'Napahiya ang Comelec': Poll body hopes to complete debate mess probe by Friday

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2022 10:19 AM | Updated as of Apr 24 2022 12:47 PM

Scenes during the second Commission on Elections’ #PilipinasDebates2022: The Turning Point at the Sofitel Tent in Pasay City on April 3, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Scenes during the second Commission on Elections’ #PilipinasDebates2022: The Turning Point at the Sofitel Tent in Pasay City on April 3, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) hopes to complete within the week its probe into the failure of its partner to pay the hotel used as venue for its presidential and vice presidential debates, a poll official said on Sunday.

In a TeleRadyo interview, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said Commissioner Rey Bulay is leading the investigation into the controversy that forced the poll body to postpone the last two election debates, supposedly scheduled to take place this weekend.

"Magkakaroon ng malalimang pagsisiyasat o imbestigasyon at kung ano 'yong alternatibo ng Comelec," Garcia said.

(There will be a serious investigation and determination of the Comelec's alternatives.)

"Binigyan niya hanggang bukas ang lahat na mag-submit ng lahat-lahat dahil sabi nga niya, 'Bilang isang piskal, aalamin ko 'yan sino ang may liability, ano ang dapat na aksyon na meron ang Komisyon'," he added.

(Comm. Bulay gave all parties until Monday for all their submissions, because he said that as a former prosecutor, he wants to know who has the liability and what actions should the Commission take.) 

"Hindi puwedeng palampasin lamang nang ganun-ganun, dahil nga... to a certain extent... napahiya din naman nang kahit paano ang Commission on Elections dito sa bagay na ito."

(We can't just let this pass because to a certain extent, this caused the Comelec some embarrassment.)

The final Comelec-organized vice presidential and presidential debates have been moved to April 30 and May 1, respectively, from April 23 and 24.

The postponement came after it was revealed that event organizer Impact Hub Manila failed to fulfill its payment obligations to Sofitel Philippine Plaza, amounting to P14 million.

Sofitel said Impact Hub repeatedly issued them bouncing checks.

Bulay is asking for a week to complete the probe, said Garcia. "Hopefully, bago matapos ang Friday na ito ay atin pong malalaman na kung anong result ng investigation."

(Hopefully, before this coming Friday, we'll already know the results of the investigation.)

Possible actions that may be taken against those involved in the mess should the probe find the contract with Impact Hub disadvantageous to the Comelec include cancellation of the deal and filing of complaint for damages against the company.

The commissioner assured that the poll body would be "very transparent" with the results of the investigation.

"We will be very, very transparent dahil walang katumbas 'yong transparency doon sa kahihiyan na inabot, halimbawa, initially ng Commission on Elections," Garcia said.

(We will be very transparent because transparency is nothing compared to the embarrassment the Comelec initially suffered.)

He appealed to the public though not to pass judgement yet on anyone pending the results of the probe.

Garcia, who reiterated that the Comelec had not released funds for the mounting of the debates, explained that Impact Hub Manila was allowed to earn money through advertisements, which could have been used to pay the hotel.

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In a statement on Saturday, Impact Hub said its failure to pay Sofitel for the events resulted from a "misunderstanding" and "miscommunication."

Garcia lamented that such miscommunication affected the Comelec and its integrity.

"Yung miscommunication ay miscommunication nila. But hindi dapat madamay ang end-user. Kung kahit na kayo’y naglalabanan, ano man ang pinanggagalingan ng inyong misinformation, miscommunication, whatsoever, ang importante hindi nadadamay yung mismong end-user," he said.

(That's miscommunication between them. The end-user should not have been affected by that. Whatever issues you have, whatever is the cause of that misinformation and miscommunication or whatever, it is important that you spare the end-user from the problem.)

"Kasi tatandaan natin na 'yang end-user ay isang Constitutional body na responsable sa mga mamamayan. Sa bandang huli, ang mga mamamayan ang kausap nila dito, hindi naman ang Commission on Elections lang. Pinagkatiwalaan sila ng Comelec at mga mamayan ma-deliver 'yan," he added.

(They must remember that the end-user is a Constitutional body that has a responsibility to the people. In the end, it is the people that they have a deal with, not the Commission on Elections. The Comelec and the people trusted them to deliver that service.)

"So, talagang yung miscommunication nila ay nakaapekto sa amin, and to a certain extent, nagkaroon ng doubt o kahit napakaliit na tuldok sa integridad ng Commission on Elections."

(Their miscommunication really affected us and to a certain extent cast a doubt on the integrity of the Comelec.)
Garcia said Impact Hub representatives initially told him that the hotel did not have a problem even though the organizer could not settle its payment obligations over the earlier events.

"Ang dinadahilan sa atin ay sa una, 'Hindi naman kami nagkaproblema noong nauna' kahit maaaring hindi sila nakapagbayad. So siguro naging mapagpasensiya ang third party (Sofitel)," Garcia said.

(The reason they gave is that at first, they did not encounter problems even though they failed to make initial payments. Maybe, the third party was just being patient with them.)

"Ang sinasabi [ng Impact Hub], 'Commissioner, mayroon naman sa contract namin sa kanila na parang penalty. Eh 'di patungan na lang kami nang patungan ng penalty'," he added.

(I was told that they also have a penalty clause in their contract, so they were willing to be charged with that.)

Garcia said the probe will include how Impact Hub was chosen as Comelec's partner, noting that in the 2016 elections, it was different media organizations that mounted the debates.

"Magandang maganda sana yung 2016 na yun. So, kung may pinaboran... ay aalamin natin kung bakit nagka-ganiyan-ganiyan," the official said.

(The 2016 debates went very well. So, if anyone was favored this time, we'll find out.)

The upcoming debates will be organized by the Comelec with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP).


Some presidential aspirants, including Sens. Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson, are unsure if they can still attend the rescheduled debate due to other campaign commitments.

Garcia said the Comelec has given the candidates until Tuesday to confirm their attendance.

"May mga nagpasabi na na maaaring hindi sila maka-attend, makadalo... Subalit tayo'y umaasa na baka sakali naman, sa mga susunod na araw, hanggang Martes man lang magbabago ang kanilang desisyon," he said.

(Some have already signified they cannot attend... But we still hope that in the coming days, until Tuesday, they will change their decision.)

Asked if it was possible for the final round of debates to be cancelled, Garcia said that would be decided by the Comelec en banc and KBP.

Aries Arugay, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said it would be pointless to hold the debate if most candidates would not attend.

"Sa tingin ko, kung maraming kandidato ang hindi susulpot, mawawala na 'yong esensiya noong townhall at noong debate," said Arugay, mentioning the debate format.

(I think that if many candidates will not show up, the essence of holding a townhall debate will no longer be achieved.)

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Arugay said it would be better for future debate series to hold townhall sessions earlier since it would allow ordinary citizens to raise concerns with the candidates.

"Kasi nakita natin 'yong previous Comelec-sponsored debates, medyo policy relevant 'yong questions, minsan masyadong mabigat at hindi marahil nakaka-relate 'yong karamihan ng mga mamamayan natin," he said.

(We've seen in the previous Comelec-sponsored debates that the questions were slightly policy-relevant, which were sometimes too heavy that many people cannot relate to anymore.) 

"Siguro sa susunod, magandang malagay 'yong townhall sa bandang gitna para may kasiguruduhan siguro na matutuloy ito at mas ma-attend-an ng mga kandidato," he added.

(Maybe next time, it would be good to schedule the townhall in the middle to ensure that this proceeds and the candidates can really attend.)

Arugay likened the earlier debates to a "graded recitation" because the candidates never challenged each other's ideas and positions.

Since March, the Comelec has already staged 2 presidential and one vice presidential debates.