Outnumbered Otso Diretso challenges admin bets to debate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — The opposition senatorial slate remains feisty despite being outnumbered, with their eight candidates challenging the administration's Senate bets to a debate.

"We are challenging the other slate, the administration slate to a debate anywhere, anytime. Kahit anong [Any] format ... Kahit [Even if it's] 13 versus eight, okay lang sa amin 'yun [that's okay with us,]" De La Salle University College of Law founding dean Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno said Wednesday.

Senatorial candidates of Otso Diretso, the opposition slate spearheaded by the formerly ruling Liberal Party, have been participating in televised forums and debates in the past months, including CNN Philippines' Senatorial Forum.

But it's a different tale for administration bets, especially those who are well within the so-called winner's circle, as some of them have not yet appeared in any of the debates organized by major TV networks.

Senators Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay and Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, House Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano, former Senators Lito Lapid, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and former Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go all have yet to appear in a televised debate.

Of them, Villar, Angara, Cayetano, Estrada, Revilla and Go are part of the 13-man slate of Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party of President Rodrigo Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

"'Yung ibang kandidato may takot na maresibuhan sila, mabilad 'yung kanilang mga binebentang idea," former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said.

[Translation: Other candidates are afraid that the people would pull receipts and that their ideas would be exposed in the open.]

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said those at the top of pre-election surveys may be feeling that they have nothing to gain, but a lot to lose if they attend a debate and say something which may negatively affect their campaign.

But Otso Diretso bets said it is important for all senatorial candidates to attend debates, with Macalintal even calling for these to be made mandatory.

"Please allow yourselves to be subject of public scrutiny. Para hindi sinasabi ng isang kolumnista ng Inquirer na umiiwas kayo dahil sigurado na kayong mananalo. [So that one columnist of the Inquirer won't say that you're avoiding debates because you're sure you'll win,]" former Bangsamoro Transition Commission member Samira Gutoc said.

Aside from Diokno, Hilbay, Macalintal and Gutoc, Otso Diretso is also composed of Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and former House Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada III.

Lacking funding and the vast political machinery available to administration candidates, only two of the eight opposition senatorial candidates have been listed by pollsters among the possible winners in the Senate race.