Former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday renewed his call on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exert more effort to bring candidates together for debates, saying the people need to know and understand their platforms in order to make informed decisions in the May elections.
“The lives and livelihoods of Filipinos are at stake. The electorate needs to choose the right leaders not just for president and vice president but also for senators. To do so they need the opportunity to know and understand the platforms of candidates,” Cayetano said.
The former Speaker issued the statement after Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez was quoted by media as saying candidates for president and vice president are not required to participate in the poll body’s debates.
Citing the law, Jimenez said participation in Comelec’s organized debate is not compulsory but that candidates traditionally participated in them for “airtime.”
Cayetano, however, said while the Comelec may view the debates as “an optional broadcasting opportunity” for candidates, they are a vital component of voter education and essential to providing equal opportunities to candidates.
“Debates allow the voters a crucial opportunity to know and examine the aspirants’ qualifications, track records, platforms, and positions on issues of national concern,” he said.
Since October last year, Cayetano has consistently called for more presidential and vice-presidential debates in order to give all candidates an equal opportunity and an equal playing field to talk to voters.
He said while the debates are not the sole basis for deciding on the right candidate, Comelec should not diminish their crucial role.
“Voters will pick the best candidates based on all information. The person who will be the President does not have to be the best debater, but let us look at the sense of their ideas and visions and the way they communicate,” he said.
Cayetano said instead of diminishing their importance, the Comelec should increase the number of debates from the current three to 15 weekly one-one-one debates among the six leading presidential candidates on a round-robin basis.
“We keep telling people to be objective, to stick to the facts, and not to let emotions get in the way. But we’re not giving them the venue to do that. Instead of discourse, candidates are out campaigning and getting as many followers as they can. We’re not giving the public the venue to see the candidates side by side,” he said.
Cayetano also said the reason he is pushing for more debates is so the people can form a more complete picture of who the candidates are and what they stand for.
“Let us not judge and conclude that we like or dislike a person yet, because the truth is, we only know about five percent of that person’s personality and platforms,” he said.
On November 11 last year, Cayetano and his allies filed House Resolution No. 2346 which strongly urged the Comelec en banc to start holding debates before the end of 2021 so that people would have the right to learn about candidates running upcoming in the Presidential, Vice Presidential, and Senatorial races.
Cayetano also called on the poll body to begin the debates earlier, before the campaign period starts, so as to give the 67 million registered voters a chance to better know the candidates for national positions and provide better voter education ahead of campaign periods
Citing a 1998 decision by the Supreme Court, the resolution said debates are “essential to the proper functioning of the government established by our Constitution.”
The resolution is currently pending with the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms.
Comelec’s debates are scheduled to begin in February and will be held on a monthly basis until April, leading up to the May polls.