Ex-secretary a happy warrior, calls debate fun

/ 02:45 PM February 28, 2016
Former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Binay. PHOTO BY KRISTINE ANGELI SABILLO

Former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Binay. PHOTO BY KRISTINE ANGELI SABILLO revisits the first official presidential debate, held a week ago Sunday, with a behind-the-scenes look at each of the five presidential campaigns. This fifth part, out of five, focuses on former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas.—The Editors.

On the day of the first presidential debate of the 2016 elections, Mar Roxas followed his daily routine, a six-kilometer jog early in the morning, and then prayed in private. The administration candidate for president told a few minutes before he entered the 500-seat auditorium of Capitol University, the debate venue in the Northern Mindanao hub of Cagayan de Oro City, that he did nothing special to prepare for the debate. “Just… Simulan na natin ito!” he said, laughing.


He was the last among the five presidential candidates to arrive in the city. He “had a private meeting that I couldn’t avoid,” he explained.

On the morning of the debate, three members of his staff checked the podium at the venue on his behalf. By around noon, the lobby of the Limketkai Luxe Hotel was filled with yellow-clad local officials and supporters.


At 1 p.m., Roxas arrived at the hotel wearing his usual yellow shirt embroidered with a ribbon. When his supporters saw his wife Korina and son Paolo, their screams grew louder.

Local officials and party mates lined up by the entrance to greet him. Roxas also gamely posed for selfies with his Kagay-anon supporters.

“Nakikita ko lang si Korina sa TV. Ang ganda niya!” said one supporter said as she shook hands with the broadcaster. The mood was jovial.

When this reporter asked Roxas how he prepared for the debate, he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. He then proceeded to the second floor restaurant where he, his team and city officials had lunch.

It was a long wait for the supporters outside the lobby carrying posters printed with nothing but Roxas’ face in a yellow backdrop. They waited for about two hours for Roxas to come out of the hotel. Still, they kept on chanting, “Oras na, Roxas na!”

As Roxas, now wearing white barong, stepped out of the elevator, the crowd went crazy. His fans had their phones ready for a photo with Roxas. At exactly 3:36, he and Korina left the hotel for Capitol University.

Roxas waited for the director’s cue in a holding room two floors below the auditorium. He  looked relaxed in his undershirt while his barong hung over the sofa behind him. (He also greeted this reporter a happy birthday and even joked, “Aren’t you happy we all came here for you in CDO for your birthday?”)


The former cabinet secretary was among the first candidates to go up on stage. He sat silently behind the lectern as the technical staff checked Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s microphones. When the senators joined them on stage, Roxas had a quick chat with Sen. Grace Poe while Duterte welcomed Sen. Miriam Santiago with a salute and hug.

After the debate, Roxas looked upbeat as he came out of the auditorium. He stood on the narrow red carpet aisle and faced the media who waited for him—smiling. One reporter asked about the debate, and he cheerfully responded: “Masaya di ba?”

He said he was glad that finally, the presidential candidates had the opportunity to present their platforms as well as their solutions to pressing problems facing the country.

But one thing he wasn’t happy about was the one-minute time limit given to them to speak.

“Kulang ang oras. Masalimuot at maselan ang mga isyung ito. Hindi naman pwede na sa isang minuto ay masaagot lahat ito,” Roxas said.

Roxas was never comfortable speaking with time limits. Sometime last year, Roxas, after a speaking engagement that he had attended, expressed frustration to select members of the media about the format of the program.

“How can I present solutions to sensitive issues under a minute?” he said then, shaking his head. Roxas  said the audience would not be able to get a full understanding of the issue if the candidates would only be allowed to talk for mere seconds.

Back in Capitol University, as Roxas continued speaking to reporters, Duterte passed behind him and then made faces. The reporters laughed. Roxas’ erstwhile pal then walked on and took questions from the media.

Immediately after the ambush interview, Roxas left the venue with his party. His staff said Roxas had dinner with his family and supporters before leaving Cagayan de Oro.


1st Presidential Debate: Complete transcript


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TAGS: 2016 elections, Cagayan de Oro debate, CDO debate, Elections 2016, elections featured, first presidential debate, GMA-Inquirer debate, Manuel Roxas II, Mar Roxas, Pilipinas debates, VotePh2016
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