Dispatch from Crame No. 482: Sen. Leila M. de Lima on Comelec’s denial of Otso Diretso’s request to organize debates


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The COMELEC should reconsider its decision not to organize debates for the senatorial candidates. As the constitutional body mandated to conduct clean and honest elections, one of its tasks is also to assure a well-informed electorate by the time the ballots are cast on election day.

It cannot leave the people’s decision-making to the mass media advertisements and propaganda of the individual candidates. Such forms of campaigning do not substantially contribute to the education of the voters insofar as the track record, platform, and program of government of the candidates are concerned.

An organized debate is one of the more reliable way for the candidates to show their readiness for public office, and for the voters to test the candidates’ qualifications for the position they are running for.

Contrary to its own pronouncement, it is not impossible for the COMELEC to come up with the energy and the resources to organize senatorial debates at this point. The constitutional body is composed of hard-working and competent officials and rank-and-file employees who do not usually shirk from the challenges and demands of running nationwide elections.

Surely, something as essential as organizing senatorial debates is not beyond COMELEC’s capabilities. In the end, it comes down to the question of how important organized senatorial debates are to the COMELEC in the fulfillment of its mandate of educating the voters.

The COMELEC should realize that now, more than ever, organized debates among national candidates are important to expose the lies and fake credentials being peddled in social media by unscrupulous candidates. In the age of fake news and historical revisionism, those with a record of dishonesty, corruption or incompetence, and who have come to rely on the short memories of the Filipinos to forget, should not be allowed to succeed.

Instead, they must be exposed, opposed and rejected. They must be brought before the people on a national stage, not to sing and dance or act like clowns, but to defend their track records and platforms of government. Each one of them should pass through the proverbial eye of the needle in a competition of integrity and intelligence.

Once the COMELEC realizes that national elections, especially the senatorial elections, should not be reduced to a song-and-dance popularity contest, it might start giving importance to sponsoring and organizing the debates among the candidates. It should recognize that one of its foremost mandate is to make sure not to leave the people’s decision-making to the vagaries of political campaigns that cannot be assured to be nothing more than a carnival of performing clowns.

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