NOVEMBER 20, THURSDAY—It’s three in the morning as I write this, and I, along with a team of student debaters, should be boarding a bus to San Fernando, La Union to join a regional debate championship.

Fate is not on our side, however, as Nestor Corrales, one of our debaters, had to be rushed to the provincial hospital due to severe stomach pains. Nestor’s absence paralyzed our team, and it was too late to change horses. We decided not to push through. So, here I am, yet again, glued in front of my laptop in consuming solitude.

The other team members, Jonalyn De Ocampo (BS Civil Engineering II) and Lester Toledano (BS Nursing II), already had their bags packed and were so excited to go. It would have been their first time to represent MMSU in a competition of such scale.

Quite interestingly, we are also holding this week our university Intramurals. And so, against a backdrop of athletes running, swimming, kicking and smashing, there we were engaging each other in training for what we consider as the “basketball of the mind”.

Elsewhere, COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento was so impressed at how debate has been made integral to the United States electoral process that he suggested a presidential debate for the 2010 Philippine polls.

Sarmiento said debates to be held in our country will “gauge the capacity, potential and eloquence of candidates.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines quickly volunteered to host the presidential debates. It seems odd to me, however, that the Catholic Church, an institution that mandates its faithful to always say ‘Amen’ in blind obedience, would offer to host an event that welcomes, respects, and celebrates differences in opinions. Their offer is good but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Thanks, but no thanks.

Media organizations and civil society groups were also warm to Sarmiento’s move, and for good reason. Our people are exhausted of candidates who sing-and-dance their way to public office. But Romeo Macalintal, La Gloria’s election lawyer, readily opposed the holding of mandatory debates, saying that it is unconstitutional.

It will be remembered that, in 2004, La Gloria refused to join a presidential debate. Instead, her team staged something even worse than the musical cheap shots employed by politicians during campaign rallies. The administration party organized a ‘Gloria look-a-like contest, where the contender with the biggest facial mole and the most conspicuous set of teeth wins. (The capacity to lie straight-faced should have been the biggest criteria).

In the shadows, of course, Jocjoc Bolante, the joke that no self-respecting Filipino is laughing at, was already distributing ‘fertilizer funds’. Virgilio Garcillano, meanwhile, was busy receiving important phone calls. (“Hello, ma’am?”)

Taking the cue from La Gloria, Bayani Fernando, who harbors presidential ambitions, recently joined and emerged as champion in a singing competition aired on national TV. If the elections were held today, and singing prowess were the sole criterion, BF could be it. But the MMDA dictator may be in for a surprise. “Archbishop” Jesus Dureza, Malacañang’s prayerful Press Secretary, recently sought divine blessings for La Gloria’s continued stay in power “beyond 2010”, eliciting a kolehiyala smile from the Philippine president that Barack Obama snubbed. [Well, Obama did return La Gloria’s call at 3:00 (in the morning!) two weeks after the Philippine leader’s shamefully overeager efforts for a telephone conversation with the man who won even more hearts and votes with his sterling performance in debates.]

I have been a debater for as long as I can remember. Dennis Estacio, my perennial seatmate in DWCL grade school, would attest to this. To the consternation of our teachers whose lectures we always disrupted, albeit unintentionally, Dennis and I would debate about religion and politics (he was protestant, I was Catholic; he was pro-Marcos, and I was pro-Cory). Despite our divergent views, however, Dennis and I remained friends, holding each other in high regard.

After grade school, Dennis and I parted ways. We did not get to see each other until recently when we accidentally met at the Sony Service Center in San Nicolas, where he works. Over two decades after our sneaky grade-school debates I learned that Dennis is still protestant and pro-Marcos. Today, no longer am I a devout Catholic and neither am I anti-Marcos.

One enters into a debate on the assumption that there are always two sides to an issue, that there is an opposing view worth listening to. By engaging friends and foes in debates, the ideas of others enrich one’s own. At the back of a conscientious debater’s mind is the thought: “I believe that I am right, but then I may be wrong”.

Knowledge grows not because everybody agrees, but because some people dare to defy conventions and popular belief. Today stands monuments for heroes whom yesterday indicted as fools.

I was incensed when I read a Joseph Tamayo column that tells of a Laoag City councilor who says, “I only talk to lawyers”. This self-absorbed councilor believes that reason is a monopoly of LLBs. But guess what? Oliver Lozano, Ely Pamatong, and that blabbermouth-of-a-justice-secretary named Raul Gonzales—they are all lawyers, too.

Gone are the days when the likes of Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, and Jovito Salonga lorded our legislative halls. This is the age of Jinggoy Estrada, Bong “Alias Pogi” Revilla, and Lito “Ben Tumbling” Lapid who, by raising his hand for reasons he does not know, decides on the fate of our nation with a type of wisdom that only his horses may understand.

I owe so much to debate. While allowing me to sharpen my skills in analysis and communication, it gave me lasting friendships, wonderful memories, and travels to places here and abroad. This is why given the chance, I always oblige when sought for help. In Trinity University of Asia and the Colegio de San Juan de Letran-Manila, I founded debate organizations out of scratch. Training new debaters and setting up clubs are always exhausting, but it is always a delight to initiate young people in a celebration of truth in the spoken word. Truth is its own reward.

Whenever I train debaters, I warn them that they are engaging in a very risky exercise. The goal of debate is the search for Veritas—a business which is not without danger. This world hates people who tell the truth. Socrates, Jose Rizal, Mahatma Gandhi, John Kennedy, Ninoy Aquino, Roger Mariano, Jimmy Chua and Marlene Esperat may have lived in different eras and different places but their search for truth, and their courage to stand for it, led to their cruel deaths.

Yes, this world hates people who speak of katotohanan. This is the age of bullets. (“Isang bala ka lang!”) It only takes a couple of thousands to hire a killer these days, warn my well-meaning friends who always remind me to be extra careful in expressing my views.

I take comfort from Dante, a great Italian poet who aptly reminds us that ‘the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great crisis, remain neutral’. To this I add that the most pathetic of human beings are those who live to fear and those who fear to live. I am neither of those two. And so I teach. And so I write. And so I debate.

If you need a debate trainor, adjudicator, or just somebody to cheer for you when you hit the podium (hear! Hear!), please get in touch with me and I will oblige in a heartbeat and at no cost.

Together, let’s build a vibrant culture of debate in this part of the world.

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

2 thoughts on “Debate!”

  1. I owe those debaters who always stand for the truth.With that, I salute you sir. I wish someday I would also be a part of a debating club.I am extending my arms to support build a vibrant culture of debate in this part of the world.I am very proud to my schoolmates in high school,Ate Jonalyn and Kuya Lester.Congratulations to the two of you!Ang galing niyo talaga!Keep up the good work!

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