Last debate between presidential candidates in the Philippines cancelled amid organization issues

Postponed at the last minute, the last debate between presidential candidates in the Philippines is eventually canceled following a controversy with the company tasked to organize it.

Last debate between presidential election candidates in the Philippines
The last debate attended by nine of the ten presidential election candidates in the Philippines | April 3, 2022, Comelec

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) of the Philippines announced on April 25 that the vice presidential and presidential town hall debates ahead of the presidential elections are eventually canceled. They will be replaced by panel interviews as advised by the new event organizer.

The election commission justified “inevitable scheduling conflicts” to gather all candidates only days before Filipino citizens vote for their new president and vice president on May 9.

Instead of a debate, candidates will appear separately on recorded 1-hour panel interviews. It will be organized by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the new company the Comelec found in a rush.

The debates were originally scheduled on April 23 and 24 but were already postponed by a week at the last minute after reports that the previous organizer failed to pay for the venue.

A day before the last leg of the PiliPinas debates, the Comelec announced they wanted to postpone the debates as Impact Hub Manila didn’t pay the Sofitel Garden Plaza, the venue where all the debates scheduled by the election commission took place. The Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila said that Impact Hub’s checks repeatedly bounced and threatened to back out from its future obligations.

Impact Hub Manila was tasked to provide logistical and technical support for the staging of the debates. According to its website, the company is an incubator, part of the Impact Hub Global Network headquartered in Austria. Its main business is to create a sharing-knowledge community of innovators and entrepreneurs through events and shared workspace. It manages Vote Pilipinas, the official voter information campaign aimed at mobilizing Filipinos to register to vote for the 2022 national and local elections.

Comelec’s contractor has been late in paying 14 million pesos (US$ 260,000) to the hotel. Previous debates were organized on March 19, March 20 and April 3.

Earlier last week, Comelec commissioner Rey Bulay in an internal memo published by ABS-CBS considered the deal with Impact Hub was “grossly disadvantageous to the government” and that Impact Hub “falsely and fraudulently pretended that it possesses the capacity, qualifications and property to carry out its obligations”. The commissioner is leading the probe to understand why Comelec signed a contract with this partner.

On Saturday, Impact Hub Manila released a statement where it assured Comelec was not involved in the private contract between Impact Hub and Sofitel. It explained there were “misunderstandings” and “miscommunication” between the two companies and would discuss the matter with Sofitel privately.

Filipinos will decide on May 9 who among ten candidates will replace Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines as the constitution doesn’t allow for a second term. During the last elections in 2016, Comelec partnered with media organizations to produce televised debates.

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