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Leading presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. snubbed a presidential forum organized on Feb. 4 by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the latest of several interviews conducted by journalists.
The KBP is an organization of over a hundred television and radio stations in the country.
“Marcos’ refusal to be part of the KBP debate reflects his inability to engage the media and thus the voters unless he can set the rules and control the terms of engagement; he needs to set the rules, talk only from his comfort zone,” said Melinda De Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
“He rejects the kind of freewheeling exchange and close scrutiny that a free press should conduct during a campaign so voters can really get to know who they are voting for,” she said.
Political analyst and governance expert Antonio La Viña said it was clear Marcos was only “choosing friendly” interviewers.
“He is choosing interviews, not avoiding them, because he also appeared in other programs. But he also doesn’t want to be in the same room or program as other candidates. Ayaw niyang ma-compare siya (He doesn’t want to be compared with others),” La Viña said.
“What he is doing is a big disservice to the country…. When you try to control the narrative… you don’t [allow] the public to judge you [as a candidate],” he said.
The KBP-hosted presidential forum was the third presidential interview conducted by journalists that Marcos declined in the run-up to the start of campaign period on Feb. 8.
Marcos had snubbed the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews aired in January on GMA Network, the country's largest broadcaster following the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s licenses. His spokesperson accused Soho of being “biased against the Marcoses,” saying her questions would “just focus on negativity about BBM.”
While voters watched four other leading presidential candidates take a grilling from Soho about their track records and positions on issues, the hashtag #MarcosDuwag (#MarcosCoward) trended on social media.
Marcos’s camp may have noticed that his absence “hurt his chances” so they tried to make up for it by granting more media interviews in the following week, said University of the Philippine political science professor Jean Encinas Franco.
But Marcos was a no-show again at a scheduled interview with radio station DZBB’s “Ikaw Na Ba” slated the same week. The presidential bet, who was in Davao City at the time, could not be reached during the program. His camp said he had connectivity issues.
Marcos would have been asked about a disclosure by then Commission on Elections Commissioner Rowena Guanzon that she voted in favor of his disqualification over his failure to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985 when his father was president. It was a crime of moral turpitude, she said, which is a ground for disqualification under the Omnibus Election Code.
Guanzon, who retired a few days later, alleged that there were interventions to delay the release of the decision so that her vote would no longer count.
Even reporters covering Marcos in the campaign trail spoke of difficulties accessing the candidate. A television producer and guest coordinator whose team was granted an interview told the PCIJ that his campaign staff called to suggest that they go easy on the questions.
There have also been concerns that Marcos prefers “influencers” over journalists.
While there’s nothing wrong with doing light interviews and conversations with YouTube influencers, ABS-CBN news chief Ging Reyes said journalists’ experience covering issues allowed them to determine whether their interviewees were telling them the truth.
“There will be people who will give you an answer using flattery, or will embellish his or her answers. A trained professional journalist would see through that, maybe challenge that or even remind the person that these are the facts,” Reyes said.
Marcos must learn to answer the hard questions because the position he’s aspiring for demands it, said Franco.
“At the end of the day, when you become president, you will be facing difficult questions from Congress, from your opponents, and from the public. It’s par for the course.”
Franco said Marcos could not claim that questions about his father’s presidency were personal attacks against him.
“He’s using his father’s legacy to be elected. How can it be a personal issue on the part of his family [if] he’s using it? Nakikita mo ‘yung irony doon (Do you see the irony there)?”
“Okay lang gamitin niya (Marcos legacy) pero kapag tatanungin siya about it, hindi pwede (It’s okay to use his father’s legacy but you’re not allowed to ask questions about it)? That’s very unfair,” she said. END
File photo by Angie De Silva
— PCIJ, February 2022