Comelec says all senatorial bets must be invited to TV debates

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2019 01:39 PM

MANILA—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has reminded broadcast stations organizing debates to invite all senatorial candidates in the May polls or risk violating election rules.

The commission has listed 76 candidates, but the number can still be reduced, with 13 pending petitions against supposed “nuisance” candidates.

But being left with 63 candidates can still be considered as a logistical challenge for TV or radio networks planning to put up debates ahead of the May 13 elections.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said such debates “must be accessible to all candidates of the same position” to be considered as a “voter education event.”

“If you are holding a debate or a ‘debatish’ event, and you're only inviting your friends, your candidates of choice, then it will be considered donated air time, which still puts it under the ambit of broadcast advertising,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“It doesn't matter if no one shows. What matters is that you invite everyone, you give access to everyone.”

The Fair Elections Act requires the “written acceptance” of candidates receiving donated advertisements. The document needs to be attached to the ad contract to be submitted to the election commission. 

“Mayroong formal requirements ka d'yan (You have formal requirements there), and that's how liability of a network can arise,” Jimenez said. “If the forms are not adhered to, then that's where your possibility of violation arises.”

Under the law, candidates for national positions are allowed 120 minutes of TV advertisement per station, and 180 minutes for radio.

Those running for local posts are entitled to 60 minutes for each TV network and 90 minutes for radio.