By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
CEBU CITY– Tensions flared up during the second presidential debate here as the four candidates openly bashed each other over issues hounding them, and even resorted to name calling.
Since the debate allowed all the presidential candidates — Vice-president Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, former local government Sec. Mar Roxas and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — to react to the answers of their fellow candidates, nobody was spared.
The heated arguments between Binay and Poe were triggered when the Senator was asked about the “death” of Freedom of Information (FOI), when she chaired the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media.
Poe lamented the administration’s lack of support for FOI which she said led to Congress’ failure to pass it.
Reacting to Poe’s aaccusations, Binay said he would immediately issue an Executive Order on FOI if he becomes president.
Poe shot back, saying Binay’s remark was good to hear, but the Senate has many questions he can’t answer.
“So how can we believe that you will support a genuine FOI?” asked Poe while referring to Binay’s non-apperance in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearings on his corruption charges, including the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.
Binay begged Poe to trust him and insisted he is the “man of action” who fulfilled all his promises to Makati and its people.
“It’s my promise, as soon as I take my oath of office, I will issue the Freedom of Information,” said Binay as he took potshots on Poe’s citizenship despite a recent ruling of the Supreme Court that declared her a natural-born Filipino citizen and qualified to seek the presidency.
Poe accused Binay of being a corrupt official. In retaliation, Binay questioned the senator’s citizenship.
“Madam Senator, you are always saying you are a true Filipino, how can you be a true Filipino when you took your oath to be an American citizen and abjured your Filipino citizenship?” Binay confronted Poe.
“How can you say that I abjured (my Filipino citizenship)? Firstly, how many millions of our fellowmen are living in other countries? We have RA 9225 which recognizes our countrymen living abroad, living decent lives, but have not lost their love for our country. You’re saying, you are number one in protecting our Overseas Filipono Workers (OFWs), and then you’re now saying that those living abroad can no longer return to the country to serve?” retorted Poe.
But Binay pointed out that Poe was not an OFW.
When Poe took a shot at Binay’s corruption charges, blatantly telling the Vice-president, “you are here, but you stole money,” the later blew his top.
“So you see, you are all together in the conspiracy,” said Binay. He accused the Senator of being part of a conspiracy to destroy him.
Poe downplayed the Vice-president’s allegations, saying they have no money and machinery.
Binay then renewed his claims that Poe is not a Filipino and she was ashamed of her Filipino citizenship.
“How can you be a real Filipino when you already pledged your allegiance to America? You are ashamed of your roots.”
Poe defended herself while mocking Binay. “You remained in this country but you stole money. That is a huge difference,” she said.
“Madame Senator, you accuse as if I am already convicted,” said the Vice-president who is leading the opposition in the upcoming polls.
“Were you the thief I was referring to?” Poe shot back.
“I’m not saying it’s you because I believe in due process. Let us listen to the case,” said Poe as she dared Binay to sign a bank waiver of his accounts. Binay acceded to the challenge and ask the other presidentiables to do the same.
Appearing to be in a fighting mood, Poe slammed Binay, and insisted it is better to leave the country, work honestly rather than stay in the country, be dependent on their parents and steal money.
Duterte and Roxas traded barbs over the rising criminality and illegal drugs in the country.
Asked how he would end criminality and illegal drugs in the country within the first six months if he would be elected president in the upcoming May elections, he cited the high crime rate in Davao City in 2010.
“I am not afraid to die. But it’s not right to kill,” Roxas told the Mayor who has been linked to the notorious Davao Death Squad.
Duterte lashed back af Roxas’ insinuations and accused him of not doing anything, and yet, claiming credits. “You are a pretentious leader.”
The tough-talking Mayor allso called Roxas a “fraud” for faking his economics degree from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He taunted Roxas for flaunting he got a diploma from Wharton when he merely attended a seminar there.
Roxas said Wharton itself had written that he was a graduate for the school, and that Duterte was “dangerous” because once he had formed an idea, he would not consider anything else.
“You’re closed-minded,” he said. “You do what you believe [is right even if it isn’t]. You could kill [a person].”
Duterte responded: “That’s the problem with you. You are not capable of killing. You can’t be a leader.”
He said Roxas performed poorly when super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Eastern Visayas region.
“You can’t handle stress,” he told Roxas, then turned to the audience and said: “This guy is a weak leader… We have a moron here.”
Duterte also blasted Roxas for being unable to stop crime, including the making and selling of illegal drugs in the national penitentiary. But Roxas said the illegal operation had been exposed and stopped.
In another exchange, Duterte described Roxas as “weak, indecisive” and a “moron” unfit to be president.
At another point, Poe also questioned Roxas’ claim that the administration followed the “straight path” and punished erring allies just as they did their opponents. She said the administration protected those who were important to it, including Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, despite the allegations of corruption against them.
This was refuted by Roxas who asked his politcal opponents to check the records.
“You can check the records. All are being charged. The Sandiganbayan has the records. LP or non-LP are being charged and a decision will be made whether you are guilty or not guilty,” he said.
Binay also accused Roxas of being behind the demolition campaign against him, comparing him to Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who believed that a big lie told repeatedly would eventually be believed.
Roxas spent most of his time defending his and the administration’s track record.
“The World Bank, Transparency International, the World Economic Forum have all said that the Philippines has greatly improved and [that we] have come a long way in cleaning the government. The leaks have been plugged. We are not perfect but we continue to do this,” Roxas said.
He also defended his role during Typhoon Yolanda, saying 93 percent of the budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) had already been released for rehabilitation.
Roxas also denied Binay’s allegations that the DILG under his watch had PHP 7 billion in unliquidated cash disbursements—saying that was based on an outdated Commission on Audit (CoA) report. He said the findings were addressed in 2015, and chided Binay for using old data to attack him.
Roxas and Binay also had their moments. Even before the debate started, Roxas reportedly led the candidates in asserting the Commission on Elections (Comelec) rule against the use of notes during the debate when Binay arrived with folders and envelopes filled with documents and background material.
During the first half of the debate, Binay tried to pin the blame on Roxas when the latter was asked about the slow rehabilitation efforts in areas hit by super typhoon Yolanda.
To get back at Roxas, Binay said a Commission on Audit report showed that his former agency, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), did not liquidate PHP 7 billion in funds.
“That’s over. You’re reading the report from 2014. It’s now 2016. All of that was finished in 2015. Tell your staff to be up-to-date in their research,” said Roxas.
In retaliation, Roxas launched into the details of the corruption allegations against Binay. He mentioned some of the findings of the COA, such as hospital beds that supposedly cost PHP 16,000 but were purchased at PHP 1.5 million, and ultrasound machine worth PHP 1.3 million but was bought for PHP 1.5 million.
Binay did not answer the question point by point, noting instead that “in the Sandiganbayan, many cases have been defeated because they were only doing table surveys.
“You don’t look at the price in assessing the quality of what you buy. Let me repeat, only the courts can judge,” he said.
Roxas also found himself defending the Aquino administration on allegations of corruption and selective justice.
Poe said the administration’s slogan that “there will be no poor people if there is no corruption” remained just that. She said administration allies get projects and are spared from charges. She said only those from the opposition are charged.
Roxas disputed Poe’s statement. “LP, non-LP, all face charges were are removed from their posts. You can see that. That is the record, that is the truth, that is not a figment of the imagination,” he said.
She also noted that despite annointing him standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party in the May 9 elections, Roxas does not enjoy the complete trust of President Noynoy Aquino.
Poe confronted Roxas as to why the President still had to go to Zamboanga to make sure the Oplan Exodus was carried out efficiently.
“If he trusted the people leading that time, why did he have to go there?” asked Poe, referring to the covert police operation that aimed to neutralize Marwan and his henchman Basit Usman.
“He (Roxas) has been given a lot, but why were the results inadequate?” further asked Poe.
When the fatal Mamasapano incident occurred, the Liberal Party presidential bet was the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which has supervision over the PNP.
“There were shortcomings in all that transpired. My only question Secretary– was the reason why the President did not inform you about the Mamasapano operation?” asked Poe.
Roxas answered that the President thought he knew about the operation. He also blasted Poe for seemingly not knowing what happened during the doomed operation when in fact, she was the head of the committee which launched a probe on the incident.
“’That was a part of your report. This operation was concealed from me,” said Roxas.
Poe stressed she was zeroing in on indication that the President did not trust Roxas.
She had initially inquired from Roxas if his supposedly lackluster performance as former head of the Transportation and Interior departments is the reason why he was kept in the dark in the planning and execution of the bungled Mamasapano operation in 2015.
“You were tasked to oversee Yolanda operations and the Zamboanga siege as DILG chief and before that, you were DOTC chief during which you decided to change the maintenance provider, remove Sumimoto. Because of all these things that happened, I just want to ask the Secretary, could that not be the reason why President Aquino did not trust you to be looped in on the Mamasapano operation and instead, chose to trust a suspended officer like (PNP chief Director) General (Alan) Purisima?” said Poe.
But Roxas, as in previous instances, was forced to defend Aquino, who is also chairman of the ruling party.
The LP presidential bet repeated earlier statements: that it was Purisima who failed to follow Aquino’s orders to inform Roxas about the operation.
Duterte said allocations in the budget were good, but part of the money was lost to corruption.
While it turned out that his rivals for the presidency ganged up on the Vice-pesident trying to pin him down on his corruption charges, Roxas said his opponents ganged up on him during the debate.
“I think you can see. In every survey, Mar Roxas is the one who is leading,” he told reporters in Tagalog — even though none of the major polling organizations have put him in the top spot. “It’s Mar Roxas whom they gang up on, so that shows they’re all afraid of me.”
He said Poe attacked him during the debate because she was disappointed that President Benigno Aquino III did not endorse her.
“Sen. Grace tried to establish that the President didn’t trust me, but for me there’s one simple question. Why am I being endorsed by the President?” asked Roxas.
Binay admitted being hurt by accusations hurled by Poe who he said is his “kumare.”
But he only thinks it’s all politics.
He lamented that Poe appeared to be acting like an attack dog for the administration when she held him accountable for failing to appear in the Senate to answer the corruption allegations when he was Makati mayor.
Binay revealed Poe’s adoptive father, the late action star Fernando Poe Jr., even asked him to be the godfather of his grandchildren through the Senator.
He said FPJ made the request when he was serving as the latter’s campaign manager during the 2004 elections.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, presidential candidate of the People’s Reform Party, failed to join the debate at University of the Philippines Cebu to participate in a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment.