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Kilalanin! Presidential Forum January 11, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell.

De La Salle Santiago Zobel was awash in yellow, green, white and orange last 9 January 2010 as it hosted the aptly named Kilalanin! (Get to Know Them!) forum, featuring four candidates vying for the highest position in the Philippine government in the May 2010 elections.

Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Former Defense Secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon and Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar were the presidentiables who accepted the invitation to present themselves and their platforms during the event. Moderated by television anchor Mike Enriquez, Kilalanin! was broadcast live over AM Radio dzBB and taped for delayed telecast by GMA-7.

It was made clear from the onset that the event was a forum and not a debate. Hence, there were no imposed time limits and no “rules” invoked other than that any questions for the candidates (either from Enriquez or the audience) were to be addressed to all of them, whereupon they would be called to respond in alphabetical order. As such, the event lived up to its name as a venue to simply get to know more about each candidate and felt more like a civil discussion between those with opposing views than an out-and-out presidential debate and/or campaign rally.

Some impressions from the event follow below. [Disclaimer:I support Noynoy Aquino’s candidacy.]

Noynoy Aquino

The way the forum’s format was implemented did not favor Noynoy Aquino: since the candidates were called to respond to questions in alphabetical order, Noynoy inevitably had to be the first to answer each and every question. As such, his competition had more time to think their answers through and adjust accordingly. Consequently, there were instances where what he had to say was less than impressive as he would seemingly grope for the right message to get across to the audience.

Still, he did acquit himself quite well in several respects. In particular, he was able to articulate the key thrusts of his candidacy — empowerment for the Filipino people and good governance as concretized by people doing what is right. Saying these things gave much more force to his statements that his campaign will continue the fight that his parents had started.

From my perspective, two key moments stood out for Noynoy during the forum. On the issue of past performance, he made the succinct point that what matters is that a government official does what they say they will and ultimately does what is right. Second, he made it clear that, if elected, he would rather not take Malacañang as his official residence and instead stay at the family’s house on Times street, if only “to have some semblance of normalcy.” A classy answer, that.

Compared to the other candidates, however, Noynoy was the most soft-spoken of the bunch. This is not necessarily a liability, and some have noted that it gives him that air of sincerity reminiscent of his mother. However, to win the presidency, I think it’s clear that he must work to come across as more decisive (if not aggressive), especially in the face of those running against him.

Gibo Teodoro

In a sense, Gibo struck all the right chords at the forum. He spoke articulately and intelligently, which are his real selling points as a candidate, really. Of all the candidates, he spoke the most clearly, every answer straightforward and well structured so as to be easily comprehended by the audience.

Inevitably, he was asked his thoughts on his low ratings in the surveys, which he put an interesting the spin on. This, he says, he views as a challenge. Beyond this he emphasized that compared to his competition he has not held a nationally-elected position. It’s a reasonable argument, and an interesting way to position his political campaign which, if played right, could give it an underdog appeal.

Perhaps the most notable part of Gibo’s showing at the forum involved something that went largely unnoticed. When a Villar supporter aimed a question squarely at Noynoy, it was Gibo who adamantly signaled to Mike Enriquez that he thought this was inappropriate and that all candidates should address the question (which was how the question was eventually handled). On balance, I think that showed more character on Gibo’s part than anything he said or did during the forum.

Notwithstanding this, however, I still wonder how Gibo can conceivably think he can win over those who, as a matter of principle, have signified their intent to vote for someone else, given that he is the candidate endorsed by an administration widely viewed as corrupt.

Dick Gordon

Dick Gordon was probably the best known among the candidates present at Kilalanin!, what with his record of service as Olongapo mayor, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair and Senator. If anything, he put his political savvy to good use during the forum with a good balance of pointed remarks, humor, and personal candor.

Undoubtedly, Gordon’s experience and involvement with the Philippine Red Cross were strong points in his favor at the forum. He could answer any question raised by relaying some anecdote or other either from years ago or in recent weeks. Admittedly, there were moments where some of his remarks could be off-putting. One such example was his forceful insistence — bordering on hubris — that “I am a born executive.” But just as quickly he could win over the audience with his wit, as with his remark (which sounds better in the vernacular) that during his time in Olongapo, “Laziness was prohibited…so was stupidity.”

Yet it was an unexpected show of emotion from an otherwise feisty Gordon that had to be the most memorable moment of the forum. It happened while he was delivering his parting remarks to the audience, and recounting the values that his parents had instilled in him and themselves abided by as public servants. His mother, he said, during her final days had the option of being rushed to any of the country’s prestigious hospitals to treat her illness, yet insisted on being brought to the Philippine General Hospital. As Gordon recounted, his mother told him, “That’s where the poor get their treatment, that’s where I’ll get my treatment, and that’s where I’ll die.” In recalling this personal moment his voice broke and he needed to take a moment to collect himself. That brief pause spoke volumes.

Overall, I’d say that Gordon came out ahead of all the other candidates at the forum. Yet whether he will be able to keep it up during the campaign season and thereby rise up in the surveys is, unfortunately, doubtful.

Manny Villar

Villar’s presence at the forum and all that it implied — given the amount of his campaign spending to date, his status as frontrunner ceded to Noynoy Aquino, and his reported narrowing of the gap in opinion polls of late — promised to make it interesting (especially given his no-show at the prior presidentiables’ debate at UST). In this he did not disappoint, despite the fact he seemed to be suffering from a cold.

As noted above, the event was not meant to be a debate, and thus the candidates refrained from attacking the points the others would make. Of all the candidates, however, Villar managed to fire the most broadsides at Noynoy, within good taste and for the most part, quite effectively. For instance, he stressed the point that whoever will be elected president must be someone who can stand toe to toe with other world leaders, and that the country could not afford to have a president that needed on-the-job training upon assuming office. Both these points are, of course, in reference to Noynoy. Neither are they particularly novel, considering that they have been raised (also by Villar) in the past. Yet it is a credit to Villar’s political savvy that he could was able to throw down the gauntlet at this venue.

When he spoke, Villar came across as slick, polished and practiced, and thereby did seem to be more decisive and aggressive than Noynoy. Granted, it may be said that in much the same way that Noynoy might have been disadvantaged by always having to speak first, Villar did have the benefit of always having the last word at Kilalanin! But there’s no denying that there was more to Villar’s decent showing than simply that.

May I also say that, for some odd reason, Manny Villar’s demeanor reminded me of a younger Christopher Walken. Now, that’s not meant to be a put down (unless one doesn’t particularly like Christopher Walken). Just saying is all.

Final Thoughts

Kilalanin! had all the trappings of a good ol’ fashioned political rally. The candidates came, ready to fire on all cylinders, with their supporters in tow clad in their respective colors (Gibo and Villar, in that order, having brought the most with them). The fact that each camp was able to remain civil to each other — no heckling, no jeering, no untoward incidents — itself shows that there is hope that this country can turn a corner in 2010. Assuming, that is, the quality of candidates vying for office in the upcoming elections is not reason enough to make us hopeful.

That said, it’s clear that what this country needs from now until the end of the campaign period are more venues for the candidates to get their message out to the public and call out their opponents for their inconsistencies and shortcomings. Kilalanin! was a start — and a good one — but otherwise inadequate in other ways. Listening to what these presidentiables had to say, it’s impossible to overlook that, at some point, one could argue that their statements coalesced into much the same thing. This is why not much of it merited belaboring above. Everyone was for good governance. And experience. And accomplishment. Everyone agreed that we needed to work harder. Generate more jobs. Address what’s wrong in Philippine education. Take the lead in ASEAN once again. Et cetera. If we assume these individuals walk their talk, then if the elections were held today we’d all be voting in favor of the same things, albeit embodied by the person we happen to like the most.

At the same time, this can be a good thing. If this is true, then what it means is that the candidates who offer themselves up for our approbation do have something to offer — or at the very least, these four do. Thus, the future holds promise. By engaging these candidates in more discussion, both with the electorate and with each other, the playing field will be narrowed down to the most deserving, and thereby maybe for the first time in a long time this periodic democratic exercise will not have been undertaken in vain.



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