Do We Really Need A Presidential Debate?

By Jes Tirol - Bohol Chronicle


There is a controversial move to hold a debate between the candidates for President of the Philippines. It is controversial because one candidate, particularly Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) is not inclined to participate. It is said that if FPJ will not participate, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) will not participate also.

What is a Debate?

A debate is defined as a formal contest in argumentation conducted between persons taking opposite sides of a question.

The presentation of arguments in a debate is an art. It requires special training. Among the five presidential candidates, it is Ex-Senator Raul Roco who had that special training and experience in the art of debating. He would be the giant among pygmies. In other words it would be an unequal fight.

In 1998 when GMA was a vice-presidential candidate, she did not participate in a debate because she knew that she was no match to Senator Angara. Despite her refusal she still won as Vice President of the Philippines. Nobody belittled her for not participating in the debate.

Debate is Passé?

In previous times the formal public debate was very popular. Different schools have their debating team. In fact the most famous debating team was composed of students from the University of the Philippines. It was led by Carlos P. Romulo and included the Boholano Jacinto Castel Borja. The team was undefeated in fourteen (14) debates against American University student debating teams on the issue of Philippine independence.

However, upon declaration of martial law in 1972 the popularity of debating teams disappeared. Until the present you can hardly witness a contest between debating teams.

Educational Emphasis

When Philippines democracy was restored in 1986, the atmosphere had changed. The schools no longer gave emphasis in debating but in "consensus building." The aim is no longer to convince the other side to follow your viewpoint but to compromise to have a win-win situation. Even today, the different Non-Government Organization (NGO) use the technique of consensus building.

Candidates' Forum is "In"

The educational establishment views "concensus building" as very democratic. In the field of politics the "Candidates' Forum" has substituted the "Candidates' Debate." The Candidates' Forum is more of a consultation than argumentation. It is not necessary that all the candidates will be on stage at the same time. It is possible to have the candidates appear one by one just like an applicant for a job.

Noblesse Oblige

Noblesse oblige (nobles' oblezh') is a French word that means that those of high social position must behave generously or nobly toward others, especially the lower class of society.

In recent years the behavioral trend of Filipinos is towards noblesse oblige. They are not looking for someone who is a good speaker or brilliant in mind but someone who truly represents the concept of noblesse oblige. Maybe this is a reaction to the experience undergone with President Ferdinand Marcos who was a good speaker and brilliant in mind.

So nowadays you will see the politicians pandering to the desires of the voters.