Scripted CNN PH presidential debate? Candidate attendees, reporters say otherwise

February 28, 2022 - 5:50 PM
Composite photo of Dr. Willie Ong, vice presidential bet, and Vice President Leni Robredo, presidential bet (Facebook, Willie Ong, Marvin John F. Uy)

A CNN Philippines anchor, reporters and two national candidates posted photos to dismiss rumors that some responses during last weekend’s debates were allegedly scripted.

CNN Philippines partnered with the University of Santo Tomas in holding the vice-presidential and presidential debates on February 26 and 27, respectively.

After the events concluded, some viewers supposed that responses of some candidates were rehearsed or scripted.

Vice President Leni Robredo and Dr. Willie Ong later posted photos of the notes they jotted down during the live telecast of the debates.

They shared these on their respective social media accounts.

These images showed proof that all the guest participants have no prior knowledge about the fielded questions and format of the program.

‘Receipts’ from candidates

In a Facebook post, Ong admitted that even if he studied well, there were many “surprise questions” from the moderators.

“Lahat ng isyu sa debate pinag-aralan ko po. Puro surprise questions mula sa CNN at sinulat ko ng mabilis ang sagot na maintindihan ng tao,” Ong said.

The doctor further shared that he even wrote potential responses to issues that were not asked.

“I had scribbled answers to all of the questions. You need quick and sharp thinking to answer concisely within a short time or else they will cut your microphone,” Ong said.

Robredo similarly shared that she wrote notes about the questions that were not asked in the forum.

“Some of them I wasn’t able to use because they were not asked. Was just trying to anticipate some of the questions. Kung ako yung unang tinatawag, di na ako nkakapag notes dahil wala ng oras,” she said.

Robredo also thanked the organizers for the pen and sheets of paper the organizers provided.

“The challenge is always how to encapsulate all you need to say in the 1.5 minutes given to you. Good thing the organizers gave us a pen and some sheets of paper. Very useful in organizing my thoughts,” she said.

Some Filipinos also defended their preferred presidential bet from critics.

“Ganoon talaga kapag palaging humaharap sa mga debate at sa mga tanong ng mga tao, napapraktis ka magsalita. Isa pa, if you’re speaking from experience, mas madali talaga magsalita kesa sa nag-iimbento lang. May track record kasi,” a Twitter user wrote. 

Clarifications from CNN Philippines anchor/reporters

CNN Philippines anchor Mai Rodriguez later addressed the matter and stated that the media network did not send any advance questions to the guests.

Rodriguez said this in a quote-retweet to a CNN Philippines report on the posts of Robredo and Ong.

“So issue pala ito ngayon. To repeat, NO QUESTIONS WERE GIVEN IN ADVANCE TO ANY CANDIDATE,” she said.

CNN Philippines reporter Anjo Cagmat Alimario also shared that even reporters who covered the event were not informed of the topics to be tackled beforehand.

“Even reporters who covered the debate inside UST were not given questions. We were informed of the topics/issues 10-20 minutes before the program proper. By that time, candidates were already inside the holding room,” Alimario said.

Another reporter, JM Nualla, added that only one producer had access to the questions.

“I can also attest that even here in the studio, only one producer had access to the questions–which were not published in our newsroom computer software until the program started to avoid any leakage,” Nualla said.