In tonight’s last presidential debtate endorsed by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) dubbed the hashtag #PiliPinasDebates2016, the candidates really did not have much to work with. They had no credible military capability to put teeth in the rhetoric they spewed about the China threat to the Philippines’ sovereignty in the South China Sea, no sharp-enough engineering minds to dissect the traffic issue plaguing Metro Manila, and no clear enough vision for the Philippines.
In that setting, former Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte stood out, mainly because he had direct experience and results to show for in the running of Davao City — a major city in Mindanao that, in the words of renowned social media maven and noted tour guide Carlos Celdran “is one of the friendliest and one of the most hospitable cities in the Philippines.”
Unlike other big Philippine cities where Filipinos live in fear for their lives and property day to day, Davao City is one where sustainable economic growth on the back of a strong foundation of safe and reliable public transport infrastructure is actually possible.
Do not be afraid to take public transportation in this town. Thanks to strong laws, you have some of the most polite, and some of the most honest taxi drivers in the country.
Celdran assures his viewers…
No one here will rip you off.
Note the key enabler Celdran credits in his gushing review of Duterte’s crowning achievement: strong laws.
Strong laws are a primary feature of Duterte’s pitch to Filipino voters. During tonight’s debate, Duterte cited this as the cornerstone of his assurance to Filipinos that when he says “stop” he means it and means to enforce it. Laws, of course, are not something the Philippines lacks and there is ample legislation to support the strong anti-crime focus that many crime-weary Filipinos have been clamouring for. In that regard, strength is something that Duterte projected really well in tonight’s debate.
On this alone, Duterte stood in stark contrast to rival candidates who had lots of promises to make but little actual promise to demonstrate before the audience. Platitudes and motherhood statements flowed in abundance. Perhaps, to be fair, there were some candidates who lent substance to their rhetoric.
Unfortunately,#PiliPinasDebates2016 is not a Senate inquiry. It is reality TV. In that setting, Duterte’s skill at throwing emotional hooks into his audience shone through.
Pity Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party bet who otherwise seemed to have much to offer in the way of intellect and administrative chops to the presidency. Like Duterte, Roxas enjoys a solid government service record. Unlike Duterte, however, Roxas’s administrative record is all messed up. Roxas squandered years of golden opportunity to accomplish a lot of things in the Cabinet of incumbent President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III. Instead, he dropped the ball on several crucial occasions with fatal consequences. The Haiyan disaster response fiasco in 2013 which resulted in the preventable loss of tens of thousands of Filipino lives, the massacre of 44 Special Action Force officers in Mamasapano in 2015, and the handling of various high-profile infrastructure failures, not to mention the PR gaffes, over the last six years irrevocably taints Roxas’s record.
As such, even with the articulate promises and vision statements he managed to get in during tonight’s debate, Roxas is dead in the water. He cannot possibly win the 2016 presidential elections without resorting to a massive state-sponsored cheating project.
Overall, the debate did not really add any new insight as far as anyone’s guess around what’s in store for the Philippines over the next six years. It likely did not help move the swing vote and, in all likelihood, merely solidified the support of the decided voters. In the home stretch leading to the May elections, this non-event may be the sad defining moment that did not make it happen for the majority of candidates in this race.