Blast from the past: The 2016 Presidential Debate (BBC courtesy)
So the first of two Comelec-arranged presidential debates goes on the air on Saturday, 15 days before the second on April 3, and 36 days from that latter date to E-Day on May 9, when more than 60 million qualified voters will choose their leaders for the next six years.
The Comelec spokesman, James Jimenez, has said in a statement the three-hour debates “will follow a single-moderator format, with no live audience.”
“Draw lots will determine to whom the first question will go. Succeeding questions, however, will be answered by the candidates in their alphabetical order,” he added.
It appears, as at this writing, that only presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the consistent surveys front runner with a huge lead over his closest rival, has decided to skip the debates, with the nine others confirming verbally or in writing their participation in this war of words.
Marcos’ spokesman, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, said: “I confirm our non-participation in the Comelec-sanctioned debate this coming Saturday, March 19, 2022…(his) words are his bond, thus we shall honor our commitment to our supporters to be with them on the field on this day.”
Rodriguez said the Marcos camp would “continue our preferred mode of direct communication with the people and engage them in a more personal face to face interaction that discusses real issues that affect them today, tomorrow, and in the days to come as this election is all about our collective future.”
Marcos’ running mate, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio also previously announced her decision to not participate in the Comelec debates.
We understand Marcos’ older sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, has encouraged her brother, known as BBM in political gatherings, to attend debates, even if not all of them, where she said on AM radio station dwIZ that a candidate should be “transparent, accountable, responsible, open, accessible.”
Marcos has previously been criticized for declining some major presidential debates and fora attended by his fellow presidential candidates. Interestingly, when others do not appear, they do not get any obloquy or condemnation.
And here is Jimenez, apparently the architect and strategist in the Comelec debate, saying “This (debate) is a high stakes event that the voting public has been fervently looking forward to, so we expected all candidates to be on deck and ready to demonstrate why they deserve our vote.”
Some have even said that this is an opportunity for the candidates – with different political experiences and credentials as public servants – to show the Filipino people what they can offer, in terms of their platforms, analogizing the Filipino people as the prospective employer and the candidates as applicants.
This is an infirm parallelism since the Filipino people don’t ask the questions. Not that the panelists, individually or collectively, are not biased or are not experts in the genesis of their questions.
We are just asking, if there is anything under the Constitution, that mandates any government agency to organize such debates, since it is obvious the Comelec had copied some edges in the US presidential debates.
Incidentally, the US Presidential Debate Commission, created in 1976, which established the rules and formats of the debates has seen revisions in them across the years.
If there is no Constitutional mandate, why must the Comelec dissipate public funds for the 2022 elections, which raises another concern: why is the Comelec resolved to seek the participation of the candidates under pain of being penalized?
Jimenez said there is a unique component of the Pilipinas Debates 2022 which is the back-to-back town hall debates, which will have both remote and in-person audiences, and a post-debate round table.
“Vote Pilipinas, the Comelec’s partner for voter education and information, has previously demonstrated its capability to mount successful campaign drives during the voter registration period. We are confident of their readiness and capacity to help ensure the success of this elections’ debates series,” Jimenez said.
According to Comelec, the candidate who will not attend will not be allowed to use its e-rally platform, which airs campaign videos and livestream events of national candidates every night through Facebook app to help them reach a wider audience, given the restrictions during the coronavirus emergency, which limit face-to-face campaign caravans and rallies.
That ban, according to Jimenez, on using Comelec’s e-rally platform will be in place up to the end of the campaign period on May 7.
Comelec commissioner Socorro Inting, until recently the acting chairman, supported the e-rally platform during the signing ceremony, inviting all the 10 presidential candidates to participate in the debates – 10 on one stage, really.
We have seen supposedly debates and even interviews, in the guise of debates, of presidential candidates, heard the questions that harped on not platforms but irrelevant spiculas. Properly a waste of time.