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Marcos Jr. 'not yet confirmed' in Comelec's presidential debates; letter shows his camp asked for format, topics in advance

By NICK GARCIA Published Feb 24, 2022 12:29 pm Updated Feb 24, 2022 3:14 pm

Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has not yet confirmed his attendance in the presidential debates hosted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on March 19, even as a poll body official shared a letter informing them of his "readiness to participate"—all while trying to ask about the debate's format in advance and the issues to be discussed.

“Partido Federal ng Pilipinas standard-bearer Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. has not yet confirmed his participation in the Comelec-sponsored debate," his spokesman Vic Rodriguez said in a statement.

"His participation in the said event...will only be confirmed if his hectic campaign schedules permit."

Comelec earlier in the day announced that all of the 10 presidential candidates will attend its scheduled debate.

The presidential candidates are Marcos Jr., Leody de Guzman, Ernesto Abella, Jose Montemayor Jr., Norberto Gonzales, Manny Pacquiao, Faisal Mangondato, Ping Lacson, Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso, and Leni Robredo.

"All of the candidates have signified their commitment to attend of the first debate," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said during the poll body's signing of a memorandum of agreement with news website Rappler. "If I'm not mistaken, this is the first debate that everyone would be attending."

Rappler has signed a deal with Comelec to help disseminate helpful information during the May elections.

Moments after Marcos Jr.'s camp issued a statement about his participation "not yet" being confirmed, Jimenez took to Twitter to clarify that the commission has already been advised of his "readiness to participate."

He attached a letter addressed to Comelec penned by Benhur Abalos, Marcos Jr.'s national campaign manager, which read: "Foremost, presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos, Jr. has expressed his readiness to join the same."

The Feb. 11 letter, which was received Feb. 14, also showed that Abalos was asking Comelec about advance information regarding the presidential debate.

"[I]t would be more proper and prudent if all presidential candidates will be given an opportunity to discuss...the format, which will include the issues to be discussed, the time allotment for each, the right to respond and rebut his/her arguments. who will be the moderator, among others," the letter read.

"If more confirmation is needed, the COMELEC awaits the same with bated breath. Nevertheless, preparations for the #PiliPinasDebates2022 push thru," Jimenez wrote.

During the MOA signing with Rappler, Jimenez said candidates won't have access to the debate questions in advance.

Candidates won't also be allowed to use "kodigos" or cheat sheets during the debates. They, however, will be given pen and paper to jot down notes, Jimenez added.

"As for the rest of the details (of the presidential debate), we will come up with a formal announcement for this matter," Jimenez said. "We want to keep this under wraps for now."

In an online briefing last Feb. 3, Jimenez said presidential aspirants skipping major election fora should be a "red flag" for voters.

“Whether or not they come to the debate doesn't really matter to the Comelec," he said. "It matters to the people."

Those who opt to skip the debates, however, will still have a "presence" in the Comelec debate.

"There’s gonna have a podium right there, with their name on it and no face above it,” he said.

Comelec is planning to hold three presidential and vice presidential debates before the high-stakes May elections, with one each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

It had hosted three presidential debates in the three major island groups in the 2016 elections, as well as a vice presidential debate in Metro Manila.

This story has been updated to include the statement of Marcos Jr.'s camp. Another update was made to include Jimenez's reaction about the Marcos Jr.'s camp's statement.