Comelec: No more time for Hugpong vs Otso Diretso debate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has no more time and no resources to sponsor a debate between the senatorial candidates of the administration-aligned Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) and the opposition Otso Diretso coalition.

Comelec chair Sheriff Abas told CNN Philippines' The Source that it is unlikely that the poll body will hold an official debate for the senatorial elections like the ones they held for the 2016 presidential and vice presidential polls.

"Ang problema natin ... unlike in presidential [election], kakaunti 'yung candidates. Eh ito nasa 62. Even the platform, the system ng debate, nahirapan din ang mga [TV] networks," Abas said Monday.

[Translation: Our problem … is unlike in the presidential election, there are fewer candidates. Here, we have around 62. Even TV networks are having a hard time on the platform and the system of the debate.]

However, Abas said the poll body will support debates held by TV networks, but added that these are not considered as official debates sanctioned by the Comelec.

"Maganda 'yung debate ... nakikita ng tao mismo 'yung mga kandidato, ano 'yung kanilang plataporma, ano ang kanilang personalities," he said.

[Translation: A debate is good … people can see for themselves who the candidates are, what their platforms are and what their personalities are like.]

Abas said the Comelec is set to tackle the request of Otso Diretso for it to officiate or facilitate a debate with HNP on Wednesday. Some opposition candidates have chided some administration bets for not attending debates.

READ: Sara Duterte: Joining election debates is a 'personal choice'

All Otso Diretso bets have appeared in senatorial debates organized by TV networks, including in different installments of CNN Philippines' Senatorial Forum.

However, of the 13-man HNP slate, Senators Cynthia Villar and Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, House Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano, former Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and former Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go have not yet appeared in any televised debate.

Abas attributed the decision of some candidates not to participate in debates to their strategy.

"Ang ibang kandidato, ang strategy nila is through debate. Ang ibang kandidato naman, ayaw ko, kasi lumalamang na ako. Ayaw ko makita 'yung magiging weakness ko, baka may masabi pa ako at magkaroon ng impact sa aking ratings," he said.

[Translation: Other candidates, their strategy is through debate. Other candidates, they would say, "I don't want to because I'm already leading. I don't want people to see my weakness, I might even say something which would impact my ratings.]