MANILA -- Presidential candidate Richard Gordon scored against contenders Senators Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Manuel Villar Jr., for skipping Sunday’s presidential forum sponsored by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and TV-5.

This came as the outgoing lawmaker replied to a question posed by his nephew, councilor JC de los Reyes, who asked whom he would vote for between Aquino and Villar.

"That’s why all these very good candidates are running because we can't choose from any one of them. Where are they anyway?” Gordon said, drawing loud cheers from the audience.

"In a democratic society, it is permissible to ask your leaders questions,” he added.

Aside from Gordon, the other five who attended Pagbabago (Change) 2010 were former President Joseph Estrada, Senator Jamby Madrigal, televangelist Eddie Villanueva, environmentalist Nicanor “Nick” Perlas, and Olongapo councilor JC de los Reyes.

Conspicuously absent during the two-hour debate at Miriam College are survey rivals Aquino and Villar, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan's Vetellano Acosta.

Organizers said all candidates confirmed their attendance to the forum, but due to “unexplained circumstances” the three sent their apologies.

The candidates were asked to post their views on different topics concerning sectors like women, education, persons with disability, Muslim affairs, ethnic groups, and labor.

The candidates were also grilled by panelists consisted of the following: UE College of Law Dean Amado Valdez (Governance), 2009 CNN Hero of the Year Efren Penaflorida (Youth), TV5 Head of News and Public Affairs Luchi Cruz-Valdez (Media), University of Asia and Pacific professor Bernie Villegas (Economy), Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Von Hernandez.

Candidates said they support the implementation of “genuine reform” program and financial support to farmers should be a priority. Perlas and Madrigal also raised the land-grabbing issue on ancestral lands.

De los Reyes, meanwhile, blamed corrupt officials for the reported worsening poverty in the country while Villanueva stressed the need for more budgetary allocation to education.

As to their first agenda once elected, Gordon said he would appoint his running mate, former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Bayani Fernando as his “infrastructure czar,” citing his civil engineering background.

Madrigal said she would appoint Perlas to be her agriculture secretary whose primary task is to run after rice smugglers and implementation of safe farming methods.

The forum was taped and will be aired tonight (February 7) over TV-5. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)