MANILA – Memo to candidates: if you bring a celebrity to a debate, expect celebrity to steal some of the thunder during the show.
A small crowd gathered at the end of the ABS-CBN “Harapan 2013” debates past midnight on Monday, just as the 12 senatorial candidates came down from the platform.
However, a lot of the onlookers were not looking at the candidates but at one person seated near the front: celebrity Richard Yap, more popularly known as “Ser Chief” of the popular ABS-CBN morning soap opera “Be Careful With My Heart.”
Yap attended the Harapan debates to show support for Team PNoy candidate and former Senator Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr.
Magsaysay is the only candidate being endorsed by Yap in the May 13 elections.
Yap gamely posed for some photos and then escaped from the crowd after guards escorted him through a different exit. Magsaysay later said the actor had been staying at the venue since 8 p.m. and had to leave.
Asked why “Ser Chief” decided to endorse him, Magsaysay said Yap’s wife is a close friend of his former chief of staff.
“He checked my background and platform and then agreed to endorse me. He is doing it for free,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com.
Magsaysay admitted that Yap’s popularity can draw a crowd. During the event, some of the onlookers kept moving nearer to the front just to catch a glimpse of the famous actor.
Bam has largest crowd, Risa has loudest
A total of 12 candidates attended the live debates at La Consolacion College in Manila. The 12 are Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Jun Magsaysay and Koko Pimentel from the administration-backed Team PNoy coalition, Ernesto Maceda and Mitos Magsaysay of the United Nationalist Alliance, Rizalito David, Marwil Llasos and JC delos Reyes of Ang Kapatiran, Teddy Casino of Makabayan Coalition, Edward Hagedorn and Ramon Montano.
Aquino easily drew the biggest crowd of supporters, numbering around 110 people including members of the Filipino Liberal Youth. Around 100 members of the People Power Volunteers for Reform also showed up to lend support for both Aquino and Hontiveros.
Other candidates who drew a large crowd of supporters were Casino (79-81 people), Pimentel (56), Maceda (50), Jun Magsaysay (50) and the Ang Kapatiran party bets (50).
While Aquino had the larger crowd, it was Hontiveros who had the loudest supporters and cheered every time she gave an answer during the debates. Her supporters also had the largest handheld tarps during the event.
There were very few fireworks during the debates since the candidates were given a limited time to answer the questions.
During the “paspasan” rounds, the candidates were given 15 seconds each about their stand on issues such as the divorce bill, the lowering of the age of discernment in the juvenile justice law, and if religious groups should endorse candidates.
Of the 12 candidates, only Hagedorn and Hontiveros backed the proposal to legalize divorce in the country while the other 10 opposed it.
Hontiveros, in particular, said she favors divorce in cases of “wife battery, child abuse and marital rape.”
Meanwhile, Hagedorn and Maceda also stood out from the pack by saying that they favor lowering the age of discernment for the juvenile justice law. Both candidates noted that criminal syndicates are using youths to commit crimes since they cannot be jailed.
Almost all the candidates said it is the right of religious groups to choose which candidates they want to support in the coming elections. Hontiveros, however, said there should be separation of church and state and that religious groups should follow the rules set by the Omnibus Election Code.
Hagedorn, Montano earn laughs
Still, some of the candidates earned laughs from the audience at La Consolacion due to their spontaneity.
On the question of whether religious groups should endorse candidates, Hagedorn drew laughter when he answered: “Parang malungkot kung di sila mag eendorso.”
Retired cop Ramon Montaño also had the crowd in stitches during the “face-off round” with fellow candidate JC delos Reyes of Ang Kapatiran. Delos Reyes asked Montaño what he would do to reform the national police force and then added if he could shed more light on the 1972 ambush on Juan Ponce Enrile.
Montano then replied: “2 questions yun ah."
The former police general said he wants to isolate the Philippine National Police (PNP) from politics. He also reiterated his earlier statement that Enrile’s ambush was staged, contrary to Enrile’s own claim in his biography that it was real.