The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will look into imposing heavier penalties on candidates who would not attend the next editions of its "PiliPinas Debates: The Turning Point," an official said March 21.
"Sa Miyerkules, pag-uusapan pa namin," Comelec Commissioner George Garcia told TeleRadyo, "ano pa ang pupuwede nating maipatupad na sanction na medyo mas mabigat, na hindi naman nagva-violate sa mga umiiral na batas natin at sa karapatan ng mga kandidato."
Based on its existing rules, Comelec said candidates who will skip its debates will be banned from airing their electronic rally or e-rally on its platforms. Since Feb. 8, the poll body has been giving three presidential and three vice presidential candidates 10-minute slots and 10 party-lists three-minute slots every night to live stream their e-rally on Comelec's social media channels.
Garcia's pronouncement came on the heels of vice presidential bet Walden Bello calling out Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio for being a no-show in the debates.
Bello also urged the poll body to do more than take away e-rally streaming privileges, suggesting to slap Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio with a hefty fine of P203 billion, which is actually the same amount as the Marcoses' unpaid estate tax.
While he agrees with penalizing debate absentees further, Garcia pointed out that there are no existing laws that require candidates to attend debates, especially those that have been organized by Comelec.
"Sa totoo lang po, sino ba naman ang ayaw na magpatupad ng mas mabigat na sanction, lalo pa at, halimbawa, hindi sumusunod?" he said.
Kaya lang po, sa kasalukuyan, we can only invite them, convince them to join. Pero iyong to force them to join, mahihirapan po tayo diyan.
"Kaya lang po, sa kasalukuyan," Garcia noted, "we can only invite them, convince them to join. Pero iyong to force them to join, mahihirapan po tayo diyan."
If it were up to him, Garcia said candidates should sign a document, along with their certificates of candidacy, that they vow to participate in all of Comelec's debates and other public events, lest they risk disqualification or any other severe sanction.
"Ibig sabihin, sila mismo ang nag-waive ng kanilang karapatan. Nag-pirma pa sila, under oath pa po iyon," he said.
In the meantime, the Comelec commissioner asked the public to focus on those who attended the debates.
"Bakit po kasi hinahanap iyong wala? Mas maganda po ang i-appreciate natin iyong andiyan, iyong present," he said, adding that viewers should keep in mind the candidates' platforms in order to make a reasonable vote on May 9.
The first round of the Comelec presidential and vice presidential debates took place on March 19 and 20.
Marcos Jr.'s spokesman Vic Rodriguez said that in skipping the Comelec debates, they'll honor their "commitment" to their supporters to be with them "on the field on this day." Duterte-Carpio, meanwhile, previously told reporters that she had "already decided" to go on with her campaign without joining debates. They have yet to send a formal letter to the poll body for their absence.
Bakit po kasi hinahanap iyong wala? Mas maganda po ang i-appreciate natin, iyong andiyan, iyong present.
Lito Atienza, meanwhile, formally declined to attend as he's still recovering from his knee surgery.
In turn, Comelec left empty podiums for Marcos Jr., Duterte-Carpio, and Atienza to denote their absence. Moderators Luchi Cruz-Valdes and Ruth Cabral also noted the UniTeam tandem's non-appearance in a number of instances during the respective programs.
Two more PiliPinas presidential debates are slated for April 3 and April 24, while another VP debate is set on April 23.