Comelec eyes ‘multimedia’ presidential debates

Paterno Esmaquel II
Comelec eyes ‘multimedia’ presidential debates
The Comelec plans to stage one presidential debate in Luzon, one in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao, as a senator pushes for a livestreamed event

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday, September 10, said it is planning to hold at least 3 “multimedia” presidential debates for the 2016 elections.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the poll body plans to stage one debate in Luzon, one in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao. 

This can happen as early as February 2016, Bautista said at the Comelec’s budget hearing in the Senate. 

He added that the Comelec is setting at least one vice presidential debate for 2016. It is also thinking of organizing debates for senatorial and local candidates.

Bautista said the Comelec wants the presidential debates to be “multimedia, using technology.” 

“We’re looking now for the venue, and also we’re looking at different formats,” Bautista said. 

He pointed out, too, that the Comelec has formed a technical working group to plan the presidential debates, and is inviting different groups to help.

Senator Loren Legarda, who presided over the hearing as the Senate finance committee chair, for her part suggested livestreaming the presidential debate on the Internet.

Bautista agreed that this can be done, “using, as I said, multimedia.”

Many afraid of debates

Legarda added that the presidential debate can cover popular topics, such as traffic in Metro Manila and the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute, as well as unpopular ones, such as the “climate conference of the century” in Paris. 

The senator urged a “lively discussion” through the presidential debates. “Let’s veer away from killing each other, literally and figuratively, and all these black propaganda emanating sometimes from various forms of media and communications,” she said.

Bautista said, “We also want to veer away from personality politics and toward more issues and platform-based politics.”

The Fair Elections Act or Republic Act 9006, signed in February 2001, 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 national debate among vice-presidential candidates.” 

The Palace welcomes the Comelec’s plan to organize presidential debates.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, for her part, also supports the Comelec’s proposal. She is pushing for a law that will institutionalize presidential and vice-presidential debates through a presidential commission. 

The Comelec last hosted a presidential debate in 1992, when Fidel Ramos won the presidency, with Santiago as his strongest rival.

Media outlets have traditionally held their own presidential or senatorial debates, but many candidates back out because they fear public scrutiny. – Rappler.com

Images of podiums and the Philippine flag from Shutterstock

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.