Comelec rejects 2022 debate contractor's claim to pay alleged ₱15-M debt

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has maintained that it will not pay the supposed ₱15.3 million debt to its contractor for the botched 2022 debates. The poll body said it has denied the demand of Impact Hub Manila, citing the lack of necessary documents.

"Upon evaluation, Impact Hub's demand for payment is not accompanied by the documentary requirements necessary to establish the validity of claim," Comelec said in a letter dated May 19, 2023 and signed by Executive Director Teopisto Elnas Jr.

"In this regard, the Commission is constrained to DENY Impact Hub's claim for ₱15,300,000.00," Elnas added.

The letter was sent to Impact Hub's legal counsel Ma. Karla Denise Frias.

Comelec Chairman George Garcia earlier told CNN Philippines that the poll body does not have any obligation or pending amount to settle with Impact Hub.

"Pag naniningil ka sa kahit anong status mo, whether publiko o pribado. Naniningil ka, magbigay ka muna ng ebidensya na may pagkakautang sa iyo ang entity o isang tao. Lagyan mo ng dokumento para mapatunayan mo na ikaw talaga ay may karapatang maningil," Garcia told reporters on Tuesday.

"Sa part naman ng sinisingil, kailangan naman namin yun upang malaman na ito ay compliant sa auditing rules, sa accounting rules dahil pondo po ito kasi ng sambayanan," he added.

[Translation: Whether it's private or public, when you are collecting dues, you have to first give proof that an entity or person owes you. You have to provide documentation to prove you have the right to collect. On the part of the person who owes money, we need that to know it's part of being compliant with auditing rules, with accounting rules because these are public funds.]

The debate contractor earlier sent a "final demand" letter to the poll body, seeking P15.3 million as part of its services to mount the botched Pilipinas Debates 2022.

The company also warned of implementing legal remedies if the amount is not settled.

The Comelec's letter cited the rules of the Generic Procurement Manual Volume 2 (Procurement of Goods and Services) which states that requests for payment "shall be made in writing, accompanied by an invoice describing the goods delivered and/or services performed."

Elnas also wrote that the procuring entity must ensure all accounting and auditing requirements are met.

The letter also cited the Commission on Audit's Circular No. 2012-001, which requires "legality of transaction and conformity of laws and regulations" as well as "sufficient relevant documents to establish validity of claim" for any type of disbursement.

Garcia said they are awaiting submission by next week of the investigation report on the matter.

He said five to six individuals, former and current Comelec personnel, and private sector individuals may be involved in the mess. They may face criminal, civil, and administrative liabilities for the issue.

"Yung unang nasubmit (na report) kasi sa atin, nagbanggit ng mga tao, nagbanggit ng liability. Pero sa aming palagay, ano yung specific na provision ng liability? Anong provision ng batas?" Garcia said.

"Kinakailangan specific, i-pinpoint talaga ano ang ginawa, ano ang participation, at ano ang linabag if meron man," he added.

(Translation: The first report submitted to us mentioned people and liability. But we ask what is the specific provision of liability? What provision in the law? It has to be specific, you have to pinpoint what was done, what was the participation, what were the violations, if there were any.]

Reverting debate hosting duties to media entities

Comelec aims to give back hosting duties to media entities in the next elections to avoid a repeat of the 2022 debate mess.

Garcia cited Republic Act 9006 or the "Fair Election Act" wherein the poll body may require national or television and radio networks to sponsor at least three debates.

"Ang media entities ang dapat nagpapahold ng presidential debate. Sabi pa nga doon, kahit na kumita ng kaunti ang mga media entities, ang Comelec ay taga-observe lang," Garcia said.

"Noong magkaroon tayo ng debate noong 2016, wala tayong naging problema, walang naging isyu sapagkat kinarga, binalikat ng mga media entities ang lahat ng gastos at lahat ng patakaran. At pati yung pag-obliga sa mga kandidato na magsi-attend during that presidential debate," he added.

[Translation: Media entities should hold presidential debates. It also says that even if media entities earn a little, Comelec should only observe. When we had the debate in 2016, we had no problems, no issue as media entities took on the costs and rules. As well as obligating candidates to attend the presidential debate.]

Garcia also said among the things they are looking into is the supposed deal with Impact Hub Manila if it was legal and in accordance with the law.

In April, the last two Comelec-sponsored debates were canceled following the failure of Impact Hub Manila to settle its ₱14 million debt to Sofitel, the venue for the event. The poll body sought the assistance of the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas to mount a forum instead of a debate.