Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, presidential candidate of PDP Laban, attended a forum with students this week and won the day, if, for nothing else than because none of the other presidential candidates showed up for it.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano (who, people who know these things say, has not been showing up to work at the Senate for a while now), Duterte’s vice presidential candidate, was quick to crow about this, saying:
“Dalawa, tatlo na ang hamon kay Mayor Duterte nang debate, nasaan sila ngayon? Siguro yun ang dapat nating itanong,” said Cayetano.
(There are two, 3 challenges to Mayor Duterte to debate, where are they now? Maybe that’s what we should be asking.)
And he is right. The forum at De La Salle University would have been a good opportunity for the candidates to talk to the youth (and the Internet) about their plans for the country and Duterte and Cayetano should be commended for showing up.
On the day of the forum, netizens were asking where the other candidates were. Vice President Jejomar Binay was apparently in Caloocan, Senator Grace Poe was in Cavite, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago did not want to attend unless all other candidates were there. Liberal Party Mar Roxas, meanwhile, was sick.
His social media team said so:
@DREYAmcatcher Mar won’t be able to attend, Ma’am. He’s been feeling sick since yesterday.
— Ask Mar Roxas (@AskMARoxas) January 20, 2016
And who are we to say that he was not? What they did not mention, though, was that Roxas’ being sick was irrelevant to his attendance at the forum. He had, in fact, according to sources (who were tweeting openly about it), declined the invitation in favor of sorties in Nueva Ecija province. Had he been hale and hearty, he would still not have been there.
This was made clear the day after by Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez, campaign spokesman:
“Maaga pa lang, sinabi na namin, pinaabot na namin, and I’m sure alam ng kampo ni Mayor Duterte na hindi kami nag-confirm for that event. Madaling magmatapang dahil ikaw lang ang nakatayo sa entablado at sasabihin mo na lahat, natakot na ikaw ay makita. Alam mo namang simula pa lang, hindi talaga pupunta. Magkakaroon pa tayo ng tatlong oportunidad para magkaroon ng debates,” said Gutierrez, referring to debates sanctions by the Commission on Elections.
(Early on, we turned the invitation down and I’m sure Duterte’s camp knows we never confirmed for that event. It’s easy to be tough talking when you’re the only one on stage and claim that everyone’s afraid to face you. But they know from the start that we wouldn’t be going. They’re be three more chances to have debates)
Now, candidates are not obliged to attend every speaking engagement they are invited to, not even to the debates that the Comelec will organize. If Roxas and his team felt that going to Nueva Ecija made more strategic sense than attending the Rappler forum, then that is fine.
But there is no need to pussyfoot about by saying he couldn’t come because he was sick. The Roxas Twitter account is probably run by volunteers, so they may not have known what the situation was, but one cannot be blamed for getting the impression that this was another subtle attempt at spin, and a president whose people cannot speak plainly is not the Leader I Want.