THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) will block candidates from electronic rallies on its Facebook page if they do not attend the debates organized by the poll body for the May 9 elections.

A candidate who will snub the series of debates will not be allowed to participate in the live-streamed e-rallies until the end of the period allotted for the platform, Comelec Spokesman James B. Jimenez said in a video streamed live on the Comelec Facebook page on Monday.

He earlier said that the e-rally platform, which started streaming last month, is meant to help candidates with fewer followers gain more exposure.

Comelec on Monday signed a deal with Impact Hub Manila to finalize the production of the first presidential debates on March 19, followed by the vice presidential debates on March 20. 

“We invite you (candidates) to join our debates, our only objective is to help other voters know where you stand on relevant issues our country faces today,” Acting Comelec Chairperson Socorro B. Inting said in Filipino at the event held at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila. 

“I am optimistic that these debates will fulfill its purpose of raising awareness among voters and for them to make informed choices,” she added. 

The March 19 debate will be three hours long and will have a single moderator format. It will not have a live audience to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, but will be streamed live on the Comelec Facebook page.

A second presidential debate is scheduled on April 3. There will also be town hall-style debates for presidential candidates on April 23 and vice-presidential aspirants on the 24th.

Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. is the only one among the 10 aspirants who has yet to confirm attendance in the debates. 

Mr. Jimenez said the Comelec will release “general topics” for the candidates but specific questions will be crafted by a panel whose members will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Interest groups from different sectors are invited to send recommended questions and other suggestions to the election body. 

“I think intergenerational problems should be discussed in debates and forums as it will be a great test for the candidates, who tend to be biased towards programs with immediate and perceptible impact,” Michael Henry LI. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said in a Facebook Messenger chat last week. 

“Asking these kinds of questions in debates and forums will unravel the candidates that voters should not bother with,” he added. — John Victor D. Ordonez 

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