Miriam backs Comelec's plans for presidential debates

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago expressed her support for the plan of the Comission on Elections (Comelec) to organize debates among those joining the presidential race.

“A debate format among presidential and vice presidential candidates would test who among these candidates is most fit for the position they are running for,” the senator – who participated in the last presidential debate the country witnessed, back in 1992 – said in a statement Sunday, August 16. 

Santiago added that the plan is consistent with Senate Bill No. 1797, or the Presidential Debate Reform Act, which she filed in October 2013. The bill, pending at the committee on electoral reforms, seeks to institutionalize presidential and vice presidential debates through the Presidential Debate Commission.

A separate entity from the Comelec, the said commission would schedule and organize presidential and vice presidential debates.

Santiago proposed that the Presidential Debate Commission shall be composed of 6 members from the public or private sector – government offices, the academe, and non-profit organizations, among others.

The President will appoint two members from a list of nominees submitted by the two dominant political parties. The 4 other members will be chosen by the Senate president and the House speaker, as well as the majority leaders of both houses.

For the commission to be independent, Santiago stressed that no more than 3 appointees shall come from any political party, and the appointees shall as much as possible come from different sectors.

If enacted, the bill shall mandate the Commission to establish a schedule for one preliminary debate, not more than two vice presidential debates, and not less than two but not more than four presidential debates.

The last presidential debate organized by the Comelec was during the 1992 presidential elections, poll chief Andres Bautista said. Santiago herself was a participant in the said debate, when she ran against eventual winner Fidel V. Ramos.

Malacañang also earlier expressed its support for Comelec's plan to hold a nationwide presidential debates in time for the 2016 elections. In an interview with Radyo ng Bayan on August 8, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said that such debates will allow the electorate to get to know the candidates and their platforms better. – Rappler.com