The Commission on Elections (Comelec)'s back-to-back town hall debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates on April 23 and 24 have been postponed to April 30 and May 1, amid reports that its organizing partner failed to settle its P14-million balance to venue Sofitel Philippine Plaza.
“Humihingi po ako ng paumanhin sa mga kandidato," Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay said in a press briefing April 22. "Hindi namin nasabi agad na hindi matutuloy ang debates."
For its 2022 "PiliPinas Debates: The Turning Point," Comelec tapped Impact Hub Manila, which leads Vote Pilipinas, the poll body's official voter information campaign partner. In 2016, Comelec partnered with media organizations, which shouldered all production and venue costs.
Commissioner George Garcia confirmed that a Sofitel representative went to their office, seeking assistance to collect money from Impact Hub Manila.
"We are just an end user to the agreement," Garcia said. "Comelec is not a party to the contract," emphasizing that the poll body cannot use public funds for the debates.
"Hindi po kami maglalabas ng singko," he noted. "Naka-(memorandum of agreement) sa amin na walang gagastusin ang Comelec. Bawal po iyan."
Impact Hub Manila has not released a statement on the matter. PhilSTAR L!fe has already reached out for a comment.
The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) will be Comelec's new partner for the rescheduled debates. The KBP had held a presidential forum on Feb. 4, broadcasted to over 300 television and radio stations nationwide and streamed online.
The poll body said they will provide details of the rescheduled debates by tomorrow, April 23.
"Kami po ay magsasagawa ng pagsusuri tungkol sa bagay na ito kung ano ang naging problema," Bulay said.
The town hall debates, which will follow a double moderator format, will have remote and in-person audience, as well as a post-debate roundtable, Comelec said.
The VP debates will revolve around social sector issues, including the indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities, workforce, farmers, overseas Filipino workers, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.
The presidential debates, meanwhile, will tackle electoral reforms, education, and economic infrastructure.