PRESIDENTIAL debates have so far approximated the ambience of a circus rather than become occasions for intelligent exchange on socio-political platforms and vision. The sad consequence is that the electorate remains at a loss on the future of Philippine democracy.

Political entertainment at its most crass was seen in the first two debates in Cagayan de Oro in February and in Cebu City last March.

Debating issues regarding corruption, crime, leadership competence, and political vision, the candidates seemed to have abandoned substance for flair and the ability to work up the crowd.

Liberal Party bet and administration candidate Mar Roxas opened the schoolyard fight by pouncing on Grace Poe’s inexperience in office, saying that the “presidency is not an on-the-job training.”

Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, lashed out at each other as they argued over the jarring contrast between Makati the business district (due to the Ayalas and private developers) and Makati the seedy city run by the Binays.

Sen. Miriam Santiago, as usual, played jester as she justified her eligibility in running for office, saying she is still alive: “Hindi ako pinatay ng guardian angel ko.”

While viewers of the first round of debates got a kick out of the candidates pulling at each other’s pigtails, hardly any substantial debate happened.

If only the candidates were as aggressive in commenting on the issues as they were in tearing one another down like kids fighting in a sandbox, voters would have a better time discerning whom to vote for in May.

The second debate was hardly any improvement as the candidates continued to brawl and babble, even without Santiago.

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Perhaps the second debate was worse since in the first hour-and-a-half, the candidates wasted time debating the rule whether candidates could bring notes to the podium.

When the matter was settled however, Binay insisted on bringing documents to the stage.

The rumble continued with the candidates indulging in personal attacks.

Binay brought up Poe’s American citizenship, and Poe retaliated by citing the corruption allegations against the former Makati mayor.

The same allegations were made by Roxas against Binay.

Meanwhile Duterte again declared Roxas’s Wharton management degree was a fake, without citing any proof.

Too bad the Commission on Elections-sponsored presidential debates merely added to the confusion of the electorate.

Political analysts commented that topics covered by the presidential debates were not discussed extensively.

UST Political Science Department Chair Dennis Coronacion said the debate provided the public a glimpse of the candidates’ character.

The third installment of the “PiliPinas” debates held in Pangasinan last April 24 enabled the candidates somehow to redeem themselves. Finally they were able to explain to the public their platforms and approaches.

Although mudslinging is perhaps unavoidable even in presidential debates, candidates should always strive for focus on issues, not on personal attacks or muckraking.

In focusing on political profanities and drollery in the previous debates, candidates failed to educate voters on what they could bring to the Malacañan table.

What they achieved was to somehow make quite a claim to rivaling stand-up comics.

The way they savaged one another should put Vice Ganda with his sarcasm and outright put-downs to shame.

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