Debates scrapped; bets’ pre-taped interviews OK

Nine candidates show up for the 2nd PiliPinas Debate of the Commission on Elections held on April 3, 2022. A podium is left empty for former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who declined to participate in the debate. STORY: Debates scrapped; bets’ pre-taped interviews OK

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has canceled the last round of presidential and vice presidential debates this weekend due to the unavailability of the candidates just days before the May 9 polls.

The supposed town hall debates rescheduled on April 30 and May 1 will instead be replaced with pre-taped, hourlong interviews of the candidates to be aired from May 2 to 6, the Comelec announced on Monday.

The poll body was forced to cancel the final presidential and vice presidential debates originally set on April 23 and 24 after its partner organizer, Impact Hub Manila, was unable to pay P14 million of its P20.5-million obligation to Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, the venue of the Comelec-sponsored PiliPinas Debates.

The fiasco has prompted an internal investigation within Comelec of its top officials for possible criminal liability for committing the poll body to an allegedly onerous deal with Impact Hub. On Monday, 14 senior Comelec officials submitted their formal explanation to Commissioner Rey Bulay, who is undertaking the probe, though several among them said they took “no part” in the decision on the debates.

The Comelec tried to salvage the final round of televised debates by rescheduling them a week later, with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) as the organizer.

However, several candidates have begged off due to previous campaign commitments.

“In consideration of the inevitable scheduling conflicts as the candidates approach the homestretch of the campaign period, and as advised by the KBP, the Comelec will now adopt a single candidate/team-panel interview format,” the Comelec said in an advisory on Monday.

Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said the planned hourlong interviews with each candidate, or together with their running mate, would air next week, with the panelists provided by the KBP.

The camp of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has skipped previous Comelec-sponsored debates, on Monday welcomed the poll body’s decision to hold taped panel interviews in lieu of town hall debates.

Lawyer Vic Rodriguez, Marcos’ chief of staff and spokesperson, said: “The panel interview of candidates is exactly the format that we have been advocating.”

It is the format that “can measure the depth of a candidate, who is presenting himself to be the next president of our country, distanced from the usual political noise, personal bickering and worse, gutter politics,” Rodriguez said.

Marcos has appeared only in the presidential debate organized by Sonshine Media Network International, owned by Kingdom of Jesus Christ head and self-proclaimed “appointed son of God” Apollo Quiboloy, who previously endorsed the presidential and vice presidential candidacies of Marcos and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso on Monday also said he was fine with a one-on-one interview “if the schedule will allow it.”

“As long as there’s free time, why not?” the Aksyon Demokratiko standard-bearer told reporters in Carles town, Iloilo province.

“The thing there is we have commitments and as I mentioned earlier, we still have many provinces and towns to return to or visit. But if the schedule will allow, yes, of course. I’ll be happy to join,” he said.

Domagoso said he also did not mind the new format.

“Whatever it is, I’m applying for a job. And job applicants don’t get to choose how they will be interviewed by their future employer, which in this case are the people,” he said in Filipino.

No editing

Presidential aspirant Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday welcomed the move to convert the botched debate series into a panel interview with candidates on one condition: It should not allow edits of the pre-taped question-and-answer session.

Lacson said he was wary that post-process editing might take out portions that the candidates feel are vital to their intended message, or muddle the responses.

“Editing will complicate matters because (the candidate) has no control (over the final content). My worry is that if something good I said was omitted, and that which is unpleasant is aired, that would be so unfair,” he said.

Lacson said he and his running mate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, would rather have the interviews either aired live, or recorded but aired on the same hour.

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