POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2022 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Safer to keep one’s mouth shut at times

It was on the Senate beat before the old Congress was shut down in 1972 by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos that I first encountered the cautionary line “Less talk, fewer mistakes; no talk, no mistake” among politicians feeling inadequate or vulnerable.

When we reporters asked, for instance, the late Sen. Gene Magsaysay on current issues, he would either say something short and safe, or talk of more familiar topics, or not comment at all.

Fireworks erupt at SMNI senatorial debate as Luke Espiritu lashes at Larry Gadon and Harry Roque over human rights issues. Photo: PhilSTAR

That helped keep him out of troublesome debates. Being amiable and carrying the same surname as his popular brother Ramon, the beloved president, was apparently enough to keep him afloat.

Will the same formula work in the current election campaign for president, vice president, and senator? It depends to some extent on the candidate’s political branding and how skeletons in the family closet, or past antics and statements would come back to haunt him.

In the SMNI senatorial debate on Wednesday, who would have thought that senatorial candidates Larry Gadon and Harry Roque would be ambushed by less known labor lawyer Luke Espiritu based on their past statements?

Espiritu’s firing on the two Senate bets on the ticket of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was triggered by their defense of the martial rule of the elder Marcos and the bloody regime of Duterte.

Gadon said the SMNI debate should not be used for spreading propaganda on abuses of the Marcos regime, while Roque pointed out that there were no human rights cases in the US or in local courts against Marcos Jr.

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In a sharp rebuttal, Espiritu recited statistics on documented torture and executions under Marcos – cutting Gadon short (“it’s my time, huwag kang bastos!”) when he tried to interrupt the speaker’s citing of the records.

When Roque pointed out that there are no human rights cases in the United States or in local courts against Marcos Jr., Espiritu raked up Roque’s past crusades against rights abuses, noting that he now sings a different tune after being included in Marcos’ ticket.

Espiritu’s retort to what he said were lies had me tweeting that a Senate seat be reserved for him under the ticket of Leody de Guzman (for president) and Walden Bello (for vice president).

It’s unfortunate that with some major candidates evading the debates, voters are deprived of the opportunity to assess their mental capacity and demeanor when communicating to their constituents.

Candidates must not be marketed like a can of sardines or a roll of tissue paper. There should be a respectful public process for weighing their true value under the packaging. Their participation in public debates and forums is one such process.

Voters must be able to predict how national candidates are likely to navigate in treacherous geopolitical waters such as the invasion of Ukraine. A debate could bring out their strengths and weaknesses under stress.

A leading national candidate stuck his neck out Monday declaring that the Philippines must stay neutral in the developing crisis. “I don’t think there’s a need to make a stand,” he said. “We are not involved, except for our nationals (in the affected areas).”

But three days later, he swallowed back his avowed neutrality. He now says that the Philippines must stand “united with the rest of the world for Russia to respect Ukraine’s freedom and its citizens’ democratic way of life.”

If he shifted position on a similarly sensitive issue in the middle of a televised presidential debate, he could trigger a scorching Espiritu-like reaction from his rivals and the public.

A safe option is to keep away (“no talk, no mistake”) from debates/forums where the questions are not leaked to him by the organizers and where the panelists are not willing to play along.

 PH joins censure of Russ invasion

In a surprise move Monday, the Philippines voted to adopt the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

It was a departure from the neutral position reiterated for days by key administration officials, including presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Just last year, on May 25, the Duterte administration highlighted what it called the “dramatic reinvigoration of Philippines-Russia relations,” as the partners marked the 45th anniversary of bilateral ties.

Duterte loves to say he is a friend of Russia President Vladimir Putin, who ordered last week’s invasion of Ukraine, justifying the action as a defense of Moscow-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Duterte, who has made two official trips to Russia since becoming president in 2016, refers to Putin as his “idol.” Early in his term, he started talking of a Beijing-Manila-Moscow axis.

Voting for the adoption of the UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion, the Philippines cited the principle of sovereignty and the “sovereign equality of States, (which) is enshrined in the United Nations Charter.”

Saying that news reports of casualties cannot be trusted, the Philippines gave its own estimate of 14,000 since 2014, but did not give the source of its figures.

“In the current fog of lies, we have yet to determine the true casualties on both sides,” Manila’s mission said in its statement posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

The Philippines called for the protection of civilians and public infrastructures. It underscored the need for a ceasefire.

“We especially condemn the use of separatism and secession as a weapon of diplomacy for inviting and inflicting terrible cruelties and indiscriminate killings far in excess of that of any other kind of conflict. We saw this in the Balkans and in Africa,” the Philippines said.

“We call for massive assistance commensurate with the growing humanitarian crisis and echo the UN Secretary General’s appeal for respect of humanitarian principles to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures in Ukraine. Safe access to humanitarian assistance must be assured by the most effective means,” it added.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2022)

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