Duterte spared thrashing
DAGUPAN CITY—There was little room for crossfire but there were a few sparks as the five presidential candidates refused to engage in a brawl during their third and final debate on Sunday.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senators Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Vice President Jejomar Binay and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas emerged unscathed from the tepid confrontation held at the University of Pangasinan in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, the province that has the third-largest voting population in the country.
They faced off on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, Metro Manila’s horrendous traffic and jobs about which they had nothing new to say after addressing those problems repeatedly on the stump and in their first two debates.
Duterte, the front-runner in voter preference polls, was spared thrashing over a rape joke that had drawn for him widespread criticism, and Binay snubbed Roxas’ challenge to answer accusations of corruption against him.
“I have answered that many times. There’s nothing more to say about that,” Binay said.
Poe tried to engage Duterte, who had dislodged her from the top spot in the voter preference polls, asking, “What will happen to women under your administration?”
But Duterte responded gently, enumerating the accomplishments of Davao for women.
He explained his recollection of the 1989 prison riot in Davao City at a campaign rally in Quezon City on April 12, when he made the rape joke that angered women’s groups.
“I killed all 16 (prisoners involved). I cursed, then I narrated it in a different situation, it is all true. There was no malice. It was just a narration,” he said.
Questioned at the start of the debate on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte said he would himself lay claim to the nearest Chinese-occupied island, even if he knew it would cost him his life.
“We have submitted ourselves to arbitration … and China has insisted on sovereignty and won’t submit to [the United Nations arbitral court’s] jurisdiction. If we win the case but China won’t obey [the tribunal’s ruling], I will not go to war,” he said.
“If they don’t want to obey, then I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest boundary, I will get off, take a jet ski, carry a Philippine flag to the nearest airport [on a Chinese-occupied island], plant that flag and I’ll say, ‘This is ours. Do what you want with me,’” he said.
“I will stake that claim. I have long had the ambition to be a hero. When I go there, you cry here,” he added, drawing cheers and laughs from the audience.
Confronted with a Pangasinan fisherman’s question on how he could get back his livelihood amid aggressive Chinese moves in the South China Sea, Santiago said she would take the legal and diplomatic route.
But she also raised a more drastic option. “They are taking our waters and our fish. I will call the Coast Guard and bomb them,” she said, drawing cheers from the audience.
“[W]e have the world public opinion behind us. The world believes our waters are ours,” she said.
Poe said she would assert the Philippines’ right to resources in waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and vowed to provide fishermen adequate equipment to protect their interest.
“The West Philippine Sea is not the personal aquarium of the Chinese. If they are real friends, they should help us,” Poe said, referring to waters in the South China Sea within the Philippine EEZ.
Longtime bitter political rivals Binay and Roxas both called for sobriety in approaching the territorial dispute with China.
Binay said he would talk to China so that Filipino fishermen would be allowed to fish in their traditional fishing grounds while negotiations on the maritime dispute continue.
He also vowed to provide temporary livelihood, health and education assistance to families of displaced fishermen.
Roxas proposed a two-pronged solution: support the displaced fishermen’s families and press the Philippines’ legal action against China.
The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule in the coming weeks on the Philippines’ challenge to China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
Metro Manila traffic
The perennial problem of traffic jams in Metro Manila brought out promises from the presidential candidates of new railways, new departments, and a new traffic czar to keep tabs on road congestion that has lessened Filipinos’ productivity.
Santiago, Poe and Duterte focused on the completion of existing railway projects and construction of more railways to connect Metro Manila to nearby provinces.
And given Metro Manila’s congestion, Santiago said there should be a new capital city that could be built near Clark. This new city would have a government center, an information technology park, and an educational center to entice people to live there.
Santiago also said there was a need for road discipline. Only qualified drivers should be able to get licenses, unlike the situation now when anybody could acquire one.
Duterte said there was no swift solution to the problem. “There is no silver bullet to solve the traffic problem,” he said.
If he becomes President, he will take a year or two to improve the LRT and MRT system by adding more coaches to carry more passengers, he said.
Duterte said he would also build new railway lines, a proposal of Santiago that he decided to copy.
Poe said the existing railway and road projects should be completed, and trains should be built in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.
A subway system is possible in the long term, despite concerns about flooding, she said. In other countries, trains run under the sea, she pointed out.
Roxas said all the projects promised by his rivals were already being undertaken by the government, such as the MRT improvements and new MRT and LRT extensions.
What is needed is to overhaul the franchising systems so there would be fewer buses on the road competing for passengers and blocking the roads, he said.
The Department of Transportation and Communications should also be merged with the Department of Public Works and Highways, he said, so that road projects could be coordinated with transportation systems, and there would be coherent plans.
All the candidates promised to improve the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by giving them more incentives and benefits as well as build a strong economy to generate more jobs in the country so they could work here.
Santiago said her administration would build a strong economy so it could create jobs that would bring home OFWs, and cited the imminent establishment of a Southeast Asian economic community as a source of job generation for Filipinos.
Poe vowed more jobs so that Filipinos would not leave their country to work overseas.
Binay promised to work out a pension plan for OFWs, while Roxas said he would make sure Philippine diplomatic posts would be open to OFWs every day.
The candidates promised to end labor contractualization.
Duterte said he would convince Congress to pass a law that would abolish contractualization.
Roxas said he could abolish contractualization by passing a law within three months of assuming the presidency.
Santiago spoke about undertaking infrastructure projects and strengthening the manufacturing industry to end contractualization.
Poe said she would lower corporate income taxes as an incentive to businessmen to stop contractualization and provide permanent jobs.
Binay said workers could sue employers who practice contractualization. He said he would scrap income taxes for workers earning P10,000 a month or less.
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