MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE 3) Eight candidates showed up at the first ever presidential debate organized by the Philippine Daily Inquirer held on Monday, a day before the start of the official campaign period.
In attendance were frontrunners Senators Benigno "Noynoy? Aquino III and Manuel Villar, administration bet Gilbert Teodoro, Senators Richard Gordon and Ma. Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal, evangelist Eddie Villanueva, Nicanor Perlas, and JC de los Reyes.
Former president Joseph Estrada did not attend the debate, citing "bias" against him by the paper.
The event was held at the University of the Philippines Theater in Diliman Quezon City.
The candidates answered questions from the audience and nine panelists: opinion columnists Dean Raul Pangalangan, Father Joaquin Bernas SJ, Rina Jimenez David, Michael Tan and Cielito Habito, and Inquirer veterans Jorge Aruta (opinion editor), Raul Marcelo (business editor), Fe Zamora (senior political reporter), and Pam Pastor (youth section editor).
Before the start of the debate, John Nery, host of the program, informed the audience that Estrada would not be able to attend.
"We regret his decision and we wish him good luck," said Nery.
In a text message to reporters, Estrada's spokesperson, Margaux Salcedo, explained the former leader's absence in the debate.
"The executive committee of the campaign felt that INQUIRER is always biased against Erap, that it would work more harm than good to attend, and advised President Erap not to go," Salcedo said.
Erap is Estrada's nickname.