The Commission on Elections cannot force presidential candidates to participate in Comelec-initiated debates.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista on Wednesday disclosed that attendance in state-backed presidential debates is not compulsory because non-participation of such candidates in such initiative would show more of the character of the candidate, not that of the Comelec.
Bautista was referring to the presidential and vice-presidential debates that will be spearheaded by the poll body in cooperation with several media outfits.
“We can’t force a candidate to participate if he doesn’t want to. We believe that the attendance or lack of it by the candidates would reflect on who they are and would send enough message to the voters,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the Comelec budget hearing in the House of Representatives.
During the Senate race in 2013, then senatorial candidate Nancy Binay of United Nationalist Alliance skipped all the debates for Senate aspirants.
Still, she won a Senate seat with 16 million votes, good for fifth place.
“Being in the debates will be the candidates’ call. Their refusal is already a message to the voters. We’ll let the voters decide on that,” Bautista said.
There are three presidential candidates at this time: Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd and Sen. Grace Poe.
On the other hand, there are more aspirants for Vice President: Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th and Sen. Francis Escudero.