By Sydney Antoinette Alipao

PHOTO: GMA News/ABS-CBN/Shutterstock

Halalan 2022 is drawing near, and national-level candidates are set to start their campaign period on Feb. 8 as stated in the Fair Election Act of the Commision on Elections (Comelec).

Right before the actual date of the campaign period, interviews and forums are conducted by several media sites and networks, and radio stations that mainly invite candidates for the presidential post to serve as an avenue for them to showcase their platforms and plans should they win the elections in May.

Each candidate's presence depends on whether they will accept or decline the requests and invitations for the forums. 

Linked to this is Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., one of the leading candidates in the pre-elections surveys, became a controversial talk of the masses especially in social media for declining invitations with reasons that some netizens found as dubious and questionable. 

In an ABS-CBN News report, political science professor and analyst Julio Teehankee saw Marcos Jr.'s "absenteeism" similar to former president Joseph Estrada's tactics two decades ago, saying that his camp "wants to control its narrative by relying on social media."

The following is a timeline of Marcos Jr.'s interviews and forums absences:

January 21

GMA's 24 Oras aired a teaser for The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews which confirmed that Marcos Jr. did not accept the program's invitation despite appearing in previous teasers.

"Inimbitahan namin ang limang nangungunang presidential aspirants base sa pinakahuling surveys," stated in the teaser. "Hindi nagpaunlak ng panayam si former senator Bongbong Marcos," it continued.

Moreover, Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Ping Lacson, Senator Manny Pacquiao, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno confirmed to sit down to be asked "their intentions behind running for the position, the controversies thrown at them, their stand on pressing issues, and their concrete plans should they be elected."

January 22

Hours before the airing of the Soho interviews, Marcos' spokesperson Atty. Vic Rodriguez bared the reason why the camp begged off the program is because the veteran journalist is "biased against the Marcoses."

"We believe her questions will just focus on negativity about BBM, which the UniTeam dislike," Rodriguez stated.

Rodriguez added that the interviews should focus on the aspirants' plans for the country and how they will solve national problems rooted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spokesman further maintained that "preparedness to lead, ability to govern, and capability to be president cannot be tested by his mere appearance on a show."

But GMA Network immediately defended Soho, mentioning her as one of the most trusted media practitioners in the country and abroad citing the network's ethos: "Walang Kinikilingan, Walang Pinoprotektahan, Serbisyong Totoo Lamang."

"In this must-see special, Ms. Soho boldly asks the presidential aspirants the questions that need to be asked … The questions are tough because the job of the presidency is tough," part of GMA Network's statement read.

January 24

BBM insisted in an interview with One News PH that he is no coward following mass criticisms against him in social media after turning down the interview request from GMA Network.

Echoing Rodriguez' words, the late dictator's son uttered that important concerns relevant to the public and in solving the country's problems are those needed to be discussed.

“Lahat naman hinaharap ko eh, basta ang mahalaga sakin ay pag-usapan natin kung ano ang iniisip, ano ang inaalala, kung ano ang importante sa taumbayan—‘di sa mga pulitiko, hindi sa mga partido, hindi sa mga kalaban, hindi sa kakampi,” said Marcos.

“Kailangan wag nang pulitika ang pag-usapan at may eleksyon naman na tayo. Made-decide yan pagdating ng eleksyon. Kaya ang mahalaga ay pag-usapan ang mga bagay na top of mind ng ating mga kababayan,” he continued.

Marcos Jr. added that he is not evading anything but the 35-year-old issue continuously thrown at him must not be conversed, instead, should focus on the status quo. 

Moreover, when asked how he defines biased, the presidential aspirant responded: "Anti-Marcos".

On the same day, a supposed live interview with Luminous was announced to be a "recorded and unedited" due to bandwidth woes, a post in the Luminous by Trixie Cruz-Angeles & Ahmed Paglinawan Facebook page confirmed.

January 28

The former senator once again did not show up in an interview with GMA's dzBB.

Difficulty in contacting Marcos Jr. due to connectivity hitch in Davao City where he is located at the time of his interview schedule is the cause as confirmed by his communication team's head, Rey Briones.

Marcos Jr. has been in Davao since Jan. 27 as they open their headquarters in the city with City Mayor and his running mate Sara Duterte.

The radio station told the presidential candidate vowed that he is willing to reschedule the interview on Feb. 2 but said the date was allotted for another interview with Moreno.

February 3

Marcos Jr. declined the invitation of Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) for the televised Panata sa Bayan: The KBP Presidential Candidates' Forum held on Feb. 4 due to "conflict in schedule."

In an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, KBP President Hernan Basbaño said that they sent invitations to Marcos, Robredo, Lacson, Pacquiao, Moreno, and de Guzman, but only Marcos turned down the request.

According to Basbaño, Marcos' team rejected the offer through a letter that mentioned the presidential aspirant has already a planned schedule for the day of the forum's conduct.

February 4

An Instagram story uploaded by actor and director David Chua on Feb. 4 showed that Marcos is in an interview and cooking segment shoot with broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez.

Going back, Marcos' camp refused to KBP's invitation for a presidential forum on the same day due to "conflict in schedule" which indicates that this is the booked schedule of the late dictator's son mentioned in his refusal letter.

But Sanchez clarified in her Instagram account and her program's Facebook page that it is the Marcos camp who pushed the time and date of the shoot.

"To be clear: When we invited BBM it was his team who chose the time and date. We had no choice," the statement wrote.

February 5

Bongbong finally showed up in a DZBB interview which centered on the issues of the past, how to eradicate corruption, and the Tallano Gold issue.

Aside from interview absences, it can be remembered that Marcos Jr. was also missing due to sickness, expressing worries to spread possible infections through a video call during the Comelec hearing of his disqualification case caused by tax evasion.

With the listed no-shows of Marcos in the interviews along with the reasons behind those, criticisms transpired especially in social media that reiterate what they said is his "cowardice" in facing questions.

Online backlashes with hashtags #MarcosDuwag and #BaBackoutMuli still continues to trend.

Furthermore, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez and netizens labelled this Marcos' behavior a "red flag" saying he is not capable of leading a country with the habit of being absent and "intentionally avoiding media interviews."

Jimenez mentioned that the absences will go unnoticed by the Comelec but said it greatly matters to the people, especially the voters.

“Not a red flag for the Comelec, but it could be a red flag for the voters, absolutely. But not for the Comelec. Comelec does not care either way whether they come or not,” Jimenez said, Feb. 3.

“I think it is very important that in recognition of how important it is to the people, that we acknowledged that they failed to show up. It’s not going to be glossed over, it’s not going to be ignored, they’re gonna have a podium right there with their name on it but no face above,” the spox added.

Edited by Phylline Calubayan