Rising above motherhood statements and hot air 

I watched Boy Abunda’s interview of Bongbong Marcos last Tuesday. I liked some of the things Bongbong said, in the very same way I liked some of what the other candidates said on the same show as well as in other interviews such as Jessica Soho’s. How can one go wrong with motherhood statements? And candidates, both the good and the bad ones, let out all manner of platitudes during an election campaign.  

Interviews, like campaign speeches, can bring out the best and the worst in candidates depending on how they are carried out. The measure of a good interview is how much real  information gets drawn out: the good and bad points of a person, a thing, an occurrence, a project, a government program, or a plan. A person’s demeanor is important, too, and nothing captures that better  than a televised interview.   

It is said than an interview is only as good as the questions asked, which is why a good interviewer  must not hesitate to ask tough questions, yes, even from out of left field. It is good to catch an interviewee off guard, especially when he or she is a politician, and most especially during an election campaign. Thus, one should always be wary of PR jobs or entertainment shows. These two latter types of interviews intend not so much to inform but to entertain the audience and please the interviewee. Often, an entertainment show aims only  to glorify the host/hostess.  

Back to what Bongbong said. He did have good things to say, and he was quite articulate. But, as good friend and fellow journalist Cas Mayor likes to say, “Good answers to interviews don’t necessarily make one a good president. Don’t take the candidates for their words. Look at their track records.”  

That is where Bongbong falls short. Bongbong’s problem is not that he has nothing to say or that he cannot articulate it well enough. He simply has nothing by way of an inspiring track record. On the contrary, he carries a lot of baggage, perhaps a lot more than any of the other candidates. 

And Bongbong knows that only too well. So he disguises that by feigning a disdain for “negative campaigning.” If he hasn’t and won’t directly attack any of his rivals it is because he knows he is a lot more vulnerable than them. Besides, he has trolls to do that for him. 

Promising format

On the surface, Boy Abunda’s format looked very promising. The interviews were to be based only on issues rather than personalities, as if personalities are not material to the way problems are identified and handled. There were no really tough questions to test a candidate’s character or capability. 

In contrast, apart from heavily researched and well thought out questions on the economy,  programs of government, election contributions, poverty alleviation, job generation, China’s incursions into the West Philippine Sea, the handling of the COVID pandemic, et cetera, Jessica  Soho had some tough questions for all four candidates who agreed to be interviewed by her. 

 As Philippine Star columnist Dick Pascual noted, she asked Panfilo Lacson about his having been linked to kidnapping and murder cases, his role in the notorious Metrocom (Philippine Constabulary Metropolitan Command) during martial law and about going into hiding when a warrant for his arrest was issued. She asked Isko Moreno about tong collections from sidewalk vendors, the millions of pesos in campaign contributions he pocketed and his jumping from one party to another. She asked Manny Pacquiao about his absences in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, his tax cases, about handing out cash in his sorties, etc. She asked Vice President Leni Robredo about her failure to unify the opposition and why she was running as an independent despite belonging to the Liberal Party.  

How do you think Bongbong would have managed if he had been asked about the Marcoses’ hidden wealth and Swiss bank accounts, martial law abuses, his failure to earn a college degree, his conviction for tax evasion, and his demonstrated lack of leadership and executive ability? 

Even if Boy Abunda’s format was highly acceptable to Bongbong, he still failed to highlight any of his accomplishments. All the others did, except perhaps for Manny Pacquiao (that’s another story). To put it bluntly, the reason is simple. Bongbong’s track record has not been stained by the slightest hint of an accomplishment.  

To be fair, Boy Abunda came close to asking Bongbong  a tough question. Unfortunately it was allotted only 60 seconds and came near the very end of the show. Nevertheless, the answer was quite revealing.  

Asked to comment on Amnesty International’s report that thousands were imprisoned, tortured and killed during his father’s martial law rule, this was how the Junior answered: 

“Well, I do not know how they generated those numbers. And I haven’t seen them. But let us ask Amnesty International to share that information that they have and maybe it will help us make sure the system works. And the alleged abuses that occurred will not occur again. I think that’s the only way that we can remedy that situation.” He’s still at it! 

Another telling answer came when he was asked if he would allow representatives of the International Criminal Court to come to the country to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed during the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte.  

Bongbong replied: “We have a functioning judiciary, and that’s why I do not see the need for a foreigner to come and do the job for us, to do the job for our judicial system. Our judicial system is perfectly capable of doing that. It also raises a great many questions about jurisdiction and sovereignty.” 

Really? Sounds more like he was fishing for Duterte’s endorsement. 

Where the other candidates gave nothing more than generalities about how they would govern and deal with the country’s many problems, Leni Robredo gave the most logical and coherent answers. Despite Abunda’s incessant interruptions, she managed to throw in some details of her plans. 

Clearly, in both interviews, Leni came across as the superior candidate  – by more than just a mile. 

It is, however, unfortunate that the interviews conducted by mainstream media have been limited to only five of the 10 presidential candidates. Surely, the five other candidates, including the labor leader Leody de Guzman, would have enriched the conversation and enlightened voters. 

Let us see how the debates being arranged by the Comelec turn out. 

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