The Philippines: Comelec on 2022 bets snubbing debates: ‘Empty chair speaks for itself’

  • The Commission on Elections (Comelec) underscored the need for presidential and vice presidential aspirants to take part in its series of televised debates, especially in light of pandemic-driven restrictions on in-person campaigning.
  • The debates are completely voluntary, but failure to show up on the part of candidates will definitely not go unnoticed, the poll body 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,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told reporters.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Comelec has been aiming to kickstart the series of debates sometime in Feb 22, the same month that the official campaign period for national aspirants begins.
  • It will be held over a period of three months. Jimenez said the poll body is finalizing a memorandum of debate guidelines by which the candidates will need to abide.
  • The poll body said in the past that the setup of the back-to-back presidential and vice presidential debates will be “hybrid,” with candidates attending physically and the audience watching virtually. On Tuesday, Jimenez added that the plan is to use two debate formats.
  • “It’s going to be a single-moderator debate and a town hall debate,” he said. Like in 2016, Jimenez said the Comelec also wants venues of the debate series to be spread out “over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

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