MANILA — The Commission on Elections will discuss what further sanctions they can impose against candidates who skipped the presidential and vice-presidential debates, one of its commissioners said Monday.
"Sa Miyerkoles, pag-uusapan pa namin ano pa ang pupuwede nating maipatupad na sanction na medyo mas mabigat, na hindi naman nagva-violate sa mga umiiral na batas natin at sa karapatan ng mga kandidato," Comelec Commissioner George Garcia told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
He was reacting to the call of Partido Lakas ng Masa vice presidential candidate Walden Bello for the poll body to penalize former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
The UniTeam tandem did not attend the debates during the weekend.
While Garcia agrees imposing more sanctions against debate skippers, he said there is no law mandating candidates to attend Comelec-related activities.
"Kung meron lamang po 'yang batas, tapos may nagsasabi na kapag hindi um-attend eto ang parusa, disqualification by election offense, maniwala po kayo sa amin, hindi po tayo magdadalawang-isip. Ipapatupad po natin 'yan," he said.
For the next elections, Garcia proposed that candidates should sign an agreement, together with their certificates of candidacy, that they would "always" participate in all events of the commission, including debates.
"Kung ano man ang ipapatawag ng Comelec, pa-meeting man 'yan, pa-debate man 'yan, they commit that they will abide and follow, and will always participate in all the patawags of the Comelec," he said.
Since the poll body for now cannot force candidates to attend debates, Garcia called on the public to instead focus on who were present during the event.
"Eh sabi ko nga po, bakit po kasi hinahanap 'yung wala? Mas maganda po ang i-appreciate natin, 'yung andiyan, 'yung present. Sana po mapagnilay-nilayan natin 'yung binanggit nila, sinabi nila, at 'yung mga plano at plataporma nila para sa ating bansa. Yun po ang tutukan natin," he said.
During Sunday's vice-presidential debates, Bello lashed out at Marcos and Duterte-Carpio for over their absence.
"We’re slashing one another for her benefit. The Commission on Elections should do something about this. Commissioner and chair, can you penalize these 2 people, Marcos and Duterte, for not showing themselves up to the Filipino people with their programs?" he said.
"They’re spitting in the face of the Filipinos. [Comelec commissioners and chairman], can you say something right now, tell them to show up. I'm really so pissed off that these 2 jokers are not here. Duwag sila. We can't show their record. They have to show up so that the Filipino people can judge. Otherwise, this is a f***ing big joke."
The poll body's penalty for Marcos and Duterte-Carpio's absence in its debates is to ban them from its "e-rally" platform, which Bello said is "too weak."
The camp of Marcos, who appeared in select forums only, said he will not participate in debates that only intend to pit candidates against each other, claiming that the public is supposedly tired of "political mudslinging".
Her sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, thinks it is better for him to show up.
Vic Rodriguez, the spokesman of Marcos, had said that the presidential aspirant will only attend public forums that allot sufficient time for candidates to explain their platforms and answer questions.
In declaring her non-participation in any of the debates set for vice-presidential candidates, Duterte-Carpio said she is leaving it up to the voters to decide on her fate on May 9.