(Screengrab from Comelec Facebook live video)

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday urged the public to watch the first Pilipinas Debates 2022 this weekend.

Commissioner George Erwin Garcia said the first presidential and vice presidential debates will be held at the Sofitel Tent in Pasay City on March 19 and 20, respectively, at 7 p.m.

“Join us in the debates because we have to know our candidates. We have to know our candidates. This is our contribution in at least ensuring that the voters are fully aware of who they are voting for, of their qualifications, of their positions," he said in a press briefing.

He also assured that the event will be fair to all the participants.

"We will ensure that we will be able to do it impartially, fairly, at the same equal opportunity for everyone to talk to the voters," he said.

This weekend's debates will be the first of five debate series organized by the Comelec for candidates running in the national positions.

Nine out of the 10 presidential candidates are set to attend the March 19 event are former presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, labor leader Leody de Guzman, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Senator Panfilo Lacson, Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao, businessman Faisal Mangondato, Dr. Jose Montemayor Jr., and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Lawyer Vice Rodriguez, spokesperson of former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., earlier said the standard-bearer of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP) will skip the debates.

Those who are participating in the vice presidential debate to be held on March 20 are Walden Bello, Rizalito David, Manny Lopez, Dr. Willie Ong, Senator Francis Pangilinan, Carlos Serapio, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

Former Manila mayor Lito Atienza has already formally declined due to medical reasons.

Marcos' running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte will also skip the debates.

Marcos and Duterte, however, have yet to submit a written notice to the poll body regarding their non-participation in the debates.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the public can watch the debates on television as all local channels are going to air the program.

The debate can also be viewed online as it will be streamed simultaneously on all social media pages of the poll body (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). (PNA)