‘Debate fiasco’ probe prompts suspension call | Inquirer News

‘Debate fiasco’ probe prompts suspension call

/ 05:32 AM April 30, 2022
Frances Arabe and James Jimenez

Frances Arabe and James Jimenez —PNA PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Two officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are facing temporary suspension after a task force led by a commissioner found “reasonable cause” to begin a formal fact-finding and administrative investigation of the aborted presidential debates.

Commissioner Rey Bulay on Friday asked that Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez and Frances Arabe, director of the education and information department, be relieved of their responsibilities.

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He asked that Jimenez and Arabe be replaced immediately to “prevent disruption in the essential election operations.”

The two are tasked with handling media relations and public information for the poll body.

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Bulay submitted his recommendation after “Task Force Pilipinas Debates 2022 Fiasco,” which was created and led by him to look into the cancellation of the presidential and vice presidential debates last weekend, came up with some preliminary findings.

Dignity of procedures

“After a discussion on their preliminary findings, the task force found reasonable cause to commence a formal fact-finding and administrative disciplinary investigation,” Bulay said in a statement on Friday.

“While the investigation is ongoing, [I] cannot release information on the issue to avoid a trial by publicity, to preserve the dignity of the procedures, and considering that government officials enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties,” he added.

The former Manila city prosecutor said that the findings were submitted on Friday to Comelec Chair Saidamen Pangarungan “for consideration.”

Arabe said on Friday that she would “abide and comply” with Bulay’s directive and turn over her duties to the person he would choose.

“As far as I can determine, all my actions have been aboveboard concerning the staging of presidential debates. I respect the process and have faith in the fairness of the Commission en banc,” she said in a statement.

Jimenez has not responded to a request for comment on Bulay’s move.

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Bulay found that at the request of both Jimenez and Arabe, Pangarungan signed a purchase order dated March 19 to release P15.3 million to Impact Hub as the “service provider for expert curated high-level debate organizer.”

In an April 22 memorandum, Bulay questioned the purchase order because Comelec debates “are supposed to be free as promised to all of Filipinos.” He called on Jimenez and Arabe to submit “honest and clear explanations” about the request to release public funds for Impact Hub.

Impact Hub, a Filipino-owned company, was the Comelec’s partner for five scheduled debates sponsored by the poll body to be held at Sofitel.

Only three were staged before the hotel canceled the venue for the last two because Impact Hub failed to pay about P14 million, or 68.4 percent of its P20.6-million contract with Sofitel.

Bulay proposed that his task force also include the director of the personnel department, Margaret Ching, “to ensure the observance of due process, and a thorough, proper, fair and impartial probe.”

Its current members include Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz Jr., Director Martin Niedo of the finance services department and Director Maria Norina Casingal of the law department.Commissioner George Garcia had said that Comelec did not receive any official explanation from Impact Hub on why the scheduled debates fell through.

‘Misunderstanding’

The company released a statement on April 23 signed by its lawyers Eirene Aguila and Gideon Peña, saying that the problem was a mere “misunderstanding” between Sofitel and Impact Hub, and that the matter would be discussed “privately.”

Comelec and its new partner, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, have scrapped the debate format and would just hold an hourlong taped interview with each candidate. They will field questions from a three-member panel chosen from a list of interviewers from television or radio networks.

Garcia on Friday said the presidential bets who had confirmed their interviews were Ernesto Abella, Leody de Guzman, Norberto Gonzales, Faisal Mangondato, Jose Montemayor and Manny Pacquiao.

The vice presidential aspirants who said they would be participating were Rizalito David, Manny Lopez, Vicente Sotto III and Carlos Serapio.

The topics will cover inflation and poverty, unemployment and economy, education, and health-care and COVID-19 response.

The interviews will be aired from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. from May 2 to May 6. The order of airing will be determined by drawing lots. TV and radio networks that have expressed interest in airing the interviews were Manila Broadcasting Company, Bombo Radyo, Radio Mindanao Network, ABS-CBN (Teleradyo and ANC), TV5 Network (OnePH and OneNews), CNN Philippines, Radyo Pilipino, Primax Broadcasting and Vanguard Broadcasting.

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TAGS: 2022 presidential debates, Comelec, Frances Arabe, Impact Hub, James Jimenez, Rey Bulay
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