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Running scared

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2016 - 9:00am

There would be at least six pairs of presidential and vice presidential aspirants in the May 2016 elections. That is, if we go by the initial invites issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for their sanctioned debates among these presidential and vice presidential aspirants.

Tentatively, the Comelec-invited presidential candidates (in alphabetical order) include: Vice President Jejomar Binay; Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago; Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte; Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares; Manuel A. “Mar” Roxas; and, OFW Family party-list Rep. Roy Señeres.

For the vice presidential debate, the Comelec-invited candidates (also in alphabetical order) include: Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano; Sen. Francis Joseph Escudero; Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan; Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.; Camarines Sur Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo; and, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

This certainly is a much shorter list than 130 presidential and 19 vice presidential candidates from the original wannabes who each filed their certificates of candidacy at Comelec in October last year.

Comelec official spokesman James Jimenez was quoted saying last month the poll body has until January 8 to edit the final list of candidates prior to the printing of ballots either by late January or early February. Jimenez reassured candidates who have pending cases that they will be included in the ballots.

As of this writing though, the short list of candidates is not yet official whether their names would indeed appear in the ballots that the Comelec will print for the May elections. For obvious reasons, the Comelec announcement is delayed by the fact there are two pending disqualification (DQ) cases against two presidential candidates – Poe and Duterte.

The Comelec has already ruled to disqualify Poe. But Poe challenged this before the Supreme Court. Poe’s appeal was the subject of yesterday’s oral arguments before the SC. Thus, the candidacy of Poe remains in limbo until such time the SC renders its final ruling. However, the high court earlier affirmed its injunction against the Comelec’s DQ ruling and ordered the poll body to keep Poe’s name in the list of candidates until further notice.

The Comelec, on the other hand, has yet to rule on the DQ case against Duterte.

Trying to stick to their timetable for the holding of the elections, the Comelec is proceeding with their preparations, including the conduct anew of presidential debates. Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) last week with the representatives of designated media entities which will sponsor and organize the Comelec-sanctioned debates.

The initial face-off among presidential and vice-presidential candidates will be among their respective representatives. They would sit down today with Comelec officials led by Chairman Bautista and Jimenez along with representatives of media entities to discuss the ground rules of the debate.

The idea is to make sure there would be no vacant seat. If any candidate decides otherwise or backs out at the last moment, the Comelec chairman reiterated the stand to have a vacant seat with the name of the absent candidate on it.

It’s not a shame campaign, he clarified anew. “We just think that them not showing up is already a message in itself,” he pointed out. According to Bautista, the debates are meant to “assist voters in making an informed choice in respect of their candidates and encourage candidates to focus on substantive issues and public policy pronouncement.”

The last Comelec-organized presidential debate was held in 1992.

TV5 with The STAR, BusinessWorld and The Freeman will jointly organize the second-leg of the presidential debate. It will be held in Cebu on March 20 at the University of the Philippines campus in Cebu City. A panel discussion format will have the candidates answering questions from interviewers selected to grill them on a set of topics identified by the Comelec. For the Visayas debate, the Comelec chose the following topics: disaster preparedness/climate change adaptation, healthcare, education, and fighting corruption.

The presidential debate in Mindanao will be held in Mindanao, specifically in Cagayan de Oro City on Feb. 21. TV network GMA 7 and The Philippine Daily Inquirer will conduct it in a “dual moderator” format, or a combination of a male and a female to act as moderators. They will grill all the candidates based on the Comelec assigned topics, namely: agriculture development, poverty reduction/asset creation and redistribution, Charter change and peace and order.

The debate in Luzon will be held either in Central or Southern Luzon on April 24 to be led by the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN and The Manila Bulletin using a “town hall” format where each candidate will be asked questions from the invited audience. The Comelec chose topics to focus on traffic and public transportation, electoral and political reforms, foreign policy, tax reforms and national defense.

And the vice presidential debate will be jointly conducted by CNN Philippines, Business Mirror and Rappler on March 10. All the debates will be telecast live on TV, radio and streaming on those dates from 5 to 7 p.m.

All of the six pairs of candidates confirmed they will have respective representatives to attend today’s meeting at the Comelec to discuss and give their inputs to the ground rules of the debate. At the end of this meeting, they are expected to commit for and on behalf their respective candidates to participate and agree to the Comelec debate rules.

The country’s election laws do not compel any candidate to participate in the Comelec-sanctioned presidential debate. This is why the Comelec obviously is using the media to the hilt to compel, if not arm-twist the presidential and vice presidential candidates to join the debate.

We shall see all these candidates who undeniably are all running scared if they can stand the heat and face and give credible answers and rebuttals – with no aides at their beck and call onstage – as the ultimate test before final judgment on election day.

ACIRC ALAN PETER CAYETANO ANTONIO TRILLANES BUSINESS MIRROR AND RAPPLER BUT POE CAMARINES SUR REP CANDIDATES COMELEC DEBATE PRESIDENTIAL VICE
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