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Comelec eyes DQ on debate skippers in next polls

By NICK GARCIA Published Apr 04, 2022 7:17 pm

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will push for mandatory attendance in its debates especially in the next elections, with no-show candidates facing the risk of disqualification, an official said April 4. But a lawmaker is challenging the poll body to act on debate skippers "now."

"Kukumbinsihin po natin ang ating kagalang-galang na Kongreso na sana po ay ilagay na po talaga na requirement na a-attend lahat," Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said during the Laging Handa public briefing on April 4.

The 18th Congress is on recess due to the campaign period, and will resume session on May 23. By then, new officials would've already been elected.

Garcia's pronouncement comes a day after the second presidential "PiliPinas Debates: The Turning Point." In the April 3 event, only Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. was absent and hasn't formally notified the poll body about his non-appearance.

Marcos Jr. also skipped the first Comelec presidential debate last March 19 for his campaign rally.

His running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio also skipped the March 20 vice presidential debates. Duterte-Carpio previously told reporters that she had "already decided" to go on with her campaign without joining debates.

Lito Atienza, meanwhile, formally declined to attend the VP debates, as he's still recovering from his knee surgery.

Garcia noted that the debates are not a mere organized activity but a "door" which allows the public to have access to the candidates' hearts and minds.

"Napakaimportante po ito," Garcia said, "dahil makikita rin ang kahandaan ng kandidato na humarap sa kaniyang mga kababayan na nililigawan niya."

To date, there are no existing laws that require candidates to attend debates, especially those that have been organized by Comelec.

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 its social media channels.

[M]akikita rin ang kahandaan ng kandidato na humarap sa kaniyang mga kababayan na nililigawan niya.

"Hopefully, mas magkakaroon ng mga darating na eleksiyon pa," Garcia said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate on April 4, meanwhile, challenged Comelec to already act on debates skippers "who are openly defying the Comelec's processes."

“We make this challenge to the Comelec: Just penalize them now," Zarate said in a statement, adding that Bayan Muna is looking into filing a bill that aims to categorically disallow, penalize, and/or disqualify candidates who skip Comelec-mandated debates.

“In this proposed bill, we may also include as ground for disqualification those aspiring candidates or candidates with final conviction for non-payment of taxes," Zarate said, "and the non-filing of the mandated income tax return and the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth."

During the VP debates, candidate Walden Bello urged Comelec 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.

Two more Comelec debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates are slated for April 23 and 24.

We make this challenge to the Comelec: Just penalize (debate no-shows) now.

The events will be in a town hall meeting format, in which the general public may throw questions at candidates.

"Di na po katulad nung mga naunang debate na mayroon tayong moderator na nagbibigay ng katanungan base sa piniling tanong mula sa mga eksperto," Garcia noted. "Mas magiging maganda ang balitaktakan at saka palitan ng mga opinyon at kuro-kuro.