Non-debates at all

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

This is a friendly warning to fellow motorists, especially those who are driving a “luxury,” or high-end brands of vehicles like BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Range Rover, or the like. Be wary when you are turning from Buendia Avenue going to Roxas Boulevard. There are traffic aides “conveniently positioned” under the flyover that are actually waiting to pounce on you once you make the turn.

It does not matter that you are in the right lane. Nor does it matter that you are signaling your right turn many meters before one reaches this corner. They will stop you. And when you ask what you did wrong, they will always say you are not careful, even if there are hardly any cars around you. Other cars of the expensive-make are also stopped there on other occasions while passing by.

My vehicle, a company-issued Toyota Fortuner has been stopped there a couple of times already. But as soon as they see The Philippine Star signage, they will just wave you to proceed. It would be best to just turn right into the service road and out to Roxas Boulevard at one of the openings past that corner if only to avoid being inconvenienced by these vultures waiting for the opportunity to pick on you.

Anyways, the third and final round of a presidential debate scheduled last week but reset to this weekend by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will no longer take place. As already announced last Monday, the Comelec decided to just cancel all together the originally planned “town hall” format of the last round of debates for the presidential and vice presidential (VP) candidates running on May 9 national and local elections. On the last two-weeks of the campaign period, the Comelec could not possibly blame any one in particular but itself in aborting it.

This was after Comelec’s private partner Impact Hub Manila, allegedly failed to pay P14 million to Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Roxas Boulevard as the venue of the “PiliPinas Debates 2022: The Turning Point.” As the third party contractor, the Sofitel management complained to the Comelec the Impact Hub has failed to pay for the presidential debates held at the hotel last March 19 and April 3 and the VP debate on March 20.

A Twitter comment posted by erstwhile Comelec chairman Andy Bautista recalled the first-ever presidential and VP debates organized by the poll body during the May, 2016 elections: “Walang third party contractor sa apat na PiliPinas 2016 debates. Ang mga media at private sector partners ang gumastos para dito! At ang mga candidates uma-attend.”

In fairness, it was not an empty boast though by Bautista whose watch over the poll body got shortened by his personal family crisis. Bautista engaged the private radio and TV networks and major national publications, including The Star to undertake the debates pro bono for the Comelec.

Initial information gathered by Comelec commissioner George Erwin Garcia points to alleged less than turnout of advertising revenues that the private contractor did not expect to encounter. Apparently, the presidential debates did not rate well despite its wide TV, radio and online coverage. Obviously, the political ads as well as little interest from the commercial advertisers were not sufficient to cover the costs of production.

Thus, the Comelec was forced to defer the previously set presidential debate on April 23 and the VP debate on April 24 to April 30 and May 1, respectively. Garcia cited Commissioner Rey Bulay has been tasked to conduct a thorough investigation on the debate mess. Bulay promised to finish the investigation by this Friday, April 29.

The seven-man poll body, now chaired by Saidaman Pangarungan, has not totally given up yet undertaking another activity in lieu of debates. Instead, the poll body proposed to hold one-hour long interview for each and every presidential and VP candidates. If there is no further change, the Comelec targets to run the pre-taped panel interviews the week before election day.

The Comelec entered into a new partnership with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) to undertake the concluding event of the “PiliPinas Forum 2022 Series” but using this different format. The KBP is a self-regulating media body composed of operators/owners and practitioners from various radio and TV networks all around the country.

“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 be adopting a Single Candidate/Team-Panel Interview format,” the Commission announced. As conceived, the proposed new format will consist of three-member panel to conduct one-hour long interview to individual candidates.

The new proposed format would no longer require a  face-off among these candidates.

Thus, the new format would likely get former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM) to reconsider his absence in the past two presidential debates of the Comelec. The tandem of Sen.Panfilo Lacson and Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto have expressed willingness to accept the new format provided it will be “taped as live” and that there will be no editing of the entire interview.

The two other Presidential aspirants, Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno both called upon the Comelec to continue with the third and last debate. Vice President Leni Robredo has no comment yet as of press time yesterday.

The poll body really had no choice. Actually, it is a compromise arrangement and obviously designed to accommodate every one for the remaining two weeks of the official campaign period. According to Garcia, the Comelec en banc will pass upon today the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the KBP. The poll body will issue guidelines to all the participating parties once the MOA is approved and signed, Garcia added. And this time, the May 2 to 6 interviews will not cost a single centavo from the Comelec.

The Comelec, speaking through a designated moderator during these past two presidential debates, did interviews only of the candidates. So, these were non-debates at all.


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