MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – For all of Mar Roxas’ talk about levelling up the verbal brawl he has with Rodrigo Duterte, why didn’t he show up at an election forum?
This was the question of Duterte’s running mate Alan Peter Cayetano during a press conference on the sidelines of Rappler’s “The Leader I Want” forum on Wednesday, January 20.
Only Duterte and Cayetano showed up at the event, intended to be a debate among all top 2016 tandems. Based on the forum's format, candidates were given a chance to explain their platforms and answer questions from the audience and social media.
“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.)
The senator said this in response to a message from Roxas’ spokesman Akbayan Partylist Representative Barry Gutierrez who accused Duterte of only being good at giving “low blows.” This was prompted by Duterte calling Roxas “the most incompetent Filipino to ever aspire for the presidency” the previous night.
“[Gutierrez] has so much to say about Mayor Duterte but where is his principal [Roxas] now?” he wondered.
Duterte had this to say: “Tanong ko sa kanya, nakadroga siya? Nandito kami wala kayo (My question to him is, is he on drugs? We are here, you are not.) He failed to appear at the most appropriate time.”
He later on said that the candidates who were invited but did not show up “must have their own reasons” for not attending, but “I’m only saying that, not that it’s regrettable, but, I’m sad.”
Roxas' camp sent their regrets to Rappler over the weekend. The Liberal Party standard-bearer was scheduled to visit Nueve Ecija for a series of sorties on January 20 instead, but this was cancelled because Roxas was sick.
Asked about Roxas' absence from the forum, Gutierrez on Thursday tossed it back to Duterte, pointing out that the Davao mayor was first to back-out of a debate challenge.
In December, following a heated word war between the two presidential candidates, Roxas challenged Duterte to a debate. But Duterte said he would not debate against a survey laggard, referring to Roxas.
"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)
"Doon, huwag siyang mag-alala, maghaharap-harap at makikita natin kung ano talaga ang kalidad ng bawat kandidato. Naku naman! Simulang-simula pa lang hindi namin inaatrasan iyang taong iyan (They'll face each other and we'll see the quality of each candidate. From the beginning, Roxas has said he won't back down from Duterte)," he added. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.