2022 Philippine Elections

Comelec orders officials to explain debate contractor’s debt mess with Sofitel

Dwight de Leon

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Comelec orders officials to explain debate contractor’s debt mess with Sofitel

PROBE. Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay leads the investigation into the poll body contractor's debt mess with the PiliPinas Debates venue partner.


(1st UPDATE) Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay wants to know why some officials sought to release funds and 'pay in behalf' of the debate contractor that issued bounced checks to Sofitel

MANILA, Philippines – The Comelec commissioner leading the probe on its contractor’s P14-million debt owed to the venue partner for the debates asked several high-ranking officials to explain the mess that ultimately led to the postponement of the highly-anticipated election event series.

The debate has been moved from April 23 and 24 to April 30 and May 1, after Impact Hub Manila, the debate production partner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), failed to settle its financial obligations to Sofitel.

Comelec orders officials to explain debate contractor’s debt mess with Sofitel

Rappler obtained on Friday, April 22, a copy of the 32-page memorandum of Commissioner Rey Bulay, who gave Comelec directors until Monday, April 25, to submit a letter explaining their side.

Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said on Friday morning, April 22, that the seven-member en banc only learned about Impact Hub Manila’s series of bounced checks a few days ago. But as it turned out, Sofitel had informed Comelec spokesman and education and information department (EID) chief James Jimenez about the payment predicament as early as March 31, based on Sofitel’s letter to Jimenez’s office.

In his reply letter dated April 1, Jimenez, who is not part of the en banc, offered his “vote of confidence” and “full support” to Impact Hub Manila, noting that the Comelec, at the time, was supposedly about to release funds to the startup.

Jimenez was referring to a P15.3-million purchase request for Impact Hub Manila that he certified, and was ultimately signed by Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan.

But Bulay was appalled that “no one was able to cite the basis of the release of such funds,” when the agreement was between Impact Hub Manila and Sofitel.

“It is clear that the Comelec has no contractual relationship with Sofitel,” he wrote. “If Comelec releases P15 million of public funds, the Comelec will be wrongly covering up Impact Hub’s liability, as Comelec will be paying in behalf of Impact Hub.”

Bulay was even alarmed that the poll body has to shell out money for the debates, insisting that “debates are done without any expense from the Comelec.”

Comelec orders officials to explain debate contractor’s debt mess with Sofitel
Rescind the contract?

Rappler reached out to Impact Hub Manila chief executive officer Ces Rondario multiple times, but she declined our calls.

Rondario said in February that Vote Pilipinas was conceived only after the 2019 polls, when she realized 70% of her team in Impact Hub Manila were not registered voters.

For Bulay, how the startup ended up becoming the Comelec’s debate production partner should be explained by poll body directors on the receiving end of his memorandum.

“Please do not argue Impact Hub’s performance in other activities. Concentrate on the fact that they allegedly incurred liability in this instant cause, and the Comelec is on the receiving end of the trouble they caused,” he told the officials.

Bulay put on the table the possibility of severing ties with Impact Hub Manila and terminating the contract, “which appears to be manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

Asked to submit their explanation are Jimenez, Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz, deputy executive directors Teopisto Elnas and Helen Aguila-Flores, and all Comelec main office directors, including Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo, and Frances Arabe.

In a statement, Jimenez confirmed he has received a copy of the memorandum.

“Early evening today, in a sealed envelope, I received a copy of an inter-office memorandum from the Hon. Commissioner Rey Bulay, directing myself and others to submit a written explanation on the circumstances leading up to and including the rescheduling of the PiliPinas Debates 2022. However, it appears now that the same memorandum has been leaked to the media for whatever reason,” Jimenez said in a statement.

“The memorandum has set a deadline for the response it demands, and I – as well as all other recipients of the memorandum – fully intend to meet that deadline. Just as importantly, due deference to the Honorable Commissioner dictates that any response I make should be made to him, first and foremost. For this reason, I would refrain from any further comments on the matter for now,” he added.

Arabe, meanwhile, said on Viber on Saturday, April 23, that she will study Bulay’s memo “and answer it on the given deadline.” – Rappler.com 

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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.