Last February 25, Otso Diretso requested Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) to participate in a debate in Plaza Miranda. Candidates from HNP did not show up, however, and instead opted to continue with their scheduled campaign sorties in Bulacan and Valenzuela City. Sara Duterte, HNP’s campaign manager, cited that they will not participate in a palengke-style, or hastily set up debate, clarifying that they will only take part if the event is organized by a third party organizer and if the terms have been agreed upon between them and Otso Diretso.
With this, Otso Diretso sought assistance from the Commission on Elections to arrange a debate between them and HNP, but the request was later denied by the commission due to the possibility of it being seen as preferential treatment for a set of candidates; it would only be fair for them to host one if all 62 senatorial aspirants were involved. The body cited other logistical concerns such as two months not being “enough time to plan a full-blown debate.”
While it is not surprising, however unfortunate, for certain candidates to refuse to participate in a debate. What is alarming is the number of responses in support of President Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s comments claiming that debates are only a ploy to garner more attention. “I can understand that those in the opposing party wanted a debate because it would give them more publicity,” Panelo said in Filipino. Supporters’ points of view of have been influenced to shun out the idea of a debate, closing their minds to whatever the party other than the ones they are supporting has to say.
But debates have always been an important part in the formulation of theories, principles and—most applicably—laws. We even train students to participate in debates as an avenue to tackle issues and develop their reasoning skill with the hopes of them one day applying these as future leaders of the country.
For this reason, debates have always been a part of politics and are not exclusive to campaigns. If one desires to run for public office, it is an inescapable discourse. On the Senate floor, these candidates will find it difficult to avoid engaging in debate, as legislators will always find themselves arguing with fellow lawmakers over bills they wish to put forward, especially on pressing concerns.
With topics ranging from which policies would be beneficial for local government units to complex topics such as which government structure suits best for the country, debates provide the perfect medium to tackle pressing issues and challenge politicians to be more knowledgeable, affirming their capability to the hold their position. If people do not see the lack of regard for debating as something worth taking a look at, then such mindset already speaks volumes.
Being an open form of communication, it encourages discourse and productive discussions. It emphasizes the importance of weighing both sides and taking each argument into consideration before formulating coherent and logical ideas. In turn, it teaches the audience valid points, with which they would later use to decide who made the most logical sense. A political debate does more than that—it is centered on real issues the country faces and opens the minds of its citizens to the candidates’ views on the problem and their proposed solutions to address them.
One might say that this is already being done through the campaign sorties, but debates are unique in the sense that it can show how candidates would respond to a setting where their ideas are challenged. It is essentially a battle to determine who understands our country’s battles the most. We deserve leaders who are competent enough to battle with not only their hearts but also their minds, don’t we?
If it is a simple, straightforward event, then what is it about open forms of communication that agitates certain senatoriables? Is it because it separates those who are quick thinkers from those who memorize or read off scripts? Is it because it differentiates those who are well-versed on issues from those who have a shallow grasp on them? What are candidates afraid of being asked about? Are they afraid of what they will be exposed of? Surely, they would know how to answer any question if they know what they’re doing. But then, maybe that’s a question they, too, can’t answer: do they really know what they’re doing?