Presidential candidates grilled in first official debate: Track record, poverty are main issues

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Platforms, tried and tested strategies, and promises have been laid during the first presidential debate in the country held in Cagayan de Oro on Sunday afternoon (February 21).

This is the first debate in 24 years, organized by Comelec, KBP, GMA Network and Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, former Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, Sen. Grace Poe, and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago took turns in responding and rebutting each other during the debate which lasted for two hours.

Central to the debate were pressing issues to the Filipinos, mainly poverty and development, peace and order, corruption, and pressing issues in Mindanao, where five out of 10 of the country's poorest provinces can be found.

Early on, during the 60-second opportunity to introduce himself, Roxas took a swipe at his fellow candidates, likening the aspiring presidents to drivers.

"Sino ang magmamaneho sa ating mga anak araw-araw? Kanino natin ipagkakatiwala? Sa isang magnanakaw? Sa isang mainitin ang ulo o sa isang ngayon pa lang natutong magmaneho?" Roxas asked.

[Translation: Who will drive for our children every day? To whom can we entrust them? To a thief? To a hot-headed? or to a new driver?]

Track record and performance

The candidates had the chance to answer the allegations thrown at them, while being interpellated by another candidate.

Asked why only two of his 13 properties are declared as inheritance on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), Binay said his more than three-decade of public service provided with the means to not only inherit but to acquire more properties.

"May kakayahan naman kaming makabili. Hindi po totoo na marami akong lupa, yung iba dito either namana ko o nabili ko," Binay said.

[Translation: We have the capability to buy. It's not true that I have many real estate properties. Some I inherited, while I bought some.]

Binay added that he acquired these properties way before his public service stint in Makati, garnering his earnings as a lawyer while being helped by his wife, Elenita, who is a physician.

Meanwhile, Santiago defended herself from critics who claim that she is not physically fit for the presidency, as she has only been present in the 16th Congress less than 10 days.

"Wala namang constitutional provision na disqualified ka pag may sakit ka," said Santiago.

[Translation: There is no constitutional provision that says you will be disqualified if you're sick.]

Although Duterte has garnered flak for his alleged killings and womanizing, the Davao mayor remains firm in his vow to end all criminalities in three to six months in office.

"As long as I live in accordance to the rule of law... I will use the power of the police and military to go after criminals," said Duterte.

Poe, one of two women presidential candidates, had this to say to Duterte.

"Alam nating si Mayor Duterte, malakas ang appeal, irresistible sa mga babae at magalang sa kanyang nanay, ngunit dapat may konting pigil naman... Dahil sa mata ng bata ang mali nagiging tama," Poe said.

[Translation: We know that Mayor Duterte has an oozing appeal, he's irresistible, and polite to his mother. But there should be restraint... because in the eyes of children, wrong becomes right.]

For her part, Poe's lack of experience is always seen as a loophole.

"Wala pong proof na pag matagal ka na sa pwesto mas magaling ka," said Poe.

[Translation: There is no proof to you're better if you've been in the position longer.]

Roxas does not agree with Poe.

"Ang pagiging pangulo ay hindi OJT (on-the-job training). May tamang panahon para sa lahat. Ang karanasan ang isa sa pinakamahalagang katangian ng isang pangulo," the former Interior secretary said.

[Translation: Becoming a president is not just being an OJT. There's a right time for everything. Experience is one of the most important factors to becoming a president.]

It was then Poe's turn to rebut Roxas.

"Alam ko naman kung binobola ako o hindi... Nakatatlong administrasyon na siya (Roxas) diyan at ang dami kong naimbestigahang anomalya sa DOTC, partikular na nung panunungkulan niya (Roxas)," Poe said.

[Translation: I know if I'm just being flattered. He was there for three administrations and I have investigated a lot of anomalies in DOTC, particularly when he was the head of the department.]

Poverty incidence and agricultural development

The Philippines is home to a multitude of agricultural products — from the staple rice to coconut — that's why Filipinos are concerned as to how the country's next president will uphold the moral and livelihood of farmers while exercising fairness to consumers and investors.

Binay wants the proper implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, passed during the time of late president Corazon Aquino, while Poe suggests the utilization of the coconut levy fund, which is at slated at P100 billion to P150 billion worth of assets.

For Roxas, fishermen should not be left behind, eyeing improved loans and enhanced technology for them.

Duterte promised to end rice cartel in three months, putting his "honor" and "life" at stake, as he still considers corruption as the root cause of the country's problems in agriculture.

Meanwhile, Santiago's concern was on funding, saying that these promises are easy to make but difficult to prove.

"These are all promises way up in the sky," Santiago said.

"We're looking for a real leader who will implement. But this is not a personality contest. Dapat may academic excellence, professional excellence, moral excellence."