ERAP Estrada skipped Monday's presidential debate at UP Diliman, citing a "prior engagement" and his gripe that the "Daily Inquirer," forum co-presentor, had been unfair while covering his presidency.

In Cebu, Mayor Tomas Osmeña rebuffed the request for a debate with Atan Guardo, his rival for the city south House seat, as they've already been debating anyway.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

Greg Sanchez also won't tangle with Glenn Soco, who's competing for the vice governor’s seat, hurling an insult to the neophyte's challenge: It would be like talking with a school grader. He'd rather face off with Gov. Gwen Garcia.

Debates are aimed to help the voter make up his mind. But there's the danger: Bad performance can lose votes and the newcomer is given public exposure, risks that the pack leader or veteran may be loathe to take.

In 1998, then newcomer Tomas scored an upset over Boy Cuenco.

Their TV debate was credited, rightly or wrongly, for his victory. Tomas may not want to give that chance to Atan who's reportedly giving the mayor scary moments.

No law

There's no law requiring debates. Even pressure from independent groups may not work on those struck with debate phobia. "Daily Inquirer" teased that those who'd shun the forum were scared. Erap must've thought he'd lose less by staying away.

Informal debates, like that going on between Tomas and Atan, have their drawback: Debaters pick which issue to talk about and which to shun as there are no rules on relevance, length, or good taste.

The "pikon" or hot-tempered may even stop anytime and sue his enemies instead.

(paseares@yahoo.com)