracy it seems”, and I paraphrase one of her memorable state of the nation speeches, “does not pay dividends”, more so for the poor. Well, only in this benighted land, and others similarly situated.