SIX men who want to be elected president in May 2010 tried to woo Cebuano voters yesterday by hailing Cebu as a model of local autonomy and hard work, promising to listen to its business community and providing infrastructure support.

“We are kindred spirits, Subic and Cebu, in our ports, tourism and exports…The culture of the people is based on its work ethic. Way kayod, way kaon,” said Sen. Richard Gordon.

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Lakas-Kampi-CMD candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr. praised Cebu’s contributions to the economy, particularly in tourism and shipbuilding, as well as its record “in voting intelligently and wisely.” He said Cebuanos should vote for him because he will help Cebu “gear for the future” and sustain its local autonomy by providing infrastructure support—including a third Mandaue-Mactan bridge, a new runway for the airport and a physical link with Bohol.

The evangelist Eddie Villanueva said his party, Bangon Pilipinas, “has a blueprint that will make Cebu a global city.”

Sen. Manuel Villar praised Cebu’s record in developing entrepreneurs and said that if elected, he would work to “make Cebu a model for other cities.”

In the midst of the campaign promises, Liberal Party candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III later said that voters should remember not to pin all their hopes on the president. “The president cannot be a miracle-worker. To trust in a system like that is flawed.”

He did credit Cebu for “showing what democracy can bring to our country.” He recalled that in his visits during the Martial Law years, Cebu “already felt like a liberated zone,” free from the hopelessness that gripped other communities.

This was the first time all leading presidential candidates appeared in one forum in Cebu. The Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cebu Business Club and the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized “Choices and Voices for 2010: An Encounter with the Presidentiables.” Some 2,000 persons attended.

A standout during the open forum was 8-year-old Trevor Sederiosa.

“Every day, on my way to school, I see dirty-looking kids knocking on my car, asking for food or money. If you become president, what will you do for these kids, so they can go to school like me?”

Gordon said he would work to disperse industries and create opportunities for the poor, while Villar cited the need for safety nets for the “bottom 25 percent” of the population.

“Street children are a manifestation of something else,” said Teodoro. “You have to give their parents opportunities and that is through growing your economy.”

Strict time limits tested each candidate’s ability to address difficult questions—how to end corruption, how to prevent Filipinos from retreating from globalization—briefly and clearly. Given three minutes each for an opening statement (“Why should Cebuanos vote for you?”), only Teodoro and Villar finished before their time was up.

Their supporters, who arrived en masse, were kept away from the main forum venue and herded into the Summit Hall one floor below, where they sat in color-coded groups and watched the forum on three giant screens.

The discussion lasted more than two hours.

Before their closing statements, the candidates signed a manifesto for clean elections and good governance, in which they pledged, among others, “not to resort to vote-buying and its variations.”

Teodoro said that if elected president, he would focus on “genuine national unity, reconciliation and understanding to heal the wounds that divide our country.”

Aquino and Villar pointed out that the government incurred a P300-billion deficit in 2009, which will force the next president to prioritize what problems to attack first.

“We should also ask: Are we capable of implementing these programs?” said Villar. “Every election, the poor vote, and then they are disappointed.”

Gordon asked the forum participants to do their part by studying each presidential aspirants’ platform and track record carefully. “We must make an informed, wise decision,” the former tourism secretary said. “Look at your kids when you make that decision.”