Tempers fly in vice presidential debate
By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—ABS-CBN’S vice presidential debate televised nationwide on Sunday night lived up to its billing as a confrontation.
After weeks of blasting each other in the media, leading vice presidential candidates Sen. Manuel Roxas II of the Liberal Party and Sen. Loren Legarda of the Nationalist People’s Coalition finally traded barbs face to face.
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay also renewed his squabble with former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Bayani Fernando.
Broadcaster Jay Sonza of the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Perfecto Yasay Jr. provided relief from the heated exchange, content with simply stating their positions.
The administration’s Edu Manzano stayed away from the debate barely two months before the May 10 elections.
The most sparks flew when an incensed Binay told off Fernando after the MMDA chair brought up Makati’s dirty waterways that his agency had supposedly cleaned up.
“Wow, we’re the ones that worked on that, Bayani. We spent our own money there,” Binay said, visibly trying to restrain his ire.
“I pity you. You’re envious of our city’s wealth. But we are using our city’s funds for its welfare,” he added.
Fernando slammed Binay when the mayor asked him if he would support an investigation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s alleged wrongdoing.
“You’ve yet to do that?” Fernando said. “That has already taken too long. You are a lawyer. You’ve stood onstage to hit the President. Why have you not come up with anything so far?”
She didn’t pull punches
Legarda also didn’t pull her punches.
She told a teacher presented by the broadcast network that she was sorry that her bill increasing the salaries of public school teachers had not been passed.
“I’m not the chair of the committee on education. It’s Mar Roxas. I think not one hearing was even conducted on the measure,” Legarda said.
Roxas’ choicest words could have been his stab at Legarda’s decision to transfer from one party to another.
“Those who don’t follow the party rules … have no self-discipline,” Roxas said.
“I didn’t cry in the Senate when the impeachment trial of (former President Joseph Estrada in January 2001) was aborted,” he added.
Estrada’s allies in the Senate at that time voted to suppress evidence and prosecutors walked out.
Legarda, then a Lakas stalwart and ally of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, later ran for vice president of Estrada’s best friend, Fernando Poe Jr.
Binay, the third placer in the poll surveys, in his opening statement referred to Roxas as among those “who pretend to be pro-poor” but voted for the passage in Congress of the Expanded Value Added Tax (e-VAT) Law in 2005.
“This has caused the suffering of many of our people,” Binay said.
In the contest between survey leaders, Legarda drew first blood when she confronted Roxas with his vote to approve the highly unpopular e-VAT and his “watered down” version of the Cheaper Medicines Law.
She also questioned his family’s continued hold on 1,600 hectares of land in Rizal province despite the agrarian reform law.
“My family and I have heard these questions and sometimes we just laugh at them,” Roxas said, adding the dispute is in court.
Roxas showed no regret for his vote for the e-VAT that was widely viewed as the culprit behind the defeat in 2007 of its sponsor, former Sen. Ralph Recto, who’s once again running for reelection.
“There’s nothing wrong with taxation. What’s wrong is when taxes are stolen,” Roxas said.
He defended the provision of the affordable medicines measure giving the President the responsibility of lowering costs rather than to a board that would set prices. He said a board would only become another source of corruption.
“The Lipitor that you are taking used to cost P100. Now it only costs P50,” Roxas told Legarda.
Roxas questioned Legarda’s priorities in making the environment her advocacy, noting that the Philippines accounts for less than 1 percent of the climate problem.
“It is a gut issue,” Legarda said. The Philippines is one of the 10 countries that would be most affected by climate change, she said.
The El Niño-caused drought that damaged crops and the floods that killed many people during the wrath of Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” Legarda said, showed that climate change was an issue that directly affected the people.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who showed up at the event to support Fernando, his running mate, expressed disappointment at the debate, criticizing the behavior of the crowds brought along by the candidates and calling the event “a mob rule.”
“There’s a lot of pandering … so much noise rather than reflections.” With a report from Michael Lim Ubac