Presidential race frontrunner Bongbong Marcos on Tuesday joined his first debate ahead of the May 9 polls, facing off with three rivals who are lagging behind in pre-election surveys.
The only son and namesake of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. showcased his plans for the country along with labor leader Leody de Guzman, former defense chief Norberto Gonzales, and former Palace spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
"Hindi magiging madali ang pag-ahon, ang pagbangon mula sa krisis ng pandemya, mula sa krisis ng ekonomiya na dala ng pandemya... Tapat ang aking paniniwala na ang unang hakbang para tayo ay makaharap ng kahit anong hamon ay ang pagkakaisa," Marcos said.
The debate, organized by the broadcasting arm of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, who has endorsed Marcos' and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte's election bids, was shunned by four other candidates trailing behind the former senator in pre-election surveys.
Marcos nemesis Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Ping Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno have all snubbed the SMNI debate due to conflicts in schedules and personal reasons.
Should he win as president, Marcos said he would be open to disclosing his net worth to the public, backtracking from his previous remarks that he would reject doing so if it would be used for politicking.
"Sa aking palagay, hindi na kailangang palitan ang batas at nasa bawat opisyal na yan kung sila ay handang ilabas ang kanilang SALN," he said.
"Sa issue ng pagbigay ng SALN, para sa akin hindi problema yun. hindi lang ako nagsusulat ng SALN for the last six years. Pero kung mapalad ako, gagawa ako, ibibigay sa publiko...Kapag ako ay susulat muli ng SALN ito ay gagawin kong public information," he added.
Presidential candidates who joined the debate answered questions on forging alliances with other countries, tensions in the West Philippine Sea, the country's insurgency problem, education, and food security.
Here's how Marcos answered the questions of the panelists on key issues facing the country:
- Asked what his key programs will be, Marcos said he would focus on job creation, particular for MSMEs, through improving the country's agriculture and tourism sector.
- On foreign policy, Marcos said the government should work towards the interest of the Philippines, adding that the country should be a part of the foreign policy of any other nation.
- On transparency in governance, Marcos said he was ready to make his SALN "public information" should he be elected president.
- On protecting fishermen at the West Philippine Sea, Marcos said the government should prioritize ensuring that fishermen can go back safely to their fishing areas. If needed, the government should also consider putting a military presence in the contested waters to assert the country's sovereignty in these areas.
- On food security, Marcos proposed to invest on research and development to help grow more varieties of rice. He also pushed to provide more assistance to farmers.
- On peace and security, Marcos said the state should defend itself against those who want to overthrow it. He supports the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the communist rebels. He also pushed for the continuation of the Balik-Loob Program and commended the work of the NTF-ELCAC in addressing armed conflict.
- Marcos said he does not subscribe to armed struggle, saying that changing the government through violent means is not acceptable to him.
- Marcos said he has yet to keep a record of those who help him finance his campaign.
- Marcos believes that the education system in the country can be improved by giving teachers enough support and upgrading educational facilities.
- On protecting indigenous peoples, Marcos said the government should recognize and honor ancestral lands: "Kilalanin natin na sila ang may-ari ng lupa."
Tuesday's debate is a first for Marcos who is leading in pre-election surveys by a wide gap. He had previously rejected interview and forum invitations organized by GMA News, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasterng Pilipinas, and CNN Philippines.