The fireworks were good, but the audience expected more.
Wednesday’s debate between reelectionist Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and his main challenger, former President Joseph Estrada, came off as long on old grudges but short on fresh answers to the issues raised by their young hosts, the students of University of the Philippines Manila.
The event dubbed “Thrilla in UP Manila” had the two candidates mostly bringing up past animosities and often exceeding the three-minute limit on their answers, that at one point the moderator complained that he was given the hardest job onstage.
“It was fun, though immature,” said Annabelle Mariano, a social science major, one of the hundreds of students who packed the Little Theater. “They did not address the issues we raised and could not even follow simple rules.”
Mariano said she and her classmates waited in line for two hours just to listen to Estrada and Lim but were “somehow disappointed with the performance of the two old politicians.”
“They were just publicly bashing each other onstage, which we no longer wanted to hear,” she added.
In the debate sponsored by the UP Manila College of Arts & Sciences, the two rivals were asked about their plans to solve issues directly affecting the students, like the perennial flooding, the proliferation of illegal vendors and rising criminality around their campus on Padre Faura Street.
They were also asked to give their stand on the longtime clamor to relocate the
Pandacan oil depot because of safety concerns.
But instead of giving detailed answers, Estrada and Lim repeatedly brought up the past, particularly the former’s ouster from Malacañang on corruption charges and eventual conviction for plunder, and the latter’s purportedly “tearful” plea to be included in the 2004 senatorial lineup of then presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr., Estrada’s bosom buddy.
It was practically a reprise of the heated exchanges they had in a televised debate on ABS-CBN the day before.
On the problems around the UP Manila campus, Lim simply said he would have the illegal vendors removed in “two weeks” and that the solution to the flooding is a shared
responsibility with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Estrada, meanwhile, recalled how his bailiwick city of San Juan did not experience major flooding during his 15-year stint as mayor. He said the spirit of “bayanihan” (volunteerism) helped him achieve this.
On the oil depot’s fate, Lim said he favors a slow phaseout but warned that this could result in an increase in local fuel prices as the oil companies incur higher operational costs with their relocation.
Estrada did not give a clear-cut position on the issue and instead accused Lim of not being transparent in his talks with the concerned oil companies.
At one point, both candidates tauntingly held up newspaper clippings critical of each other, including items from the Inquirer.
Both candidates came to UP-Manila with their respective supporters in yellow (pro-Lim) and orange (pro-Estrada), but these groups were not allowed to enter the campus and were limited to the sidewalk on Padre Faura.