2022 Philippine Elections

COVID-19 snag, ongoing talks with bets delay 1st Comelec debate to March

Dwight de Leon
COVID-19 snag, ongoing talks with bets delay 1st Comelec debate to March

David Castuciano/Rappler

Under a Comelec resolution for the 2022 elections, the poll body's original target is to hold the first debate 'within the first and second week of the campaign period for national position'

MANILA, Philippines – The first debates sponsored by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the 2022 polls will likely start later than in 2016 due to coronavirus restrictions and still pending negotiations with candidates.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said on Tuesday, February 8, that the latest they can conduct the debates is March 6 and 7. In 2016, the first debate was conducted on February 21.

The implementing rules and regulations of the Fair Elections Act in connection with the 2022 polls promulgated in November 2021 stated that the first debate must be conducted “within the first and second week of the campaign period for national position.” The campaign period in the Philippines began on Tuesday.

The Comelec also previously said it was targeting to hold the first debate in the fourth week of February.

“There are a lot of COVID-19 concerns among the people who are involved in staging the debate. There is a lot of negotiations still to be done with the candidates. We decided rather than rush things, we would propose to the en banc to move the start date by several days,” Jimenez said.

COVID-19 snag, ongoing talks with bets delay 1st Comelec debate to March

Jimenez added that the department he leads would make a recommendation to the en banc to conduct only one vice presidential debate.

The poll body earlier floated the possibility that there might be three rounds of face-off for the vice presidential hopefuls.

“We’re looking to maintain the number of VP debates to one, considering of course the pressure of COVID,” Jimenez said. “Also, the fact that there are nine of them, so it’s challenging.”

The debates are completely voluntary, but failure to show up on the part of candidates will definitely not go unnoticed, the Comelec previously said.

“We will let the empty chair speak for itself. We will have an empty podium on stage. That’s all the message you need to hear from them,” Jimenez had said in January.

The Comelec has no power under the Fair Election Act to compel candidates to attend the debates, leading netizens to speculate if some of the 2022 presidential and vice presidential aspirants would choose to skip the events.

The Comelec’s televised presidential debates in 2016 – the first since 1992 – mostly drew high ratings, and promises made by candidates then dominated news cycles.

Efforts by candidates to attract a significant audience become especially tricky in 2022, when COVID-19 risks prompted the Comelec to strictly regulate physical campaigning. – Rappler.com

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.