MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) official leading the investigation into the P14-million debate debt fiasco involving its contractor recommended that spokesman and education and information department (EID) chief James Jimenez and his deputy be temporarily relieved of media duties.
“It was recommended that temporary replacements be designated,” Commissioner Rey Bulay said in a statement on Friday, April 29, referring to Jimenez and his fellow EID director Frances Arabe.
Jimenez and Arabe were the Comelec’s point persons in the poll body’s bungled partnership with Impact Hub Manila, whose chief executive officer issued repeated bounced checks to debate venue partner, Sofitel.
The private firm’s failure to settle its P14.095 million debt to Sofitel ultimately led to the cancellation of the last two presidential and vice presidential debates of the campaign season.
It was Jimenez who promised Sofitel in an April 1 letter that Impact Hub Manila would be able to fulfill its payment obligations, saying the Comelec will be the “source of funding” for the remaining events through the P15.3 million purchase request and notice of award for Impact Hub Manila.
A copy of the purchase request, which leaked to the media, had the signatures of Jimenez, Arabe, and Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan.
But Bulay said the Comelec en banc, of which Jimenez and Arabe are not a part of, is under the impression that the Comelec is not supposed to spend a single dime for the mounting of the debates.
Bulay also cited the Comelec’s March 7 memorandum of agreement with Impact Hub Manila, which said that the latter “shall organize and produce the PiliPinas Debates 2022, including all necessary logistical and administrative requirements, free of charge of professional services, exclusive of out-of-the-pocket expenses.”
“While others are considering releasing P15 million from Comelec funds to pay Sofitel, no one was able to cite the basis for the release of such funds,” the poll commissioner also wrote in his April 22 memorandum.
Bulay also recommended that Jimenez and Arabe “continue other functions under the supervision of their committee heads,” so that election operations would not be disrupted.
He added that his task force has found reasonable cause to initiate a formal fact-finding and administrative disciplinary investigation.
The media has reached out to Jimenez and Arabe for their statements, but only Arabe has replied .
She maintained the decisions she made were legitimate.
“As far as I can determine, all my actions have been aboveboard concerning the staging of presidential debates. I respect the process and have faith in the fairness of the commission en banc,” Arabe said in a statement on Friday night. “I will abide and comply with the directive of Commissioner Bulay when it comes. I am prepared to turn over my duties to the person he will choose.”
After the failed debates, the Comelec partnered with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas for a series of televised interviews with the presidential and vice presidential candidates from May 2 to 6. – Rappler.com