Roxas, Legarda ‘face off’ on pro-poor stance at ABS-CBN’s VP debate

Mar leads in terms of ‘believability’ ratings

MANILA, Philippines – Liberal Party bet Manuel “Mar” Roxas II endured a tough “grilling” by his closest rival in the vice presidential race in a debate in Manila on Sunday.

Roxas answered questions raised by Nationalist People’s Coalition candidate Sen. Loren Legarda on land reform, party allegiance and alleged inconsistencies in his pro-poor stance during ABS-CBN’s Harapan: The Vice-Presidential Debate aired live over Channel 2, ANC, Studio 23, and abs-cbnNEWS.com.

Legarda, who has been trailing Roxas in election surveys, accused Roxas of “watering down” the Cheaper Medicines Act by blocking drug price regulation and supporting the Expanded Value-Added Tax law that she claims worsened poverty.

Roxas voted for the EVAT law in 2005, but later pushed for tax exemptions on oil products and medicines for senior citizens. He was also the Cheaper Medicines Act’s primary author.

The Liberal Party bet shrugged off Legarda’s claims, saying these were non-issues that he and his family “listened to but sometimes laughed at.”

Roxas said that creating a board to regulate drug prices, as suggested by Legarda, would only add to the crop of “corrupt” regulatory boards in government.

He reminded Legarda that the Cheaper Medicines Act had effectively reduced the prices of medicines like Lipitor, which Legarda takes weekly to treat high cholesterol.

“[Meanwhile,] VAT will fund all the services that government should be giving,” he added.

“There is nothing wrong with raises taxes. What is wrong if these taxes are not used to benefit the people.”

Land reform case

Legarda also asked why Roxas’s family—who owns vast tracts of land in the country—had not distributed 1,600 hectares of land to farmers in Montalban, Rizal under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Roxas said he supports land reform, having voted in favor of CARP and its 5-year extension last 2009.

He declined to comment further, however, since a case involving the distribution of Rizal land is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Both Roxas and LP standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III have been the subject of land reform issues this elections, as they both come from landowning families.

In a heated exchange, Legarda also accused Roxas and the Liberal Party of having fickle party allegiances.

She cited how Roxas became a trade secretary under former President Joseph Estrada and President Gloria Arroyo—only to support their ouster later on.

“People wonder why the LP always ally themselves with whoever is in power, whoever is in [a powerful] position,” she told a smirking Roxas.

Roxas hit back at Legarda, who has jumped from one political party to another throughout her career. “First of all, people who don’t follow party lines or policies, I think, don’t know how to discipline themselves,” he said in Filipino.

Roxas stressed that he has always been part of the Liberal Party, a political party that his grandfather helped found in 1945.

He said he withdrew support from Arroyo because he later recognized her wrongdoing in government. Roxas claimed that, as Cabinet member, he had performed his duty regardless of who appointed him there.

“I have only one boss—the Filipino people,” he said.

Irrigation, anti-corruption

A farmer and teacher also got to ask each vice presidential candidate a question about pressing issues in the agriculture and education sector, respectively.

Asked by Nueva Ecija farmer Poling Magbitang about the LP’s plans to help farmers during El Niño (intense heatwaves that damage crops), Roxas said they will fund irrigation systems.

The LP suggests halting the importation of crops, especially rice, to allow domestic farmers to earn money, and boosting loan systems so farmers are not forced to sell their goods at low prices to traders.

Roxas also reiterated the party’s education program, that focuses on funneling funds saved from anti-corruption to the needs of the education sector.

Meanwhile, Legarda continued to take potshots at Roxas. While answering teacher Letty’s question on quality education, she mentioned that Roxas’s Senate committee on education had not yet passed a bill she filed that aims to increase teachers’ wages.

Viewers who aired their opinions on social networking site Twitter remarked that Legarda showed poor form by constantly attacking Roxas.

Others, however, thought the VP frontrunner deserved to be placed in the hot seat so voters could determine his stance on issues.

Vice presidential candidates who joined the festive debate were Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino), Bayani Fernando (Bagumbayan Party), Atty. Perfecto Yasay (Bangon Pilipinas), and Jay Sonza (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan).

Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice presidential candidates Edu Manzano reportedly declined to join the debate.

80 to 90% ‘trust’

Roxas enjoyed one of the highest “believability” ratings at the Harapan debate as he answered controversies raised by fellow candidates, primarily Legarda.

Randomly-selected audience members from Metro Manila and Naga in Luzon, Cebu in the Visayas, and Davao City in Mindanao, who were tuned in to the debate were given a total of 180 remote devices to rate each candidate’s believability.

Participants were given 5 seconds to rate how believable they thought each candidate was in answering particular questions raised during the forum.

Roxas consistently garnered high votes throughout the evening, with no less than 80 to 90% of an unspecified number of audiences saying they believed him when he answered particular questions.

He also led by a wide margin over other vice presidential candidates in informal online and text polls conducted among more than 2,900 users tuned in to the forum that ended well past midnight on March 22, 2010.

More than half (55%) of online users and 57% of text voters chose Roxas as the most believable candidate among those who joined the debate.

Binay and Fernando were tied at second place in the online poll at 14% each, followed by Yasay at 9% and Legarda at 5%.

Meanwhile, Binay placed second in the text poll at 15%, closely followed by Fernando at 13% and Yasay at 8%.

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