Interviewing Bongbong Marcos. Screengrab from Inquirer's Youtube channel.

Behind the scenes: Interviewing Alan, Bongbong, Leni and Sonny

Four vice presidential candidates, a pair of sofa chairs, a smartphone on a tripod and a multi-camera set-up.

It was our first Facebook Live interview series and I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to ask the candidates questions face-to-face.

Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. each had their chance in the hot seat to answer queries from social media, our editor in chief John Nery, and me.

It was a run-up to the Comelec-initiated vice-presidential debate and Trillanes was the first to confirm.

Much has been written about the issues we tackled during our interviews (like my last article on the most unexpected revelations during our INQ&As with the candidates) so I thought it would be better to share some behind-the-scenes insights and other interesting trivia below. I hope it’ll help people decide who to vote for tomorrow.

 

Sonny Trillanes 

Trillanes wore a short-sleeved light grey polo when he came to our office accompanied by his driver last April 5.. His lone media officer that day arrived an hour earlier.

He was well-spoken, just like the other vice presidential candidates. But what struck me the most was how respectful and humble he sounded when addressing people (even those  younger than him).

Fellow reporters have talked about how he was one of the favorites in the Senate — young and good-looking. In fact, it was one of the comments that we got from Twitter. I like the way he talked and the timbre of his voice but he did seem stiff. Not aloof but a bit too formal.

Before the interview, I asked his media officer why we didn’t get advisories on his sorties. She said it was because they couldn’t accommodate media because of their fast-paced sorties. I think that also meant that they did not have the means (press bus, staff, machinery, etc.) to accommodate journalists (eg. Bongbong Marcos recently traveled from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in one day and brought reporters via his private plane).

Trillanes himself admitted that they rely largely on grassroots campaigning, something that must not be underestimated since it brought him to the senate in 2013. I remember clearly that he was the only one in the magic 12 who was not in the list of candidates who spent most on television ads.

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Humanizing portion of the interview: When he opened up about the most hurtful thing that happened to him – being accused of corruption while in jail and not being able to immediately his son who died 21 days after being born. He said he was not able to have the body of his son released from the morgue because they could not immediately pay the hospital bill.

Funny answer: When asked about why he has been critizing Binay, Trillanes said, “Hindi naman ako masamang tao to wish the worse of anybody. Sa akin ho kase dito, I just believe na hindi siya karapat-dapat na maging pangulo ng ating bansa.”

 

Leni Robredo

Robredo was late for our interview last April 7, which she apologized for. It was inevitable since she’s been trying to play catch-up when it comes to sorties (For the second time in her life, she was coaxed into running for public office and was therefore unable to engage in pre-campaigning unlike her fellow VP candidates).

Maaliwalas. That’s how I would describe Robredo’s face despite the dark circles under her eyes. Later she would tell us that she often went home late and had little time to sleep.

She doesn’t sound like a politician and mostly talked about her family or herself in a very personal, intimate way. Because her last event ended late, it pushed back her schedule, making her worry about her daughter’s guests, which she promised to prepare dinner for.

She wore a yellow and white blouse, which I didn’t fancy that much. I was hoping she would wear a yellow dress, which I felt suited her and made her look more feminine (being the lone woman in the VP race can be a boon).

Robredo is like everyone’s tita, the cool mother of your close friend and perpetual hostess of your barkada. It doesn’t mean, however, that she doesn’t belong in public office. She sounded intelligent and had a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve — to make governance more participatory. Though I think she needs more oomph and more soundbytes in her interviews.

Humanizing portion of the interview:  She reminded me of my own mother when she revealed that she spends her days off tending to her house and her daughters. She would be content watching her children study in the living room where she falls asleep. “Pag ready na silang pumunta sa bedroom, ginigising nila ako, ‘Ma, tutulog na.'” It was also nice to hear that she would sneak off (away from media and the public eye) to meet marginalized groups like indigenous people for an hour or so while on the campaign trail.

Funny comment: When she talked about falling ill during the campaign and said, “Actually, when I’m speaking in front of the crowd I don’t feel sick at all eh. Pero pagkatapos ko, uupo ako, at dun na naman, magchichills na naman ako. Babalik na naman ako sa sasakyan. I did that for about four days. Pero after that I was okay again. Ano lang ako, Berocca queen.”

 

Alan Cayetano

I always thought Cayetano was someone who was too much to handle. You often see him on television, criticizing people and pointing out their mistakes. But he was quite an interesting interviewee.

He was able to adequately answer accusations against their promise to solve criminality in 6 months. He gave sensible answers on how to do it, from lighting streets to strictly implementing the law. Cayetano’s insights about his runningmate Rodrigo Duterte were priceless.

He talked a lot though and at one point deliberately said that he’ll talk faster to squeeze in as much information as possible during the remaining time. I think our trainees had a hard time transcribing the interview.

On a side note, we were surprised to find our pantry converted to a temporary outlet of Melo’s. Despite telling his team that we will worry about the food, they arrived early on April 11 to set up the tables, complete with table cloth and flowers (I think I remember flowers).

Cayetano arrived on time and spent less than an hour with us for lunch, engaging everyone in small talk about politics and election strategy.

Humanizing portion of the interview: When he talked about his upbringing, connecting it to his belief in Duterte’s image and strategy. He recalled feeling extremely nervous whenever his strict father would confront him. “In the house, no one drinks, no one smokes, we don’t drink we don’t smoke kasi we know that of we’re gonna get it if he does it. I tried once and I got smacked around when he saw me having Andy Player in my car and I didn’t even drink it yet. And I never, never akong umulit,” he said, adding that curbing crime works the same way.

Funny comment: I was surprised when Cayetano decided to convince Duterte to team up with him so I asked him how he was able to reconcile his Bible-quoting image to that of the foul-mouthed mayor. He likened the two of them to two different types of evangelists. He implied that Duterte was like the controversial American evangelist Jimmy Swaggart who called out and condemned sinners. He also used the following analogy: “Put it this way, pwede namang magsama sa isang simbahan ang Opus Dei and Jesuit eh. They believe in the same God. Yung isa conservative, yung isa medyo liberal.”

 

Bongbong Marcos

We initially had trouble getting Marcos, who was the frontrunner in the VP race electoral polls. By then, everybody was busy attending sorties. I eventually made headway by contacting his social media consultant.

One of the requests though was to have his son Sandro join the senator. We welcomed the request and asked his eldest son join us during the last 20 minutes of the interview.

Marcos came early. We were still setting up when he arrived. Of all the VP candidates we interviewed, he and Cayetano had the most number of staff.

He seemed accommodating enough although one would probably hesitate before approaching him. How do you engage Marcos in small talk? The name itself is part of Philippine history, his father being the late president and strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

How would he take accusatory questions from social media? But the interview turned out better than expected. By then, I guess, Marcos was used to defending himself against controversies. While he did skirt some issues or did not directly answer some questions, we were able to gain insights on his character.

The senator has fully embraced his past, which I think was key in getting the support that he has now.  His television ad “Hindi ako ang aking nakaraan” may imply that he wants the past to be history but it also tells us that he acknowledges what had happened, instead of trying to escape it. Of course, his story might be different from what others say.

His son’s presence helped a lot in softening his image and making him more appealing to younger voters. Sandro sounded intelligent and energetic, just the right amount of youthful zest to inject in the Marcos campaign.

Humanizing portion of the interview: When he talked about fleeing the Philippines after the downfall of his father (which he never mentioned). Marcos said he was sitting beside Danding Cojuangco in the plane, wondering if he will be able to return to the Philippines after the Americans bring them to Clark and then to Guam. Most of the humanizing was done by his son though. Sandro talked about how proud he is of his father for helping start the construction of wind farms in Ilocos. “Thanks son, I never heard you say that, thank you,” Marcos replied.

Funny exchange: 

John Nery: If your family were on GOT (Game of Thrones), which house would you be?

Bongbong Marcos: I’d be Jon Snow man.

Sandro Marcos: But he’s dead, right now.

Bongbong Marcos: Never mind, I’d still be a warrior. Definitely, that’s an interesting show.

***

So there you go, a rundown of our interesting interviews with four vice presidential candidates. If Senators Chiz Escudero and Gringo Honasan allowed us to interview them, I would have asked Chiz about his formal way of speaking (and if he has done anything to change it) and Honasan about his ambition and plans for the vice presidency (other than supporting the candidacy of VP Jejomar Binay).

In a few hours, polling precincts will be opening to accommodate millions of Filipino voters. I hope you make the right decision. Good luck Pilipinas!

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