2016 election candidates won’t be forced to join debates by Comelec
Presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2016 elections will not be forced to participate in the debates set to be organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“We will not force anybody to join the debates. Kung gusto o ayaw, okay lang,” said Comelec Chair Andres Bautista in a press briefing Monday following the poll officials’ preliminary meeting with executives of various media organizations.
As far as the Comelec is concerned, Bautista said they just want to provide a platform for voters to effectively assess the candidates for president and vice president.
“We are doing the candidates a favor by providing a venue, a free venue where they can ventilate their arguments, where they can discuss their platforms of government,” said Bautista, adding that the Comelec, together with the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, would be formulating the guidelines for the debates.
Although participating in the debates would only be on a voluntary basis, Bautista warned that the candidates’ non-appearance might not be helpful to their candidacy.
“Ang kanilang pagpunta o hindi pagpunta ay may mensahe din,” the poll chief said.
Section 7 of the Fair Election Act 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.”
During yesterday’s meeting, Bautista said the proposed presidential debates will be done thrice with the one in Mindanao (between February 8-22); Visayas (between March 8-21); and Luzon (between April 12-15); while a vice presidential debate is being scheduled in Metro Manila between April 4-8.
Among the issues that could be debated upon are agricultural development, poverty reduction, charter change, peace and order, disaster preparedness, healthcare, education, corruption, public transportation, traffic, electoral reforms, foreign policy, tax reform, and national defense.
Bautista said the debates aim to assist voters in making informed choices during election day.
“It also aims to encourage candidates to focus on substantive issues and public policy pronouncements and provide a mechanism for exacting accountability among elected officials wit regard to their campaign promises,” he said.
He also said earlier that he has already directed their regional and provincial election supervisors to organize similar debates in their area as part of their campaign to shift the elections to be more platform-based rather than focused on personalities.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the debates are a means to level the political playing field especially for candidates who have less financial resources.
Jimenez also urged would-be candidates to include the debates in their campaign itinerary as early as now.
“Sana ngayon pa lang, sinasama niyo na sa campaign sked nyo ang debate para no excuses later on,” said Jimenez in his Twitter account (@jabjimenez).
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