Comelec refuses to pay P15 million being demanded by 2022 debate contractor

Dwight de Leon

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Comelec refuses to pay P15 million being demanded by 2022 debate contractor

DEBATE. Presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of the second Comelec presidential debate at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila in Pasay City, April 3, 2022.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

For succeeding elections, the Comelec is insistent it will no longer mount debates with a production company, and instead just let media companies take the lead, similar to what happened in 2016

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) formally wrote to startup Impact Hub Manila, saying that it will not pay the P15.3 million it supposedly owes the company.

In a letter dated Friday, May 19, but released only to the media on Tuesday, May 23, the Comelec said Impact Hub Manila failed to fulfill its obligations in accordance with the contract on the mounting of the 2022 election debates.

“Upon evaluation, Impact Hub’s demand for payment is not accompanied by the documentary requirement necessary to establish the validity of claim,” Comelec Executive Director Teofisto Elnas Jr. wrote. “In this regard, the commission is constrained to deny Impact Hub’s claim for P15.3 million.”

Rappler sought a reaction from Impact Hub Manila chief executive officer Ces Rondario, but she has yet to reply as of posting time.

Controversial debate partnership

The Comelec and Impact Hub Manila’s 2022 election partnership was a nightmare – one that continues to haunt both of them a year after the polls.

The commission tapped the startup to be its production partner for the mounting of six election debates – three for presidential candidates and three for vice presidential hopefuls – from March to April 2022.

The first four pushed through, despite hiccups. But the last leg of the debate series faced postponement and eventual cancellation after debate venue Sofitel brought to light the P14-million balance unsettled by Impact Hub Manila, and the bounced checks that the startup issued to the five-star hotel.

The poll body launched an inquiry, which resulted in the temporary relief of James Jimenez from his longtime Comelec spokesman post. He never got that position back, and eventually availed of early retirement in September 2022.

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Result of probe out soon

In an interview on Tuesday, Comelec Chairman George Garcia said the poll body has concluded its probe and is in the process of “fine-tuning” the investigation report.

He noted the report would name-drop five to six individuals – including former and current Comelec officials – who would be found liable for the failed conduct of the debate series.

“We are looking at threefold liability: criminal, civil, and administrative,” Garcia said.

The memorandum of agreement between the Comelec and Impact Hub Manila was signed by Commissioner Socorro Inting when she was acting chairperson in March 2022.

The decision of the Comelec to pick Impact Hub Manila as production partner for the 2022 debates raised a lot of questions.

Why did the poll body prefer a seven-year-old startup, over decades-old media companies, to mount presidential and vice presidential debates? In the 2016 elections, broadcast networks took turns in mounting debates for free. Why didn’t the Comelec partner with the networks again?

The Fair Election Act states the Comelec may require television and radio networks to sponsor national debates.

Garcia is insistent that the Comelec will no longer mount debates on its own in succeeding elections, and will let media companies take the lead instead.

“That should have been the case from the very start. Media entities should have been given the opportunity to lead the debates,” he said. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.