Corruption provides heat to vice presidential debate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — With the son and namesake of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos among the vice presidential candidates, Sunday’s debate was immediately fired up on the topic of corruption with Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano leading the charge.

Read: Cayetano hits at Marcos on corruption issue during vice presidential debate

Thousands, including supporters of the candidates, who packed the Quadricentennial Pavillon of the University of Santo Tomas erupted in cheers and jeers as the two rivals questioned each other during the official vice presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections and CNN Philippines with its media partner, Business Mirror.

The exchanges between the two senators and the animated audience set the tone for the more than 3-hour debate. All six candidates answered all the questions, some taking more time than others to explain their positions on the issues of corruption, poverty, human rights, political dynasty, peace and order, urban and traffic issues, connectivity and foreign policy.

In addition to Senators Cayetano and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., also present were Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, and Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

The debate was interrupted several times when protesters shouted “Never Again!” – an anti-Marcos slogan – when Marcos tried to speak or respond to questions about his family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth triggered by Cayetano’s remarks.

At the first opportunity, Cayetano lunged at Marcos, his partymate in the Nacionalista Party, saying the Marcos family stole $10 billion, and questioned where he got the hundreds of millions of pesos reflected in his statement of assets and liabilities. Cayetano said Marcos only earns a small salary as a government employee.

Saan mo kukunin ang ganung kalaking pera?” Cayetano asked Marcos. [Where will you get that much money?]

Marcos didn’t reply directly. In his defense, he just flatly denied Cayetano’s claims and questioned where he got his figures.

The wide-ranging topics of the debate were more than enough for the candidates to handle, providing the audience a comprehensive view of each one’s strong and weak points.

The exchanges between Cayetano and Marcos and later between Marcos and Robredo drew out the strongest reactions from the crowd.

Robredo said the Marcoses should acknowledge the wrongs committed during the Marcos regime and, more importantly, return the money the family allegedly stole from the people.

“I cannot give what I do not have,” Marcos said in reply, denying he has any ill-gotten wealth.

He also said he will apologize to anyone he has hurt personally during the Marcos years but he could not apologize for anyone else, including his father.

Cayetano, wearing a red shirt under a black jacket, was combative from the time he was called to the stage, raising a clenched-fist greeting to the audience.

He could not let Marcos get off so easily. “Martial law was not about peace and order, it was about keeping one family in Malacañang,” he said.

The debate also featured questions answerable by “Yes” or “No.” For some senators, their answers on Sunday differed from their previous responses to the same questions.

LOOK: VP candidates' stand on issues

On the question of whether they supported same-sex marriage, all six candidates said “No.” But Escudero, Marcos and Robredo flip-flopped, all three previously supported it. Robredo, however, says she favors civil union.

All the candidates also said it is now time to pass an anti-dynasty law, with Cayetano, Trillanes and Marcos changing their earlier positions.

Everyone, except Cayetano, opposed the death penalty for corruption. And everyone agreed to reduce income taxes and make telecommunications companies accountable for slow Internet speed.

Four of the six candidates said they will not run for president in the future. Cayetano said he has no plans to run at the moment, and Trillanes refused to give a categorical answer.

Political lines were drawn among the largely partisan crowd, evident in the heckling and cheering of particular candidates.

The atmosphere was more like a college basketball match where the opposing teams try to drown out each other’s cheers – making one wonder whether they came to listen to the candidates or just to show support for them.

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