11 candidates face off at CNN Philippines Senatorial Debate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 27) — Eleven senatorial candidates go head-to-head in the culmination of the CNN Philippines senatorial fora.

The candidates face off with other Senate aspirants on their stand on key issues, as the 2019 midterm elections draws near.

Gary Alejano

MAGDALO Representative Gary Alejano took part in the first CNN Philippines Senatorial Forum in December 2018. A member of the opposition slate Otso Diretso, Alejano is also a staunch critic of the Duterte administration.

He is vocal about asserting the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea. In December, he filed a bill seeking to declare July 12 as the “West Philippine Sea Victory Day” to recognize the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which recognises the Philippines’ sovereign rights in some of the features in the contested waterway and invalidates China’s nine-dash line claim on practically the entire sea.

Alejano was a Marine captain when he joined other junior officers in leading the infamous Oakwood mutiny in 2003.

The former mutineer wants to create a Department of Maritime and Oceanic Affairs to utilize the archipelago’s resources in hopes of addressing sea concerns.

He is against same-sex unions.

Raffy Alunan

Rafael Alunan is one of the guest candidates in President Rodrigo Duterte’s slate. A former Interior Secretary, Alunan is vying again for a Senate seat under the President’s ticket after he failed to win in the 2016 polls.

The former Interior Chief is in favour of capital punishment for the destruction of forests and watersheds, as well as irresponsible mining — adding to the list of crimes such as murder, illegal drug use, terrorism, human trafficking, plunder and corruption.

Should he bag a Senate seat this time, Alunan vowed to file a bill to reform the criminal justice system, as well as push for educational reform.

Alunan is in favour of legalising medical marijuana. He is also in favour of placing Mindanao under martial law, citing the Mindanaoan’s positive reception to stronger military presence in the island.

Glenn Chong

Former Biliran Representative Glenn Chong, in his bid for a Senate seat, calls for electoral reforms. He has criticised the automated elections system, and wants a hybrid between a manual polling system and an automated one in order to avoid possible cheating in poll results.

Chong, during the CNN Philippines March 27 forum, voiced support for the Philippines' withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. He argued the country should operate without submitting to foreign powers, adding that the Philippines has sufficient judicial and democratic systems in place.

The Senate aspirant is in favour of death penalty for heinous crimes and a transition to a federal form of government.

Chong also believes government must take a look at the country’s power requirements to curb blackouts in the Philippines.

Neri Colmenares

Makabayan senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares made headlines recently after he exposes the so-called “one-sided” loan agreements between the Philippines and China on the Chico River Pump Irrigation project. The project, which is expected to supply water to more than 4,000 families and 21 barangays, was criticised for having high interest rates and an express waiver of sovereign immunity of patrimonial assets in favour of China.

Colmenares, a former House Representative of Bayan Muna Party-list, calls for a national minimum wage. He also eyes an efficient mass transport system to solve the Philippines’ traffic woes, adding that the country’s airports must also be decongested.

During the second senatorial forum in January, the former solon said yes when asked if Philippine media is under threat.

Colmenares said more activists like him are needed in the Senate to press national issues further.

Ronald dela Rosa

Former Bureau of Corrections chief Ronald dela Rosa garnered attention when he went on stage in the December forum. He was heckled by the University of the Philippines’ audience when he explained his push for the reimposition of the death penalty.

The former national police chief wants capital punishment for corrupt government officials. He also wants to reinstate the death penalty by executing convicted drug lords through a firing squad in Luneta.

Dela Rosa, a member of the President’s slate, has repeatedly defended the administration’s bloody drug war, as well as the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

He believes no one wants to listen to how Senate bets address the Philippines’ social concerns during sorties. Opposition bets under the Otso Diretso slate had criticized the regional party, Hugpong Ng Pagbabago (HNP), to which Dela Rosa belongs, for resorting to singing and other entertainment performances during campaign rallies.

Chel Diokno

Chel Diokno has highlighted his work as a human rights lawyer during his campaign for a Senate seat. He is calling for reforms in the Philippines’ justice system, criticising the slow pace of litigation.

He believes the government’s war on drugs is “completely unconstitutional” and “violative of due process." Diokno believes it is easy to tamper with the intelligence information on drug users that government receives, to include those who are innocent.

Diokno, a dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, wants to amend the Witness Protection Act -- to allow witnesses to testify within six months.

He wants to remove the President’s appointing power for members of the judiciary and the Ombudsman. Diokno, in a March interview in The Source, said too much appointing power is given to the President.

JV Ejercito

Re-electionist senator JV Ejercito wants to strengthen the Philippine railway system. He said the Philippines is 30 years behind infrastructure development to carry the 30,000 vehicles added to the country’s streets per month.

He also believes poverty is behind the proliferation of insurgent groups, and calls for faster economic development.

Ejercito is part of HNP, and is running alongside his estranged half-brother Jinggoy Estrada who is out on bail after a three-year detention for his alleged involvement in the multi-billion pork barrel scam.

The incumbent senator earlier raised concerns over two members of a family having separate Senate bids, warning that this could lead to a power monopoly in the upper House. Ejercito said he is against political dynasties.

Samira Gutoc

Samira Gutoc is the only female Senate aspirant to join the line-up of debaters. The invitation has been repeatedly extended to other senatorial candidates such as Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Cynthia Villar among others — but they have also repeatedly declined, saying they have other commitments..

Gutoc, a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, believes martial law in Mindanao is uncalled for and continues to pose threats to residents’ rights. She co-drafted the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which was ratified in January.

Gutoc, during CNN Philippines' January forum, said having more pro-women government officials will promote a safer environment for women. She also slammed government officials, including President Duterte, for making rape jokes.

To solve Metro Manila traffic, Gutoc believes government offices must be transferred to provinces for decongestion.

Florin Hilbay

Florin Hilbay helped argue the Philippines' case against China on the West Philippine Sea dispute before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and has criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for setting aside the country's arbitral tribunal victory.

He has also called for the re-examination of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law. Hilbay believes the measure is unconstitutional as the law calls for a “progressive” form of taxation.

In the second CNN Philippines’ Senatorial Forum, Hilbay slammed the influx of Chinese workers in the Philippines. He believes corruption in government abets this.

Should he win the elections, Hilbay said he will file a bill on the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program.

Romulo Macalintal

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal presented himself as a defender of the rights of senior citizens and persons with disability.

The lawyer, who gained popularity for handling Vice President Leni Robredo’s poll protest, wants the discount for medicine and medical services to increase by 10% increments after every decade until people at the age of 90 get 50% medical discount. He also pushes for a P100,000 allowance for centenarians.

His proposed short-term solution to traffic is the implementation of a four-day work week, wherein employees will be required to work for 10 hours. This, he said, would cut down the number of people in Metro Manila from five million a day to just a million.

Macalintal criticised the arrest of and the cases filed against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, classifying these as threats to press freedom. The Senate aspirant also flagged attempts to remove scholarships from students critical of the government.

Erin Tañada

Former Quezon 4th District Representative and deputy House Speaker Erin Tañada also pushes for a national minimum wage compared to the current regional set-up.

Tañada also believes political will is needed to solve air traffic congestion.

The former Deputy House Speaker was in favour of having a debate between the opposition and administration slates. In March, however, he criticised the Commission on Elections for declining to host a debate, calling the move a cop-out.

READ: CNN Philippines Senatorial Debate: What you need to know