By Leila B. Salaverria and Tina G. Santos, March 5 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to GMA News

Citing time constraints, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday said a debate between the administration and opposition senatorial candidates was unlikely to happen.

“Not to preempt the [full commission], but we only have less than two months to go. So it’s unlikely,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez told a news briefing.

Senatorial candidates of the opposition coalition Otso Diretso earlier asked the Comelec to arrange a public debate between them and their rivals from the administration coalition Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) headed by President Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

HNP called for a rules-based debate organized by a third party.

‘Not an overnight job’

“To be honest, organizing a debate is not an overnight job,” Jimenez said.

But the full Comelec, however, will tackle the request of the opposition candidates, he added.

“It will be brought to the [full] commission and if the [full commission] rules on it one way or the other, then we will implement,” Jimenez said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, campaign manager of the opposition team, stressed the importance of debates for the voters, and not just for those seeking elective office.

It’s not entertainment

Pangilinan called for a battle of ideas in order to help voters gauge the competence of aspirants for public office.

“A serious debate on issues of gut, life and livelihood—not cursing, threatening, or joking—[will] help voters in choosing the leaders who will lead them,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

According to Pangilinan, holding public office is not a matter of entertaining people, as he cited the words of Dolphy when the comedian was asked if he would run for an elective seat.

“His response: What will I do there? Make jokes? Dolphy is correct,” he said.

Voters should look into the history and previous actions of candidates, he said.

“Who have served for a long time honestly? Without abusing the power given them by the people? Without the obvious abuse in the flood of expensive [posters] and TV ads?” he said.

Just publicity

The Otso Diretso candidates asked their HNP rivals to face them in a debate at Plaza Miranda during the Edsa People Power anniversary on Feb. 25.

Nobody from the administration group showed up, citing previous commitments.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the opposition’s challenge to a debate was only intended for publicity.

The opposition candidates are Sen. Bam Aquino, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, civic leader Samira Gutoc, lawyer Florin Hilbay, lawyer Romulo Macalintal, former Sen. Mar Roxas and former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada. 

Their HNP rivals are Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito and Sonny Angara, Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu, Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, former Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla Jr., former presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go, former Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa, former political adviser to President Duterte Francis Tolentino, and former journalist Jiggy Manicad.