MANILA, Philippines – Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan came prepared to the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) PiliPinas Vice Presidential Debate on Sunday, March 20, with notes on years of experience as a Philippine senator and receipts of the successes of the vice presidency of his standard-bearer, Vice President Leni Robredo.
Like his performance in the CNN Philippines debate on February 26, Pangilinan stayed on-brand and consistent as he occasionally circled back to his top advocacy: agriculture and the rights of farmers and fisherfolk.
“Tututukan natin ang tulong at suporta sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda dahil kapag…ang tulong ay buo, dadami ang kanilang ani, dadami ang huli, dadami na rin ang suplay ng pagkain sa ating mga merkado. Bababa na ang presyo ng pagkain at mawawala na ang matinding gutom,” Pangilinan said as he explained his expertise he believes would aid the president should he win.
(We will focus on the help and support for our farmers and fisherfolk because if we help them fully, their harvest and catch will increase, and there will be more food supply in the market. Food prices will go down, and extreme hunger will be eradicated.)
“Nawa’y (May) the last man standing [be] a farmer,” Pangilinan said in his final word, an apparent reference to Robredo’s closing statement in the Comelec presidential debate the day before: “The best man for the job is a woman.”
A look back at Robredo’s vice presidency
Several questions asked at the Comelec debate required the candidates’ understanding of the role and mandate of the vice president. Asked whether the 1987 Constitution should be amended to enhance the responsibilities of the position, Pangilinan said the Constitution was sufficient when it comes to the powers it gives to the vice president.
“Nasa vice president na ‘yon – kung sino man siya – kung paano niya gagamitin ang posisiyon at kapangyarihan para makatulong sa ating mga kababayan. At nakita natin ‘yan sa naging kilos at naging trabaho ng ating Vice President Leni Robredo, lalo na dito sa COVID-19 response,” he said.
(It is up to the vice president – whoever they may be – how they will use the position and power to serve their countrymen. And we have seen that in the action and work of our Vice President Leni Robredo, especially here in the COVID- 19 response.)
Like what Robredo did in her own debates, Pangilinan cited the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) various COVID-19 projects, such as the production of personal protective equipment sets, a free shuttle service for health frontliners, and a teleconsult service called Bayanihan E-Consulta. Robredo’s OVP was able to execute these despite its limited mandate and budget.
Pangilinan brought up another receipt from his standard-bearer’s performance as vice president as the candidates discussed “leading by example:” the OVP’s three-time receipt of an unqualified opinion, the highest rating, from the Commission on Audit (COA).
He also pointed to the OVP’s certification from the International Organization for Standardization after a successful audit of its quality management system.
Health and budget
With COVID-19 as one of the key issues in Sunday’s debate, Pangilinan lamented the Duterte government’s pandemic response and the need for new leadership.
The senator claimed that the Department of Health’s (DOH) budget was scrapped of P10 billion in 2019, which is why the country was “unprepared” when the virus struck. What he didn’t mention, however, was how this was eventually increased in the approved 2020 General Appropriations Act or the national budget after deliberations in Congress.
Pangilinan also claimed that the Senate asked for higher budgets in Bayanihan 1 and 2, but these were not granted because the executive department did not know where to get the funds for it.
Then, in August 2021, the COA found that the DOH failed to spend P59 billion of its 2020 budget.
“At nakita naman natin [sa] huli, hindi rin pala nagastos. So talagang ayaw nilang malaki, pero ‘yong meron, hindi rin nagastos. So talagang in the end, dapat good governance…. Hindi incompetent ang in charge,” he said. (And we saw in the end that it was not even spent. They did not want a large allocation, but even the funds given to them were not spent. So really, in the end, there must be good governance. let incompetent people be in charge.)
In 2020, Pangilinan was one of the senators who called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III over lapses in his handling of the pandemic response. This was also the reason why Pangilinan became the only dissenting senator to the passage of Bayanihan 2 – because he did not want to pour more funds into the DOH without a change in leadership.
During the debate, Pangilinan also showed off figures from his senatorial work that he had committed to memory. When candidates were asked about their thoughts on the P200 monthly subsidy for poor households amid fuel price hikes, Pangilinan first said that he was for suspending excise taxes on fuel and then called on the government to release the P500-million fuel subsidy for farmers and fisherfolk .
He also called for the release of an additional P6-billion fuel subsidy in unprogrammed funds.
“Pag ang gobyerno ay mabilis kumilos, ‘pag ang gobyerno ay hindi natutulog, ika nga, at araw-araw binubusisi at tinitiyak na mari-release ito, makakatulong ng malaki ‘yan (If the government moves fast and does not sleep and makes sure every day that this would be released, this would be of great help),” he said.
Grilled on the rice tariffication law
Socialist professor Walden Bello challenged Pangilinan on no less than his advocacy for farmers because of his abstention on the rice tariffication law.
“How can you say that you are an advocate of the farmers when you abstained on the biggest law that would affect the farmers of the decade, ‘yung (the) Rice Tariffication Act. He abstained. Did you go to the CR when that happened?” asked Bello.
Pangilinan remained calm as he explained he made the abstention due to “reservations.” He said that the law had since been amended to give cash subsidies to rice farmers. He added that the law’s effects compelled the Senate to later push for the Sagip Saka Act, which allowed the government to directly buy agricultural and fisheries products from local farmer and fisherfolk enterprises.
“That’s exactly why we pushed for that because we knew all the impact of the rice tariffication measure. So I beg to disagree with his view that we are crazy or we do not know or we’re not aware of the implications of the rice tariffication measure,” Pangilinan said.
Unconvinced, Bello said Pangilinan should have opposed it, as it was “imposed” by the World Trade Organization. Pangilinan respect by saying, “Let us learn to agree to disagree with.”
On showing up
Pangilinan joined his fellow candidates in criticizing the absence of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte in Sunday’s debate and her standard-bearer Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s general snubbing of debates and fora of legitimate media.
The senator likened the campaign to a courtship. “Alam mo, kaming mga kandidato, lumiligaw kami. Nililigawan namin ang botante. Pagka lumiligaw, dapat humaharap,” he said. (Candidates are like suitors. We are courting the voters. Suitors must show up.)
“Ako, may tatlong anak. ‘Pag may lumiligaw sa aking anak, dapat humarap. Respetuhin ‘yung aking mga anak, respetuhin ‘yung mga magulang. ‘Pag hindi humaharap, nirerespeto ba kami? Kung kayong mga botante, ‘pag hindi humarap, nirerespeto ba kayo?he added.
(I have three children. When someone courts my child, they should show themselves. They must respect the children and the parents. If they don’t show up, are we being respected? If candidates don’t show themselves to you, voters , do you feel respected?)
The Comelec’s first vice-presidential debate coincided with a massive sortie for the Robredo-Pangelinan tandem in Pasig City. In a recorded message, Pangilinan also brought up the courtship message to his supporters.
Robredo called on the 137,000 attendees – the tandem’s largest rally so far – to cheer for the Pangilinan as he took the stage at the Sofitel hotel. – Rappler.com