Binay to Comelec: Change debate format

BACK IN BATANGAS. Vice President Jejomar Binay returns to Batangas for a campaign sortie on February 24, 2016.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

BATANGAS, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay said on Wednesday, February 24, that he will write the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to "suggest" ways to improve the presidential debates, first held in Cagayan de Oro City over the weekend.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) standard-bearer made the statement in a sortie in Tanauan, Batangas, his second in the province in barely two weeks.

"Ang akin nga hong gagawin, susulat ho ako sa Comelec. 'Comelec, puwede bang ikaw na lang ho ang gumastos dun?' Kasi ang interes ay 'yung kikitain sa palabas! Dadami ang mag-so-sponsor. Kulang na kulang ho sa oras na matugunan ang dapat magawa ng mga haharap na mga kandidato," Binay said.

(I will write to Comelec and tell them, "Comelec, can you please be the one to spend for the debates?" Because the interest [of the one shouldering the expenses] is on how much will be earned from the show and how many sponsors they will get.)

The Vice President, who got the lowest score from social media users in online polls on candidates in the Cagayan de Oro debate, complained that the candidates did not get enough time to talk about their plans for the country.

UNA spokesperson Mon Ilagan also told Rappler that the party plans to suggest ways to improve the next set of debates. 

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had also observed that candidates were not given enough time to speak during the Cagayan de Oro debate.

'Not a debate'

Binay said at the campaign rally that those who watched the debate on TV could see that "there was something wrong" with the way it was presented.

"Di naman ho debate e! 'Di ka naman makasagot doon sa napakalayo sa'yo (It wasn't a debate! You could not even properly answer the person asking you because he or she is far away from you)," the Vice President told Tanauan residents.

"Pangalawa, mas mahaba pa ho ang commercial kaysa doon sa malaman kung ano hong ang dapat malaman sa kandidato. 'Yung pagharap ninyo sa telebisyon, dapat masuri, marinig kung ano ang paninindigan at kung ano ang pinaniniwalaan ng kandidato at kung bakit siya dapat iboto," added Binay.

(Secondly, the commercial breaks were longer than the allotted period for candidates to speak. When you face the people on televsion, they should be able to scrutinize and hear what you stand for and why they should vote for you.)

Commercial breaks ate up 48 minutes of the two-hour presidential debate.

The seasoned politician also questioned why he was asked about his real estate properties during the first round of the debate when it was supposed to tackle the candidates' track records, while Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was asked about political dynasties.

"E 'di ang track record ay kung ano ang iyong nagawa. Ang tinanong naman ho sa akin ay lupa kong namana at lupa kong nabili. 'Yung aking si Miriam [Defensor Santiago] na kapartner, tinanong ng [tungkol sa political] dynasty! E wala naman hong track record na tinanong," said Binay. 

(Track record is about what you were able to accomplish. But they asked me about the lands I inherited and bought. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was my partner, was asked about political dynasties. They didn't ask us about our track record.)

During the debate, Binay reiterated his previous statement that he obtained his properties by inheritance and through "hard work." Questions about Binay's wealth continue to hound him, and were discussed at the year-long Senate inquiry on corruption allegations against him.

At the campaign rally, Binay said the aim of giving voters a more informed choice was not achieved during the first presidential debate. This, he said, pointed to the need to change the format. (WATCH: What do Mindanaoans have to say about the 1st presidential debate?)

According to analysts and social media users, Binay was "lackluster" during the debate as he failed to highlight his 30 years' worth of experience in public office as well as his platform of pro-poor governance and inclusive growth. (READ: Cinderella Man)

Members of Binay's camp believe the Vice President, who harped on the "inexperience" and "incompetence" of his rivals at the debate, did a "good job." (READ: The return of the 'juggernaut'? What Binay needs to do to win)

Debate formats already set 

The poll body is mounting 3 presidential and one vice presidential debates for the 2016 elections in partnership with various media organizations in the country.

The Cagayan de Oro debate was co-organized with GMA-7, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.

Each candidate was first asked to deliver a one-minute opening statement. In the following 3 rounds, the candidates were paired up.

Candidate A had 90 seconds to answer the question thrown at him or her by the hosts, then Candidate B had 60 seconds to answer, rebut, or comment on the first candidate's answer. The first candidate then had another 30 seconds to close the argument.

All the presidential bets were also asked to deliver their one-minute closing statements at the end of the debate. 

The second presidential debate, to be held in the Visayas on March 20, will be co-organized by TV5 and Philippine Star. It will follow a panel format, where a select set of interviewers will challenge the candidates on issues of disaster preparedness, healthcare, education, and fighting corruption.

The last presidential debate is in Luzon on April 24. The debate, to be co-hosted by ABS-CBN and Manila Bulletin, will have a town hall format, where the moderator takes questions from the audience.

The vice presidential debate will be on April 10 in Metro Manila, with Comelec partners CNN Philippines, BusinessMirror, and Rappler. 

Rappler, however, filed a lawsuit against Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista before the Supreme Court, asking it to intervene to allow millions of Filipinos to watch the debates on their phones, tablets, and computers.

The Cagayan de Oro Press Club also protested against the limited number of slots given to the local media who covered the first debate. 

GMA-7 later increased the number of their slots, but local reporters were still barred from bringing "any type of coverage equipment" inside the theater where the debate was held. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.

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