THE second presidential debate held here in Cebu was obviously an improvement from the first one held in Cagayan de Oro City in terms of handling. We are not referring here to the ability of the moderator, TV 5's Luchi Cruz-Valdez, to impose strict adherence to the rules--she often found it difficult to do that—but rather to the freeing of the participants from the straitjacket of formalism, transforming the debate into an interesting, rollicking affair.

That, in a way, was what saved the activity, whose start was delayed by one hour and a half because of the attempt of the camp of Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to breach the rule against the use of documents in the debate. It didn't matter if Valdez erroneously acceded to the request. When the rules were clarified, the Binay camp should have stopped holding hostage the affair.

But the delay was forgotten the moment the fireworks were lighted. Valdez sought a rebuttal from the other bets of every declaration made by a presidential candidate, sparking exchanges that were allowed to extend for a time before these were ended. Thus we saw instances of Binay tangling with Grace Poe, Poe tangling with Mar Roxas, Roxas tangling with Rodrigo Duterte, Duterte tangling with Binay, Binay tangling with Roxas, etc.

In the process, the viewers were given a glimpse of the intellect, character and, more importantly, grasp of the affairs of the state and governance of the four presidential candidates (Miriam Defensor-Santiago excused herself due to health reasons). Without the verbal exchange, the activity would have been reduced to an ordinary forum for candidates to present their platform of government.

The drawback was that efforts by the panelists to have the candidates focus on such issues as freedom of information, climate change, etc. often failed when the exchange brought back the discussion to personal issues. As for the issues pushed by the panelists, these didn't include the important ones that should have been raised for this leg of the debate: those that concern Cebu and the Visayas.

The next presidential debate will be held in Luzon. Hopefully more improvements will be introduced by then based on the experience in the first two debates.