Presidential, VP debates will be face-to-face — Comelec

DEBATES among candidates for the country’s top two positions in next year’s elections will be in person, an official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Thursday.

“It will be face-to-face among candidates. Yesterday there was a lot of talk about it being online and people were concerned that online meant the candidates will be virtual as well. They wouldn’t be,” Comelec Spokesperson James B. Jimenez told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

He said the candidates for president and vice president will be physically facing off while the audience will be participating virtually.

Mr. Jimenez said Comelec is looking at having three separate debates for both positions.

Senators, including those running for either of the top positions, have expressed preference for debating in person.

“It is different when the candidates are physically engaged, especially in a debate that the Filipinos are awaiting to determine in full who they will vote to lead the country — including the demeanor and action of every presidential candidate,” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, who is running for president, said in a statement Thursday.

He added that based on their experience in Senate hearings and sessions, virtual platforms pose limitations such as technical problems.

Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a veteran politician and public official who plans to retire in 2022, said a virtual debate would not fully show the candidates’ genuine ability.

“The possibility of coaching will diminish the credibility of the debates as a test of the candidates’ competence to lead the country for the next six years,” he said in a statement Thursday. “That is why my preference is a face-to-face debate.”

“It can be done, with the appropriate safety protocols on COVID-19 being observed,” he added.

Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan, who is running for vice president, also said measures could be put in place to ensure health protocols are observed at the debate venue.

In another election concern, Mr. Jimenez said banning substitution for political candidates who withdraw would not be ideal as it remains a necessary remedy for political parties.

He said taking away the right of a political party to substitute due to a voluntary withdrawal would “hold the party hostage to the whim of the (withdrawn) candidate.”

“If a candidate files a CoC (certificate of candidacy) under pretense of good faith and then later says, ‘I don’t want to run anymore’, you are going to leave the political party high and dry,” he said in the same interview.

Substitution allows a political party to replace a member who filed a certificate of candidacy with another member.

Filing ended on Oct. 8 while substitution is allowed until Nov. 15.

Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives have filed bills seeking to ban voluntary substitution.

Mr. Jimenez added that statements made by political candidates or parties that they are placeholders cannot be verified as they are not under oath.

“They’re not as trustworthy as if they were said under oath under an appropriate body and under a hearing,” he said.

On campaigning, Mr. Jimenez said Comelec will be allowing physical events but there will be guidelines on the number of people allowed based on the alert levels set in a particular area.

“We are going to systematize that so that we have rules all over the country that would define how many people can be in an in-person campaigning… at any given place,” he said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Russell Louis C. Ku