The five people vying for the country's highest post faced off for the first time on Sunday — and it didn't take long before sparks began to fly.
The first leg of the PiliPinas Debates 2016, organized by the Commission on Elections in cooperation with GMA Network and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saw Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago tackle issues while taking shots at each other during the two-hour event at Capitol University in Cagayan De Oro.
It was the first presidential debate ever held in Mindanao, and the first time in 24 years that the Comelec held a presidential debate.
The candidates were grilled about their respective track records, as well as issues involving poverty and development and Mindanao.
Roxas, the administration bet, set the tone by taking broadsides at his rivals during his opening statement.
"Kung ihahambing natin ang pagpili ng pangulo tulad ng pagpili natin sa magmamaneho sa ating mga anak sa araw-araw, sino ang pipiliin natin? Kanino natin ipagkakatiwala ang kaligtasan ng ating mga anak? Sa isang tao na may mga kaso ng pagnanakaw, sa isang mainitin ang ulo na maaaring maaksidente [o] sa isang ngayon pa lang natututong magmaneho?" Roxas said.
"O ipagkakaloob po natin ito sa isang taong matagal niyo nang kilala, matagal nang nanilbihan at ni minsan hindi kayo pinahamak o pinagsamantalahan?" he added.
The other candidates used their opening statements to talk about their respective advocacies.
Binay once again spoke about poverty as the biggest problem for the country. "Kahirapan pa rin problema ng bayan," he said, adding that his track record in Makati made him best suited to become president.
He said poverty was the issue he addressed when he served as longtime mayor of Makati City, the country's center of business and finance. Binay cited jobs creation as the reason for the rise of Makati as the country's richest city.
He also hit mentioned unnamed critics who are taking shots at his campaign with allegations of corruption.
"Siniraan ako at ang aking pamilya ng mga bagay-bagay. Ako ay manumuno sa ating bansa na dala-dala ang ating malawak na pamamahala at malasakit sa bayan," he said.
Santiago, meanwhile, spoke about her anti-corruption advocacy.
"Everybody wants to have the money of the government in their pockets,” she said, saying that corruption is the reason with the country is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia.
Duterte, meanwhile, spoke about his platform of peace and order in his opening.
"I am here because there is so much criminality. Drugs are flooding the country and there is so much corruption in the government. If I am the president I promise in three to six months and I will deliver. Economic growth is impossible unless we start with government," he said.
Poe, for her part, boasted that her administration would have "tunay na malasakit."
Elected senator in 2013, Poe said promised that 30 percent of the country's budget would be devoted to Mindanao if she became president.
It didn't take long before the candidates got in on the action, with Roxas and Binay trading barbs on multiple instances.
After Roxas defended his track record as head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Transportation and Communication, Binay said that the administration bet remained unpopular in Eastern Visayas because of his poor performance in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
"Pagkatapos ng nangyari sa Leyte, grabe ang galit sa kanya ng mga taga-Leyte dahil sa kapalkpakan niya," Binay said, adding that Roxas is afflicted with "analysis-paralysis."
Roxas and Binay are known political rivals since the 2010 vice-presidential elections wherein Binay beat Roxas in a slim margin of 700,000 votes.
Roxas, for his part, took an apparent swipe at Binay, hinting that the vice president used calamities for political gain.
"Hindi ako bumitaw hangga't nag-stabilize ang sitwasyon; hindi katulad ng iba na dumating at nag-helicopter, nagturista, umalis at marami na ngayong sinasabi," Roxas said.
Later, Roxas and Binay traded barbs over the peace and order situation in Makati, where Binay had previously served as mayor.
"Makati has the highest drug rate! Lahat ng mga mayayaman, lahat ng mga clubs, bawa't Biyernes, Sabado, diyan laganap ang droga sa Makati," Roxas said.
Binay replied: "Ewan ko kung saan 'yung statistics ni Mr. Roxas."
Roxas also got into it with Senator Grace Poe, whom he scored for lack of experience.
"Ipagpaumanhin ng aking kaibigang si Senadora Grace Poe na ang pagiging pangulo ay hindi OJT," he said.
Poe, who has led the Senate investigation into the anomalies surrounding the Metro Rail Transit 3, for her part noted that Roxas has already served under three administrations. Despite this, however, she said problems remain in the agencies which Roxas handled.
"Pasensya na po, pero marami na rin akong naimbestigahan tulad ng DILG at DOTC sa MRT at sa tingin ko naman, hindi mo kailangan ng napakahabang karanasan para malaman na kulang ang tulong ng gobyerno ng transportasyon para sa bayan," she said.
Duterte, meanwhile, also took a shot at Roxas when discussing Mindanao issues, saying that the "Tuwid Na Daan" platform of the administration was not as straight as it claimed
"Wala naman akong nakitang Tuwid na Daan, puro kulubot man 'yan," said Duterte, referring to Roxas' platform of anti-corruption.
Santiago, known for her fiery nature, also scored her fellow candidates for their promises to eradicate corruption without explaining how the government would pay for the programs.
"As I said, these are all promises way up in the sky. Promises in the sky is the program of government of many officials in the public office," Santiago said.
"Saan natin kukunin ang pera, yun ang tinatanong ko, saan?! Sino ang magbibigay, magdo-donate? Mga mayayaman ba? Dadagdagan ba natin [ang tax nila] dahil mayayaman sila?...Malaking problema yung where to source the funds. I can make an entire list from here to there of all my promises to you but that would each cost taxes," Santiago added.
Santiago also got into a tiff with Binay over a question about the anti-dynasty provision in the Constitution.
"Bakit naman ho magkakaroon ng batas para pagbawalan ang gustong magtrabaho, qualified naman at mahahalal naman sa isang malinis at marangal na halalan," said Binay.
Defensor replied that Congress still refuses to pass the Anti-Dynasty bill because its members are "self-interested" and themselves are members of dynasties.
Responding to Santiago's rebuttal, Binay reminded the public that even Santiago has a son who was elected.
Clarifying Binay's statement, Santiago said: "Mali ang sinabi. Ang anak ko, tumakbo na party-list representative. After one term, he did not run for another post." She said she currently has no other family member in government service.
But it wasn't all sparring during the debates, as Duterte and Santiago expressed mutual admiration for each other during the debate.
In his opening statement, Duterte said Santiago was one of two candidates qualified to lead the country.
Later, when Santiago was asked about her health, Duterte expressed support for the senator.
"I do not want to engage into an argument with the good Senator Miriam Santiago. She is telling you the truth," Duterte said.
"I do not see Senator Santiago passing away within the next 20 years. So what's the problem?" Duterte added.
With their closing statements, the candidates once again had a chance to expound on their policy platforms.
Binay hit the administration's underspending, saying it won't happen in his administration.
"Underspending, nakaka-apekto ho yan, nakaka-delay ng performance. Yung mga infrastructure requirements natin na makakatulong para sa pagpapadami ng kabuhayan, hindi ho nagagawa, kaya ho kailangan tayong magdagdag at gastusin ang pera para mabago ang ating buhay," he said.
Santiago, for her part, touted her background and experience.
"We are here looking for a real leader of the Philippines who will implement all the valuable suggestions that were made here this evening. But this is not a personality contest. This is not a show for entertainment," she said.
Duterte, meanwhile, once again highlighted his advocacy against crime and corruption.
"There's so much corruption, there's so much crime, so much drugs flooding the country. And seems that nobody is minding these through. Matagal na, we have been raising that problem. Every time, before a forum, we talk about this, about that," said Duterte.
"Kung bigyan n'yo ako ng pagkakataon — only if God wills it also — I will stop it, I said. This is an imposed restriction on me. Hindi ako nagpapabilib sa inyo. I will get rid of drugs, supress crime, stop corruption in government in a matter of three to six months."
Poe, an advocate of the Freedom of Information bill in the Senate, promised to make it her first act if she becomes president.
"Kailangan magkaroon ng pakikipaglaban sa korupsyon. Kapag ako po ay naging pangulo, unang executive order, magkakaroon ng freedom of information na matagal na nating ginugusto," she said.
Roxas, meanwhile, spoke about his background, saying his being rich was not an obstacle to helping the poor.
"Hindi ko pinoproblema ang kakainin ko sa bukas. Bakit ko gustong maging pangulo? Dahil gusto kong maging ganito din ang buhay ninyo," he said.
Afterwards, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said that he was "very satisfied" with how the first presidential debate turned out.
"I thought it was a world class event both in terms of substance and form," Bautista said.
The chairman said he's looking forward to the next debate and he hopes that the other networks with their partner print media will either level with or exceed the turnout of the first one. —reports from Kathrina Charmaine Alvarez, Rose-An Jessica Dioquino, Trisha Macas, Elizabeth Marcelo, Mark Merueñas, Veronica Pulumbarit/JST, GMA News