Comelec creates working group for presidential debates
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) expressed intent to organize and revive the conduct of debates among presidential candidates, especially for the 2016 polls.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said a technical working group has been created to study the mechanics and adopt international best practices of presidential debates.

Debates would encourage candidates “to focus on substantive issues and public policies” as well as provide a “mechanism for exacting accountability among elected officials with regard to their campaign promises,” Bautista said.

 He noted that under Republic Act 9006, or the Fair Elections Act, the poll body may require national television and radio networks to sponsor at least three national debates among presidential candidates and at least one for vice presidential bets.

The law states that the debates among presidential candidates shall “be scheduled on three different calendar days: the first debate shall be scheduled within the first and second weeks of the campaign period; the second debate within the fifth and six weeks of the campaign period; and the third debate scheduled within the 10th and 11th weeks of the campaign period.”

Bautista said the last presidential debate organized by the Comelec was during the 1992 elections.

Mall voting, PCOS, campaign period

Bautista said yesterday that the poll body is considering private establishments and schools, aside from malls, to serve as voting centers in next year’s elections.

Under the plan, the Comelec will transfer polling stations from public schools to malls, if there are any in the vicinity. But since many areas do not have existing malls, the poll body said it may use other private facilities.

The poll chief said renting private schools to host the elections had been done by the Comelec in previous elections.

But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, said it is “better to keep voting out of shopping malls” because owners may have their own bets.

Pimentel also stressed “this is not the time for experiment,” as he urged the Comelec to focus “on its job, like fixing the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that we already own, and not on sideshows like voting in malls.”

In an ambush interview, Comelec commissioner Robert Lim said the multi-sectoral Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) yesterday proposed to use PCOS machines alongside optical mark reader (OMR) machines for the 2016 polls.

Lim said the CAC, chaired by Science and Technology Undersecretary Louis Napoleon Casambre, found it wasteful to abandon existing PCOS machines, which were leased for P7.2 billion for use in the 2010 elections and purchased for P1.8 billion for the 2013 polls from Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp.

The CAC proposed to use some of the 81,897 refurbished PCOS machines and the 70,977 OMR machines, to be supplemented by additional 23,000 OMR machines that the agency is leasing from Smartmatic-TIM.

The poll body is set to meet today with the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system to discuss the matter.

As for Lim’s proposal to extend the campaign period for national candidates from the current 90 days to 120 days, Pimentel said the campaign period was clearly defined under the law and any change would have to be done through an amendment of Republic Act 7166, or the Synchronized Election Law. – With Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

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