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Visayas leg of Presidential Debate: Venue questioned

(The Freeman) - February 24, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines - An online discussion has gone viral yesterday after questions were raised on why the upcoming Visayas leg of the presidential debate will be done in a venue that can only accommodate 500 people.

One netizen asked why the debate would be done in a rather small venue when there are other options, including a 7,000-seater coliseum in a school, which also has a football field that can accommodate 10,000 more people.

Although the netizen did not mention the school hosting the event, the University of the Philippines Cebu has already confirmed that the March 20 debate will be held in its Performing Arts Hall.

Gregg Lloren, a UP Cebu faculty member who will be the floor director of the event, earlier said that due to security reasons, the debate is not open to the public and the Performing Arts Hall can only accommodate 500 people.  He said, though, that at least 1,500 more can watch the debate through a wide screen TV that would be set up at the UP Cebu grounds.

The netizen’s post, which was already taken down, has started an online debate on the reason why the event will be done in UP Cebu.

A few of the school’s students have taken offense of the post, saying UP Cebu can very well accommodate an event as big as the presidential debate.

The backlash prompted the netizen to issue an apology addressed to the public; UP students, faculty, employees; and UP Cebu alumni.

“I would like to take this time to say I am sorry for the unintended hurt generated by my previous post on the suggestion of change of venue of the 2nd Presidential Debate. It was never my aim to demean (or) discredit any person or institution,” the netizen said.

“That was never the intention of my post. After the success of the first debate in Cagayan de Oro, I got excited for us, Cebuanos, that we will be hosting the next leg of the Presidential Debate. Much to my dismay, the organizers have limited the number of attendees to the event. I know that many of us ordinary Filipinos would like to see the candidates most especially in a rare event like the presidential debate. In the course of expressing my opinion, I admit, I have not been able to refine my thoughts as I should have had,” he added.

Also included in the netizen’s statement was the request for the Commission on Elections and the Kapisanan ng Brodkasters ng Pilipinas to grant the public better access to the live presidential debate.

“If our government has secured the Pope, the APEC Leaders, the ASEAN Leaders, the million Sinulog Procession Goers, the estimated 15,000 IEC Participants — I think securing 5 Presidential Candidates and a few thousand audience should be within the capability of our security forces. If we can provide the best security and facilities to foreign visitors, our own people are worthy of the same treatment,” he said.

“The presidential candidates of the United States of America have more exposure, more debates, more locations and are personally seen by more of their citizenry than ours. If they can do it, so can we. Our people deserve it,” he added.

Meanwhile, explaining on the choice of venue, Star Group president and chief executive officer Miguel G. Belmonte said UP Cebu was chosen because it is just the right size so the TV crew can easily set up their equipment.

“The #BilangPilipino Group, the team from TV5 and Philstar who are organizing the debate, are finalizing the details,” he said, in a statement.

TV5’s Luchi Cruz-Valdez will be the moderator of the said debate.

In a statement posted via the Facebook account of the UP Alumni, Lloren even said that although the venue can accommodate 500 people, only 300 will be allowed inside for security and technical reasons.

The presidential candidates will be given a chance to meet the audience before they proceed to the debate hall.

Lloren said 200 of the audience will be invited by the Commission on Elections and TV5, while the remaining 100 slots are reserved for students and UP Cebu faculty.

He said they are still determining the mechanics on how the 100 seats for UP Cebu would be assigned.

Lloren explained  that to accommodate a wider audience and to encourage wider participation, interactive booths, a stage with a LED screen, seats and bleachers would be set up at the campus grounds.

“Although the grounds can accommodate about 2,500 persons, we are limiting the audience to 1,500 for security and technical reasons,” he said.

The audience will be given the chance to voice out their reaction every commercial break during the debate proper and they would also appear on the video stream.

While admission to the presidential debate is free, Lloren said the mechanics in distributing the entry slots are still drafted, adding that priority will be the young minds of our community.

Thus, they came up with a list of schools to send invitations to their representatives to occupy the school grounds.

He initially identified the schools as the University of San Carlos, Cebu Normal University, University of San Jose Recoletos, University of Cebu, Cebu Doctors’ University, Velez College, Cebu Technological University, Cebu Institute of Technology University, Asian College of Technology, Technical Education Skills Development Authority, University of Visayas.

Southwestern University, University of Southern Philippines Foundation, Salazar Colleges of Science and Institute of Technology,  Saint Theresa’s College of Cebu City,  College of Technological Sciences-Cebu and  STI College-Cebu.

He encouraged other schools to contact him or the UP Cebu administration contact person for inclusion.

He also said that non-government organizations, local government units, and special interest groups would also be invited, while individuals who are not members of any of the groups identified above would also have a chance to get an entry pass.

Again, he said the mechanics on how the passes can be had are still being worked out. —(FREEMAN)

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