MANILA, March 9, 2004 (STAR) Imagine presidential candidate Raul Roco and his wife engaged in a verbal skirmish live on national television.

That could be more entertaining than any comedy or drama series that televiewers await on prime time every night.

Supporters of presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr. would like Roco to do just that: have a one-on-one debate with his wife, Sonia, if he is raring for a national debate either among presidential candidates or among their spouses.

"Because Roco does not seem too keen about having a one-on-one debate with himself, after all the major contenders had shown no interest in participating in his proposed TV debates, he is now suggesting the inclusion of the spouses of the presidential rivals in such a televised talk fest," said Boots Cadsawan, national president of Filipinos for Peace, Justice and Progress Movement (FPJPM).

If Roco is ready to pit his wife in a debate, Malacañang said First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo would have to decide for himself if he wants to engage in a verbal tussle the wives of the other presidential candidates.

However, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said any debate among the spouses will only be considered by the Palace after Poe has agreed to take part in the verbal contest.

"That is something that can be tackled later on," he said. "But for now, we want to know if Fernando Poe Jr. is willing."

Bunye challenged Poe to confirm whether is he is willing to join the Commission on Elections-sponsored debate among the six presidential contenders.

"Let us talk first about the debate of our principals," he said. "Our President desires that all of the principals should be there. Let us not complicate the situation."

Cadsawan said Roco was obviously "clinging to and recycling" his debate proposal in a desperate effort to grab media mileage and boost his fading candidacy after the standard-bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) had dislodged him from his previous No. 1 rank in surveys.

"Considering that Roco is clutching at his debate proposal in a desperate attempt to give a badly needed shot in the arm to his flagging quest for the presidency, he would do well to satisfy his craving for media mileage by engaging in a one-on-one debate with his wife Sonia," he said.

"With Mrs. Arroyo and Sen. Panfilo Lacson following the footsteps of FPJ in professing a lack of appetite for such a verbal wrangling, it seems that Roco is the only supposedly serious candidate who wants to spend his time in a televised debate in lieu of spending it on more productive endeavors like barnstorming the provinces or holding dialogues with the masa."

Earlier, the KNP said Roco should just debate with himself after Mrs. Arroyo and Lacson both announced they were no longer interested in joining the debate, upon learning that Poe had expressed preference for fruitful dialogues with the people.

"Because a national debate seems to be the be-all and end-all of Roco’s collapsing presidential campaign, it would be good for him to go on a one-on-one debate with himself in order for him to attract the media mileage that he so desperately craves for," the KNP said.

Lawyers for Poe said there are no compelling reasons for Poe to take part in a televised national debate as Roco has proposed.

"The debate only shows the ability of the candidate to speak well, which is a craft that is simply learned and acquired by those who have the opportunity to do so," the FPJ Lawyers for Good Governance (FLGG) said in a statement.

The FLGG said eloquence is not an indication of leadership, and that a president need not be a profound debater for him to be able to lead the country.

"Leadership is a result of charisma and character — things that you are either born with, or you are not. Charisma is demonstrated in the ability of a person to persuade others to believe in him.

"Character is shown in the ability of a person to ‘walk his talk.’ Charisma and character depend on how others would perceive the person."

The FLGG said a debate is not a forum for leadership, and that it only gives some candidates a chance to capitalize on the inability of others to speak or show his wit before an audience.

"They say FPJ knows nothing, and that he cannot solve the country’s problems," the FLGG said.

"To those now sitting in government who claim they have the answer to the problems of the country, where have you brought our country today?

"How come the poor have become poorer? Even the rich are complaining, prices of basic commodities went up and the peso-dollar rate continues to down-spiral," FLGG said.

There are no requirements under the Constitution for a presidential candidate to take part in a national debate, the FLGG added. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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