Comelec asked to empower candidates without machines


THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) should centralize forums and debates with presidential and vice-presidential candidates to empower those who lack the political and financial machinery, according to one presidential candidate.

“Comelec should centralize its activities that introduce candidates to marginalized voters so that billionaires who fund traditional campaigns don’t retain their influence,” union leader and presidential candidate Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman said in a Viber message in Filipino over the weekend.

Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia said last week they could ask Congress to pass legislation that will penalize presidential candidates who skip national debates.

Comelec previously said it would ban candidates who snub its debates from live-streamed e-rallies on its Facebook page.

“I agree with the proposal to impose sanctions on candidates who do not participate in the forums and activities organized by Comelec,” Mr de Guzman said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., who leads the presidential opinion polls, was the only candidate in 10 to skip Comelec’s presidential debate earlier this month. His running mate, Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, also snubbed the vice presidential debate.

Mr de Guzman’s running mate, Walden F. Bello, previously called Comelec’s punishment for debate skippers weak.

“We need tougher penalties for these people because it’s so undemocratic that they’re not here,” he said at the Comelec vice president’s debate.

Mr Garcia previously said it was difficult to impose more sanctions on candidates who snub debates without a law.

“We are asking our legal department for help and I cannot add more to the sanctions as there is no law for that,” he said. “Whatever we may impose can be challenged as unconstitutional.

Comelec spokesman James B. Jimenez previously said the second presidential debate, scheduled for April 3, will allow candidates to discuss issues in more detail.

Candidates would be asked one general question per segment, and in each subsequent segment candidates would be divided into groups of three to debate an issue, he said last week.

Each presidential candidate has two minutes to answer each question and 60 seconds for their closing remarks, he added.

The Presidential Debate was scheduled to take place at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Pasay City. Apart from the candidates’ companions and some journalists, there would still be no live audience.

As of Thursday, Mr Marcos had not informed Comelec if he would take part in the debate.

“People will suffer because of these candidates’ indebtedness to businessmen and their lobby groups,” Mr de Guzman said. “Those who are elected prioritize the interests of big business in exchange for the funding and materials they received during the campaign.”

Mr de Guzman earlier this month cited the need to reform the party list system, which he says has been abused by traditional and elite politicians.

Comelec has now printed all 67.4 million ballot papers for the national and local elections on May 9, according to Facebook.

About 179,000 ballots were found in error and 319,138 were settled, Mr Garcia said in a Viber message on Saturday. — John Victor D. Ordonez Comelec asked to empower candidates without machines

Gary B. Graves

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