MANILA – Election candidates, including those running for national positions, are not mandated to participate in debates.

If it were up to Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez, however, they should attend such events.

“Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates should commit, to the public whose votes they seek, that they will participate in the #PiliPinasDebates2022,” he posted on his Twitter account, @jabjimenez, on Saturday.

In a previous post, Jimenez said they cannot oblige aspirants to attend public debates but historically, candidates attend Comelec-sponsored debates.

The poll body is set to hold three presidential and vice-presidential debates in February, March, and April.

Before the 2016 polls, the Comelec and its media partners conducted three presidential debates and one for the vice presidential bets.

According to Section 7.3 of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act, the Comelec may require national television and radio networks to sponsor at least three national debates among presidential candidates and at least one national debate among vice presidential candidates.

“The debates among presidential candidates shall be scheduled on three different calendar days: the first debate shall be scheduled within the first and second week of the campaign period; the second debate within the fifth and six(th) week of the campaign period; and the third debate shall be scheduled within the 10th and 11th week of the campaign period,” the law states.

The spokesperson of presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., meanwhile, defended the decision of the former senator to decline the invitation to appear in a television talk show.

“Presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos’ duty is to the Filipino people and not to a particular TV show or program host,” lawyer Victor Rodriguez said in a statement on Saturday. “We will continue with our way of communicating direct to the people in so many equally significant shows, platforms and forums where all the attendees are allowed to present their visions, plans and platforms freely, unfiltered and unhindered by any biases.”

Rodriguez said the show host has always been biased against the Marcoses and they believe “her questions will just focus on negativity about BBM”, instead of focusing on “how the aspiring presidents will solve our country’s lingering problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and what their plans are for our country to roll up from economic stagnation.”

The campaign period for national candidates will start on February 8, or 90 days before the May 9 polls, while local candidates will start campaigning 45 days before the elections or on March 25. (PNA)