Comelec plans to hold debates for 2016 bets

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) met yesterday with executives and editors of media organizations to discuss plans to hold debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates in next year’s elections.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the debates are intended to assist voters in making informed choices.

“We would like to veer away from personality politics towards politics based on issues and platforms. We want a candidate to focus on substantive issues and public policy pronouncements,” Bautista said.

The Comelec is organizing the debates in partnership with media organizations, including The STAR, TV5 and BusinessWorld.

Bautista said they are looking at holding three debates for presidential candidates – between Feb. 9 and 22, 2016 in Mindanao, between March 8 and 21 in the Visayas and between April 12 and 25 in Luzon.

A vice-presidential debate can be held any day from April 4 to 8 in Metro Manila.

In Mindanao, the topics shall be agriculture development, poverty reduction and asset creation and redistribution, Charter change and peace and order.

In the Visayas, the focus is on disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation, healthcare, education and fighting corruption. 

Traffic and public transportation, electoral and political reforms, foreign policy, tax reforms and national defense are the topics for Luzon.

There were proposals to hold the debates during Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The poll body prefers that the debates be held in schools and stadiums.

Bautista said the debates are provided under Section 7.3 of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act, which states that the Comelec “may require national television and radio networks to sponsor at least three national debates among presidential candidates and at least one among vice presidential candidates.”

“We are doing this to provide a mechanism for exacting accountability among elected officials with regard their campaign promises,” he said.

Bautista said the Comelec and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas would formulate the guidelines to ensure order and fairness.

Not mandatory

Bautista said the debates are not compulsory.

“But if you are a serious candidate, you will not miss this. We want these debates to be institutionalized, to become part and parcel of elections,” he said.

The poll body is studying the best presidential debates in other countries like the United States. It is also eyeing the debates to be in English and Tagalog and aired nationwide “so that everybody will hear and see what they say and we can hold them accountable for those promises.”

Bautista said Comelec offices would also hold debates among local candidates.

Public disclosure 

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo urged presidential aspirants to make a voluntary public disclosure of pre-election campaign contributions and donations they have received.

“There has to be transparency, accountability and integrity in every presidential candidacy,” Castelo said.

He said the disclosure should include the names of contributors and donors and their business or financial interests.

He said the information would guide voters in choosing the presidential aspirant they would support.

Castelo noted that several months before the start of the campaign period, candidates in the 2016 elections are spending a lot for television and radio advertisements and their provincial sorties.

“Their television and radio political advertisements, sorties and tarpaulins appear quite expensive, even as the official political campaign has yet to start in January next year,” he said.

Castelo said that in the absence of any law on pre-campaign expenditures, voluntary public disclosure has to be made by presidential candidates themselves to avoid public suspicion that they are under the control of their campaign financiers or are using public funds.

He noted that while certain campaign contributors come from big business, “donors could include unsavory characters like drug lords, leaders of smuggling rings, influence peddlers, among others.”

“The huge amount of campaign contributions could mean corruption, as contributors take control of the winning presidential candidate. Quid pro quo would definitely characterize their contributions,” he said. 

He said senatorial candidates should also make a disclosure of donations and donors.

He said candidates would be governed by the reporting rules of the Comelec once the official campaign starts.

Mall voting

Meanwhile, Parañaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting expressed reservations about the Comelec’s plan to hold voting in shopping malls. 

Tambunting said the scheme might compromise the integrity of the elections because of possible partisanship of mall owners. 

“It might create problems rather than solutions to its thrust to protect the integrity of the polls,” he said. 

“We should be vigilant, especially of mall owners who are supporting particular candidates,” he said. 

Tambunting also cited the security of the voting machines and equipment when stored at the malls prior to Election Day. 

He said watchers of political parties might not be allowed to guard the voting machines and equipment because malls usually close at 10 p.m. – With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero




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