Eight candidates for the Philippine Senate and their supporters trooped to the University Theater in UP Diliman on the afternoon of December 2, 2018 to participate in The Filipino Votes, a senatorial forum jointly organized by UP and CNN Philippines.
The forum was an opportunity for candidates to bare their plans and positions on current hot button issues five months ahead of the 2019 midterm elections. The candidates who attended the event were: Magdalo Para sa Pilipino’s Gary Alejano; Bam Aquino of the Liberal Party; Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa of PDP-Laban; Chel Diokno of the Liberal Party; JV Ejercito of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC); Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino’s Juan Ponce Enrile; Independent candidate Serge Osmeña; and, PDP-Laban’s Francis Tolentino.
The format of The Filipino Votes had candidates answering questions gathered from social media and the event’s live audience. No rebuttals were allowed, and each candidate was generally allowed a minute and a half to respond. Each one could also take one minute more to answer questions directly addressed to him. During the commercial break, candidates were asked to state their positions on certain issues by raising ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ signs supplied by the organizers.
A broad range of questions was asked during the 90-minute forum, ranging from the candidates’ ideas on how to address rising prices across the country, to their opinions on solving the nation’s drug problem. “What our present and prospective senators will do to address these concerns is of great interest to all of us,” said UP Vice President for Public Affairs Jose Dalisay, Jr. in his opening message, “for more than academic reasons.” He added that co-hosting the forum with CNN Philippines was UP’s contribution to creating a more informed electorate that will choose politicians on the basis of performance and character, rather than on personalities.
Apart from sporadic heckling, especially when the issues of re-imposing the death penalty and martial law were brought up, the forum generally permitted the candidates to expand on their priority goals should they be elected into office next year.
When asked about the first bills they intend to file, the attending candidates covered a broad range of priority areas. Ejercito, for instance, called for more legislation to push for infrastructure development and transport modernization. Diokno called attention to the weaknesses in and the need to revise the country’s Witness Protection Act. dela Rosa, in turn, insisted upon the necessity of restoring the death penalty for drug traffickers,a position that incurred strong reactions from the live audience.
Aquino said he intends to supplement the recently passed ‘free tuition’ law with legislation to ensure that graduates get matching jobs appropriate to their education. Enrile touched on a number of issues he hoped lawmaking could improve, from slow telecommunication speeds to high taxes. Alejano proposed the formation of a Department of Maritime and Oceanic Affairs to streamline the strategic initiatives of the country with respect to its marine resources and territories.
Osmeña cited the need to improve the country’s ailing coconut industry, which he says has been hobbled by low productivity due to aging trees, among other causes. Lastly, Tolentino proposed a Department of Water Resources Management to address a water crisis that he predicts will hit the country in 2025. (Andre DP Encarnacion, UP MPRO)