Fighting Words

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III has refused to engage in a debate with Akbayan on the Reproductive Health bill. He said the Senate has already begun floor debates on the bill, so there would be “no point in debating it outside.” He is right.

His critics have called him gutless for turning down thechallenge hurled at him by the Ateneo Debate Society, and he may very well be wary of tangling with the best debate team in the country. But Sotto is no slouch when it comes to fighting with words.

His arsenal of rhetoric has weapons that not even the ADS is ready for. Like a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face, for example. He has tangled with Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author of the RH bill, and was able to give as much as he got. He was able to silence Santiago, for example, with the ultimate debate combo breaker of “Well, that is your opinion.”

Santiago, expecting a counter-argument that made sense, was speechless.

In an earlier tussle, Sotto tried to trap Santiago into agreeing that passage of the RH bill would mean millions in profits for contraceptive manufacturers and dealers. “So! The RH bill is about money, and not health!,” he said, hoping to catch the feisty senator unawares.

And that, she was. “Oh, that is unfair,” she sighed wearily, realizing that it would be easier to squeeze blood from a stone than to get Sotto, who has promised to expose the contraceptive-industry lobby backing the bill, to agree to the need for a reproductive health bill.

And that, no matter how silver-tongued debaters are, will be how any debate with Sotto, or indeed most of the Pro-Life camp, will end. To be fair, it is just as unlikely for Santiago or for Senator Pia Cayetano to abandon the bill after a debate with the University of Santo Tomas Debate Team (whom we assume with no basis are against the RH bill).

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who has yet to be sold on the bill, has said that the bill will be subject to long and heated debates at the Senate. In the end, however, each senator will have to vote according to their conscience, he said.

And there lies the problem. Consicence is a funny thing. It isn’t always logical and is not always informed. One might even argue that it doesn’t exist. But one cannot argue against conscience. Not even within the Church.

“Conscience is inviolable, and the individual Catholic has a right to follow her own conscience, even when it is erroneous,” Santiago said in one of her sponsorship speeches for the bill. It was to argue that individual Catholics can dodge dogma on this one, but it can also apply to Sotto.

Should we keep discussing the RH bill? Definitely. But there is little that can be gained from giving Sotto, or any other lawmaker, a public drubbing from university students trained to argue either side of a debate.

If anything, it will only further alienate the masses and the fundamentalists that Sotto stands with. If the middle class was offended by James Soriano’s elitist column on the English language last week, imagine how TVJ fans would feel seeing their TitoSen being mocked and baited in an actual debate. They might just riot.

Passing a law, as with running a nation, is about building a consensus. Pro-RH bill groups should continue to engage with lawmakers and to lobby for its passage. But this should be done through dialogue and not debate. Anybody who has seen any university debate team in action knows that when they talk, there is no room for dialogue.

[EMBARRASSING ERRATUM: We read it wrong. The ADS will host the debate, while Akbayan will do the actual debating. Akbayan’s Leloy Claudio who challenged Sotto is from ADS. So we are half right!]


  1. “The ADS will host the debate, while Akbayan will do the actual debating. Akbayan’s Leloy Claudio who challenged Sotto is from ADS. So we are half right!”

    There’s no such thing as half right. It’s either right or wrong. For a supposedly moral person, you sure stretch the definition of what is right, huh? What does that say on your comment that “(Sotto) is right” then? Pfft..

  2. Right, in this case, meant correct. ” We read it wrong” thinking the Ateneo Debate Society would debate against Sotto themselves. Mr. Claudio is still an Ateneo debater, though. The point stands.


  3. You’re pandering with semantics. Correct and right can be used to determine good in morality as incorrect is to wrong in the same context. Either way, there’s still no such thing as half correct. There’s only correct and incorrect. Still, for a supposedly moral person, you seem to be flexing definitions and semantics selectively to your favor. So which point stands? That you’re twisting the concept of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, of morality to suit you. Pfft..

  4. Morality has nothing to do with it. A debate with Sotto will not bring the RH bill any closer to, or further from, passage.

    If he loses, do you really think he will change his mind? Not even Senator Santiago, author of the bill and who has access to statistics and other data, could convince Sotto to back the bill.

    If the point is to paint him a fool, then there is no need for a debate. The Pro-RH crowd already sees him as a fool. There is no need to beat him up in public either and give the Anti-RH groups and the Church a reason to cry persecution.

    If he wins, will Akbayan’s representatives at the House of Representatives change their stance on the bill? Not at all.

    Sotto is right, not morally but actually, that there is no point in debating the issue outside Congress. Both because it will not affect how he will vote, and because he will give the same arguments that he will use on the Senate floor anyway.

    Would it not be better to engage those lawmakers who are not as committed to scrapping the bill? Dialogues with less combative lawmakers who are still on the fence will achieve more than humiliating one of their own in a public forum.

    Mr.Cartmire, this website has always been for the RH bill. I believe, however, that this should not translate to blind support for its supporters who may be using the media for spin.

    Also, please read the rest of the post. There is more to it than the erratum.

  5. You didn’t seem to understand my comment and it’s context. I’m not talking about whether or not it was wise for Sotto to decline the debate. My comment was not about the whole Sotto-Claudio feud. My comment was about your judgment that he was right, given that you rationalize a rather compromised view of two polarities that can’t mesh (i.e. right and wrong). There’s no such thing as half right; that would be wrong. And a person who doesn’t recognize a wrong act as wrong and justify it as half right has questionable morals to be even believable in saying that somebody else is right.

    I’ve read the whole post even before I commented and I’m not saying you supporting the RH Bill should be blind. To insinuate that I haven’t read it and that I’m suggesting you defend the RH Bill blindly is to not get the point I explained above. Also, “pandering” means playing, messing around usually with intent of delay. If you really know what it means, you’ll agree that I used the word right. You must have just searched for a Google definition wrong.

  6. All right, Mr. Cartmire.

    Here is the dictionary definition of pander: One panders to people, and not with concepts. You pander to the masses, for example.

    I do not know where you got your definition. Maybe you mean quibbling?

    What “wrong act” am I guilty of? I assumed incorrectly that Sotto would debate with Ateneo debaters, that is, current members of the Ateneo Debate Society. It was an incorrect assumption that was duly acknowledged, and the post was edited accordingly. But it seems Mr. Claudio is in fact an Ateneo debater. Well, used to be one, at any rate.

    So will Sotto be debating with an Ateneo debater? Yes. Will he be debating with the Ateneo Debate Society? He will not. Or, since he has declined the challenge, he will do neither of those things.

    That oversight does not make this website’s position any less valid. There is a difference between “right” as in conduct, and “right,” as in factually correct. So, do we quibble over words or are we going to discuss an actual issue?

  7. Again, it seems that you don’t understand the context of my comment. There is no such thing as half right or half correct and a person who compromises what is right or correct as half to justify himself is least believable in judging what is (right). That is my issue and it’s a valid one. Plain and simple.

    The oversight is not necessarily the point that makes your argument less valid. It’s how you rationalized such oversight to suit your needs (i.e. half right).

    Pander with concepts has already been accepted in the English language, though not traditional in use. Politicians pander with policy proposals, which are essentially concepts, for example.

    Also, you don’t need to lecture about logic. I know that already; that’s textbook blabber. But maybe you’d be interested with learning Ethics? You don’t necessarily need to know it from me, but maybe you should give it a try so you can firm up your morals and realize there’s no half rights or half corrects.

  8. And when politicians “pander with policy proposals” it means they’re using the policy proposals to do the pandering. It’s not the verb’s object. So yeah you’re a fucking idiot.

  9. Onetamad, I respect your opinion that I am wrong but I disagree.

    Matinik, if to “pander with policy proposals” means they’re using the policy proposals to do the pandering, doesn’t that suggest that “pandering with semantics” means using semantics to do the pandering? Doesn’t that make sense?

    “Half right” as the entry used it doesn’t suggest a verbal wit nor a repartee. If you actually understood the context, you’d know that it wasn’t meant as a wordplay but as a rationalization of being wrong.

    And maybe you’ll benefit more from reading Onetamad’s link on logic because you’re clearly committing argumentum ad hominem in an attempt to raise your profile. I respect your opinion that I’m a fucking idiot because you seem to know fucking idiots so well that you can judge people in a snap. But I pity that it’s the most you can get out of your brilliant mind. A cheap shot and a fallacy at that.

  10. No shit it’s ad hominem, you pedantic halfwit. You think I give a flying fuck? “ooh you committed a fallaaaaacyy”. Fuck you, idiot.

    No you didn’t use “pandering with semantics” with pandering defined as OneTamad defined it. You used semantics as the object of the verb because you have a retard’s definition of pandering. “Already been accepted into the English language” my ass.

    The half-right comment was made in jest more than anything else. OneTamad already admitted his error. That you’re harping on its technicality leads me to conclude that you’re a pedantic, humorless halfwit.

    And how you jump from that to questioning OneTamad’s morals? Makes me wish I could punch my monitor and have my fist come out of yours.

  11. Oh yeah the whole “ooh i’m going to affect a patronizing intellectual attitude even though this guy’s totally ad homineming my ass”? Gayer than sodomy.

  12. Your writing does suggest you’re someone to punch a monitor. But i wonder how you can a call a progressive use of the English language “retard”. Seems like you need your own vocabulary advice. And you’re someone who’s supposed to get comments in jest? You’ve gotta be kidding.

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