Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On the final installment of CNN Philippines’ 2019 senatorial forum series, four more candidates joined the program: community organizer Bernard Austria, labor lawyer Sonny Matula, lawyer and former teacher Joan Sheelah Nalliw, and physician Dr. Willie Ong.
During the forum, the senatorial aspirants shared their platforms and advocacies. For Austria, his key advocacy is to fix the political party system in the Philippines, hoping it can be more ideology-based in the future. For Matula, his focus is to put an end to contractualization and to push for a national minimum wage. Nalliw advocates for environmental protection, indigenous peoples’ rights, and federalism; and Ong’s focus is on ensuring the proper implementation of universal healthcare.
The candidates were also asked several questions concerning the state of the nation, such as our relationship with China and the administration’s war on drugs.
With China helping fund billion-dollar projects in various countries around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, many have been questioning its motives for the so-called "debt-trap diplomacy." Over the last three years, we’ve also seen improved relations and an increase in economic relations between the Philippines and China, the most recent being the China-funded Kaliwa Dam project — which Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez says is necessary in addressing the water shortage in Metro Manila.
On the question of whether Filipinos should be concerned about debt-trap diplomacy, Matula says we should be cautious about entering into contracts with China. Ong echoes the same sentiment, saying we should carefully weigh the pros and cons in each deal we enter with other countries. For Austria, he believes that it isn’t wrong to look at projects with China as opportunities, but there is a need to look at the experiences of other countries that have incurred a lot of debts.
“Dapat tignanin din natin ‘yung sinabi ni [Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad] na malaking market at malaking pera ‘yung nasa China pero tignan natin ‘yung comparative advantage,” says Austria. “‘Yung advantage ba nasa atin? Pwede naman ‘yung foreign direct investment. Bakit doon tayo fumo-focus sa Build, Build, Build na kung saan sinasangla natin ang ating teritoryo?”
When it comes to the question of how we should be addressing the problem of illegal drugs in the country, all candidates agree on the importance of tackling drug suppliers rather than focusing on users. “Let’s try the root cause,” says Nalliw. “Saan ba talaga nagmumula ang mga problem natin sa droga na ‘yan? Diyan ba sa mga maliliit lamang o doon ba sa mga malalaking nagpapasok ng mga droga?”
Ong points out that drug use is as much of a health problem as it is a criminal problem. “Ang problema sa rehab centers, kahit 6 months na nandoon [ang users], maraming rume-relapse. Kulang tayo sa psychiatrist, kulang sa gamot, kulang sa [mga] halfway house. Itong paggamit sa droga, isa siyang addiction.”
Matula, on the other hand, says there is a need to probe the rising drug-related killings. “Marami na ang collateral damage [sa war on drugs]. ‘Yung mga inosente ay nadadamay. Dapat mag-create tayo ng isang high level commission para pag-aralan at imbistigahan ‘yung mga nakaraang patayan.”
When the candidates are asked to answer either Yes or No to the question “Is it time to end the war on drugs?” however, the votes are split. Austria and Matula both answer yes, it is time to end the war on drugs, while Nalliw and Ong answer no.
Prior to the forum, CNN Philippines Life asked the senatorial aspirants rapid fire questions on their priority bills and the principles they live by. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
The first thing I'll do if I win the elections is i-review ‘yung mga batas na may kinailaman sa mga mamamayan natin… May mga dapat i-ammend, may mga dapat na ipasok.
I knew I was called to become a public servant siguro 'pag nanalo tayo [that's when I can call myself a public servant].
The first bill I will file if elected is ‘yung political party funding.
I want to become a senator because I want to serve the ordinary people. I want to be their voice.
Principles I always live by are [the] principles of authentic humanism. ‘Yun ‘yung aming basic party principles [sa] partido: Honest[y], integrity.
The first thing I'll do if I win the elections is to address the issue of contractualization.
I knew I was called to become a public servant [during] my earlier years.
The first bill I will file if elected is a bill strengthening the right to security of tenure of the workers.
I want to become a senator because there is a need for the voice of the workers in the Senate.
A principle I always live by is to help others.
Joan Sheelah Nawill
The first thing I'll do if I win the elections is to pass or adapt the [Consultative Committee chair Reynato] Puno draft of the federal constitution, which was commissioned by the president ... And also to pass ‘yung tungkol sa Freedom of Information... so that the people will know kung ano ‘yung mga government transactions going on.
I knew I was called to become a public servant when I started ministry as a youth leader in our school and in the church. Until nung nag-trabaho na ‘ko, isa pa rin akong youth leader.
The first bill I will file if elected is the bill to adapt the Puno draft on the federal constitution.
I want to become a senator because I would want the youth to have a voice in the Senate. And also the indigenous peoples in the Philippines.
A principle I always live by is if others can, why can't we? Why can't I?
Dr. Willie Ong
The first thing I'll do if I win the election is thank God.
I knew I was called to become a public servant when I saw many of my patients dying.
The first bill I will file if elected is I want to make sure universal health law is implemented correctly.
I want to become a senator because thousands of patients are urging me to run.
A principle I always live by is honesty.