POSTSCRIPT / January 25, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why is Bongbong afraid of Jessica?

Pre-campaign surveys show ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. leading his rivals for the presidency by the proverbial mile three months into the May 9 national elections.

Strategists say that Marcos should not disturb the political tailwind carrying his family back to the Palace that they were forced to abandon in panic at the height of the People Power Revolt in 1986.

#JessicaSohoInterviews dominates trends as presidential aspirants answer important questions (Photo credit: GMA Network)

So when the son and namesake of the deposed former dictator was asked to join four of his major rivals to what was billed as the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews of GMA Networks last Saturday, he turned down the invitation.

But there had to be a good reason for opting out of what has become the traditional holding during the campaign of presidential debates or a fair facsimile thereof.

Marcos then dropped the bomb of a reason – that multi-awarded broadcast journalist Jessica Soho, the host of the interviews, is unacceptable as she is allegedly biased against the Marcoses.

GMA Network went ahead with the Soho interviews without Marcos, but with the other four (Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, Sen. Ping Lacson, Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Vice President Leni Robredo, listed here alphabetically) in attendance.

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The turn of events kicked up a political media storm whose full impact still has to be felt. The rivals of Marcos apparently made an impressive show as underdogs, further highlighting an alleged fear of Marcos to join public discussions.

A variation of the supposed reason for Marcos’ not attending the interviews has worked its way into the public mind.

Under this scuttlebutt, the real reason for Marcos’ hesitating to join the interviews is the supposed fear of his handlers that he may not be able to hold his own in the full glare of public scrutiny as issues are dissected and discussed.

The appeal of the four other presidential aspirants has been accentuated by the absence of Marcos, the early survey favorite. His hesitation to meet big issues head-on is traced by some quarters to Marcos’ himself knowing his own limitations.

Confessions have been appearing on social media of supposed Marcos followers moving to the camps of other presidential aspirants who had shown their mettle, sincerity and competence in the interviews. But then, cyberspace is a minefield of lies and fake news.

Has Marcos’ fear of being interviewed except by certified media friends backfired when he snubbed the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews of the GMA Network and accused her of being biased?

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What we saw Soho throwing at all the interviewees were not biased barbs but the usual tough questions that could trip a pretender to the presidency.

The Q&A looked like a job interview, with the whole neighborhood watching, for the top executive post in the land. The applicant could display his/her sterling qualities but could also expose vulnerabilities and inadequacies.

Hearing the well-researched questions that Soho asked of all the four interviewees, we think Marcos had reason to be afraid of being interrogated live by her without a lawyer/spokesman by his side.

Marcos’ absence reminded us of that Friday (01/07/2022) when he was also a no-show in the conference presided over by Election Commissioner Rowena Guanzon hearing petitions to disqualify him as a presidential candidate. He said then it was his fever. Now it’s Soho’s bias.

Had his live Soho interview pushed through, Marcos could have ended up fidgeting in the hail of questions on hidden wealth, martial law abuses, Swiss accounts, a gold hoard, tax-evasion, his failure to earn a college degree despite unlimited funds, lack of leadership and executive ability, etc.

With a high-rating TV program showing not only his answers but also his demeanor, Marcos could have lost votes had he joined the interviews. That is how cruel the medium could be.

His alibi that Soho was biased against him looked lame as she has been consistently asking tough questions on all the guests who were given similar fair time to respond.

Many of Soho’s questions were what a compromised TV host would not ask. It was evident that hers was not an entertainment show or a PR job to project or protect the good side of anybody. It was a hardball public affairs program.

We did not see or feel in the Soho interviews any bias for or against any of the presidential wannabes present or absent.

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The interviewees were asked about their proposed programs, their views on corruption, the COVID pandemic and the economy, foreign investments, maritime incursions by China, vote-buying and election contributions, poverty alleviation, and job generation.

For those interested, some of the interviewees’ detailed or qualified answers are in the news section.

Domagoso who loves to talk of his having been poor was asked about tong collections from sidewalk vendors, what his most valuable property now is, his pocketing millions in campaign contributions, and his flitting from one party or political partner to another.

Former national police chief Lacson cited his tough anti-corruption stance. He was asked about his having been linked to some high-profile kidnapping and murder cases, and his going into hiding when the heat was on.

Pacquiao, a boxer-turned-politician, was asked about his absences in Senate sessions and his tax cases, his handing out cash in his sorties, how he reconciles his Bible-based religious beliefs with his stand on LGBTQ issues, and his relationship with President Duterte.

Robredo was asked about the consolidation of the fragmented opposition, why she was running as an independent candidate after being elected VP under the Liberal Party, and the comparative shortness of her having served in elective offices.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 25, 2022)

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