MANILA - A medical doctor-turned-social media star, a self-proclaimed crusader against stupidity, and a "thorn among the roses" are just some of the senatorial candidates that faced off in "Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate" on Sunday.
Candidates Samira Gutoc, Chel Diokno, Glenn Chong, Jiggy Manicad, Florin Hilbay, Willie Ong, Larry Gadon, Bam Aquino, and Francis Tolentino presented their positions on pressing national issues in an attempt to woo voters for the upcoming May 13 polls.
Seeking reelection under the opposition slate Otso Diretso, Aquino vowed to continue education reforms if given another chance at a Senate seat.
"Kung tayo po ay pagpalain (if given a chance), we will build on the reforms of education," he said in his opening message.
"Dagdagan ho natin ng ating pagpapaganda ng facilities, tulong sa mga guro at siguraduhin ho natin na ang bawat graduate may naghihintay na magandang trabaho ho sa kanila," he added.
(We will improve our facilities, help our teachers and we will ensure that every graduate will have a good job waiting for them.)
The minority senator has authored 19 laws, the most recent of which is the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, a measure that provides free tuition for students in state-run universities, colleges, and technical-vocational schools.
Former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong said he would push for clean elections following the killing of his aide last year.
"Makikipaglaban tayo para sa malinis na halalan," Chong said.
(We will fight for a clean election.)
Chong claimed that his corruption-free record is the reason behind the killing of his aide, Richard Santillan.
"Hindi po nila ako kayang bilhin. Ano ang ginawa nila? Pinagpapatay po kami at ang unang biktima ay si Richard Santillan," he said.
(They can't buy me so they are killing us and the first victim is Richard Santillan.)
"Mula sa 2010 hanggang sa 2019, 9 na taon nakikipaglaban po ako para sa inyo pero wala ho akong kaso. Ibig sabihin ho niyan ako po ay nagsasabi ng katotohanan," he added.
(From 2010-2019, I've been fighting for you for 9 years and I have no cases which means I am honest.)
If elected, former broadcast journalist Jiggy Manicad said he would push for agricultural reforms in the country.
"Ang akin pong isusulong pangunahin ay pagpaparami ng pagkain sa ating bayan, pagpapalakas ng ating agrikultura, isang maka- Pilipinong agrikultura ang aking isusulong," he said in his opening remarks.
(I would push for greater food production in the country, strengthening of our agriculture, and a Filipino-friendly one too.)
Manicad, who has no prior experience in public service, added that he wants to see new faces in the Senate.
"Ang vision ko po para sa Senado ay magkaroon ng mga bagong dugo na magpapatupad ng mga makabagong polisiya kung saan wala pong vested interest na inaatupag," he said.
(I want to see new blood in the Senate who would implement new laws and have no vested interest to attend to.)
Describing herself as the only "thorn among the roses," Muslim candidate Samira Gutoc takes pride in being the only woman candidate in Sunday's debate.
"Isa pong babae, the only thorn este rose among the thorns at siya lang minsan ang tumatanggap sa debate na babae," she said of herself.
(I am a woman, the only thorn, I mean rose among the thorns and sometimes, the only woman who accepts a debate.)
If elected to the Senate, Gutoc vowed to push for gender equality and to be the voice of the provinces.
"Kinakailangan po ng mga naninindigan na babae sa Senado. Kailangan po natin ng mga babaeng sumasabak, hindi natatakot, at naririnig po ang boses ng mga probinsya dito sa Maynila," she said.
(We need women that will stand in the Senate. We need brave women who will also become the voice of the provinces.)
Running under the opposition slate, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay vowed to address poverty if he wins a Senate seat.
"Bilang isang senador, tututukan ko ang sektor na aking pinanggalingan: ang sektor ng mahihirap," he said.
(As a senator, I would focus on the sector that I came from: the poor.)
Hilbay takes pride in his humble roots in Tondo, Manila, saying he will use his life experiences in formulating laws for the country.
Former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino would like to focus on disaster management and urban development if elected as senator.
"Ang plano ko po unang isulong bukod sa mga environmental laws, ay magpasa ng isang batas na pagkatapos ng isang kalamidad ay makakabangon agad ang mahihirap na Pilipino," Tolentino, who lost in the 2016 senatorial race, said.
(I plan to push for a law that would help poor Filipinos get back on their feet after a calamity.)
Tolentino added that he wants to propose a Philippine Urban Development Commission to address the progress of cities in the country.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno would like to focus on an issue close to his heart if ever he is elected to the Senate: improving the justice system.
"Ako'y naniniwala na kailangan maayos natin ang hustisya para tayo ay umasenso at umangat ang buhay ng lahat," he said.
(I believe that we have to fix our justice system so that we could progress and improve the lives of everyone.)
"Gagawin ko po ang lahat para ibalik ang katarungan sa ating bayan," he added.
(I will do everything that I can to bring back justice in our society.)
A self-branded crusader against stupidity, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon said he would improve the lives of Filipinos by making laws that would bring down power rates.
"Pagagaanin ko ang buhay ng tao sa pamamagitan ng pagpapababa ng kuryente dahil ito ang nagpapahirap sa tao," he said.
(I would make people's lives easier by bringing down the price of electricity because this is what burdens people.)
Gadon also wooed voters by asking them to elect new faces that are not stupid.
"Kung talagang gusto natin ng tunay na pagbabago, pumili kayo ng bago na hindi bobo!" he added.
(If you want real change, pick someone new who is not stupid.)
A medical doctor with a huge social media following, Willie Ong wants to address health-related concerns if he wins a Senate seat.
"Ang priority ko talaga kulang na kulang tayo sa kalusugan sa bayan natin. [Gusto ko ng] libreng maintenance na gamot mula sa Philhealth, libreng check up," he said.
(My top priority is addressing health issues in the country. I want free medicine and check up for Filipinos.)
Ong is known for his health tips and advice on social media. He is running under Lakas-CMD and hopes to continue the legacy of the late senator Juan Flavier.