Rep. Estrellita B. Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija) today welcomed the proposal of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold presidential debates nationwide, as she moved for the passage of her House Bill 5269 which seeks to create a Presidential Debate Commission that will obligate all presidential and vice presidential candidates to participate in the debates, and thus, will help the voting population discern who to vote for.
“The nationwide presidential debates proposed by the Comelec are indeed welcome and necessary. On our end, we believe the enactment into law of HB 5269 or the proposed Presidential Debate Reform Act will put in place a specific body to prepare and conduct the debates every national election. It shall also obligate all presidential and vice presidential candidates to participate in the debates, so they should be ready to expound and defend their agendas and platforms during the debates,” said Suansing.
Suansing filed the bill on Dec. 4, 2014 and is now pending at the Committee on Government Reorganization chaired by Rep. Romeo M. Acop (2nd District, Antipolo City). It has a counter-part measure, Senate Bill 1797, filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Suansing, a vice chairperson of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, said the measure will benefit presidential and vice presidential candidates as it will afford them a great opportunity to detail to voters their platforms and positions on issues that affect the country, and also clarify matters facing the candidates themselves.
“I hope it will merit the approval of the 16th Congress and the President so we can already have a Presidential Debate Commission in place prior to the May elections. It’s a very timely proposal,” said Suansing.
In her bill, Suansing said the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, as provided for in Article III of the 1987 Constitution, reinforces the equally important right to suffrage. “A well-informed voting population would be able to carefully and intelligently choose their future leaders,” said Suansing.
The lawmaker further said this important right of the people is also recognized under Sections 90 and 93 of Batas Pambansa 881 otherwise known as the “Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines.”
Last week, the Comelec said it plans to hold debates among presidential candidates in the May 2016 elections in various areas in the country and these could be held after the filing of certificates of candidacy in October.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said a technical working group had been formed to study this and “come up with mechanisms and guidelines.” According to him, this is necessary “to provide a mechanism for exacting accountability on campaign promises” made by candidates during the campaign period.
The last debate organized by the Comelec was in 1992. Based on The Fair Elections Act or Republic Act No. 9006, the Comelec can “require national television and radio networks to sponsor at least three national debates among presidential candidates and at least one among vice presidential candidates.”
Suansing’s HB 5269 seeks to complement elections-related laws by seeking to establish a Presidential Debate Commission which shall be composed of six members appointed as follows: (a) One member shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; (b) One member shall be appointed by the House Majority Leader, who shall not be a member of the Majority leader’s political party; (c) One member shall be appointed by the President of the Senate; (d) One member shall be appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate; and two members shall be appointed by the President from among a list of nominees by the two dominant political parties.
The members to be appointed in the preceding items (a), (b), (c), and (d) shall not be members of the same political parties from which the appointees of the President will be selected. Furthermore, not more than three appointees shall come from any political party and that the appointees, shall as much as possible come from the different sectors.
Candidates for President and vice President shall automatically be disqualified from becoming members of the Commission as well as their relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity and affinity.
The Commission shall establish a schedule of debate based on the following: one preliminary debate; not more than two vice presidential debates; and two to four presidential debates. It shall decide on the format of the debates based on the most effective way to provide the most useful information about the candidates to the voting public.
Moreover, the Commission shall closely monitor all other scheduled debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates initiated by the mass media or other government agencies or private organizations, and submit a report evaluating the effectiveness of said debates.
It shall also coordinate with the different government agencies charged with the enforcement and administration of all laws relative to the conduct of elections to ensure free, orderly and honest elections, and with other organizations or associations concerned with the elections.
The Commission, after considering all the submitted evaluation reports, shall formulate guidelines for the adoption of a debate format, which will best achieve the policies adopted by the Act.