BARBS WERE TRADED between the standard-bearers of the Nationalist Youth and Progressive Democrats (NYPD) and the San Bigkis Party (SBP), as the two slates face off at the Boto Bedista 2023 Miting de Avance (MDA) and Election Debates organized by the San Beda – Electoral Board (ELBO) last May 11.
According to the ELBO, prior to the start of the event, they firmly reminded all political parties during a meeting about the proper decorum and ground rules for the debates, which included a stern warning against issuing personal attacks against other candidates.
Further, at the MDA, which was moderated by the San Beda Debate Society (SBDS), the same ground rules were repeated by the hosts themselves.
However, during the Question-and-Answer segment, where the candidates were allowed to pose questions to one another, things went south as the two standard-bearers went after each other with attacks on their opponent’s conduct during their time in the Student Council (SC).
Arlene Sol, the SBP presidential candidate and former SC Secretary-General, during her time to ask Kurt Casano, the NYPD presidential candidate and former SC Third Year Batch Representative, brought up the issue of the latter’s use of the SC office, wherein she accused Casano and his “friends” of littering all over the office.
A visibly irked Casano retorted with another accusation against Sol, this time claiming that he caught his opponent during the Pista ng Sto. Niño last January at the SC office with her boyfriend, Dominic Salonga, who is also running for Third Year Batch Representative under SBP, “in the act.”
Following the incident, Sol attempted to clarify the matter, even raising her voice after hearing the allegation from Casano against her and Salonga come to light. However, the moderators cut off her mic before she could even finish her sentence and they promptly moved on to the next question.
The clash between the two candidates quickly elicited strong reactions from the audience. During the Audience Forum segment of the MDA, several attendees brought up the issue again by also raising Republic Act (R.A.) No. 11313 or the “Safe Spaces Act,” which addresses and penalizes gender-based sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, and educational or training institutions.
In an exclusive interview with The Bedan following the debates, Casano stood by his remarks despite the barrage of criticisms leveled against him. He asserted that what he said was “in response” to Sol’s earlier remarks against his conduct at the SC office.
“So ‘yung question niya sa akin, she was trying to point out that I’m always in the SC room. Nagkakalat kami with my friends and I take it as personal—I took it as a personal [sic]—kasi definitely hindi naman namin siya ginagawa,” said the NYPD presidentiable.
He added that there was no malice behind his accusations since “it was never about the gender, it was about the character. Hindi po natin inaakusa, hindi po natin sinabi just to attack her, as a babae, as a woman… leader of San Beda. Nasabi po natin ‘yon… na hindi naman natin intensyon, just to call her out of that specific action not because she is [a woman].”
Sol, for her part, says that she was “shocked” to have been accused of inappropriate conduct at the SC office.
“I was actually shocked when I heard that comment because during that time totoo ‘yung statement na nasa SC office ako [at] patay yung ilaw kasi during that time I was breaking down. I was having [an] anxiety attack and I was calling my dad. I was calling my mom. I was calling cousin. I was calling [my boyfriend], sabi ko na hindi ko na kaya,” said Sol.
The SBP presidentiable denied that she and Salonga were doing anything inappropriate at the time, explaining that although Casano’s claim that the lights were off at the office during that time was true, it was due to another reason.
“Pinatay ko [‘yung ilaw] kasi gusto ko mapag-isa kasi everyone was in the program. Sa harapan ng madaming [sic] tao sa programa na traditional activities ng San Beda na ngayon na lang ulit pinakita. I was having breakdown during that time. Kaya kung makikita mo ako noon, magang-maga ‘yung mata ko kas iyak ako ng iyak. And he knows that and he [knows] na kaya siya pumunta doon kasi ‘di niya ako mahanap.”
Tensions between the two parties have been brewing for weeks now, with supporters from both parties making wanton accusations against the other camps through the popular SBU Freedom Wall (FW) Facebook page, which accepts anonymous entries from Bedans.
Despite the growing tumult in the campaign, both parties have stood firm behind their presidential bets.
Race Zamora, the SBP vice chairperson, says that the party “admits” that it was Sol who first leveled a personal attack against Casano. However, they considered the NYPD presidentiable’s response as “sexual harassment.”
“Sa side po ng aming partido, we understand and we admit we had the personal attack first. But no matter what had happened, nothing can justify sexual harassment lalo na po dito sa San Beda University. This is not just speaking for our party, this is not just speaking for our candidate as a president, but we are speaking for every victim of sexual harassment na nangyayari. If we continue to justify these micro actions na nangyayari, patuloy pa din po na mangyayari ang oppresiyon. Hindi lamang dito sa ating pamantasan, pero [pati] sa labas. Kaya po we are calling out the NYPD. Please admit your fault and face the penalty of your actions,” said Zamora.
And even as Casano weathers sustained criticism and allegations of misogyny owing to his remarks, the NYPD still maintains that the incident is not a reflection of their candidate.
“As our standard bearer, it was never our intention as a slate to have an attack, an ad hominem attack with regard with someone’s gender. It’s a battle of characteristics, it’s a battle of principles and ethics sa pagse-serve natin sa Student Council and I think as a slate, majority kami babae, never did we once feel disrespected by Kurt. Majority din ‘Abante Babae’ plus… ang narrative right now sa Student Council [is] did we hear something? Did we hear a complaint na nambabastos siya just because babae ‘yung counterpart niya? So, as a slate it is clear na we stand with our president, with our standard bearer, also the bring with us the ideals of NYPD, it’s about characteristics and work ethics,” said Julia San Jose, NYPD’s candidate for Internal Vice President.
Pressed for their response on the candidates’ conduct during the debates, the ELBO declined to comment. However, they again pointed out that all candidates were briefed beforehand about the ground rules of the forum and that all parties were made to understand that personal attacks were not allowed.