Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will not participate in the final Commission on Elections presidential panel interview, saying he wants to focus on his presidential campaign before the May 9 polls.
“With less than two weeks before the May 9 elections, frontrunner Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. has decided to forego his participation in the Comelec’s presidential panel interview, scheduled on May 1, 2022,” his spokesman, lawyer Vic Rodriguez said in a statement.
Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said the pre-taped panel interviews with the candidates would be aired on Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) member stations from May 2 to 6.
The 64-year-old Marcos thanked the poll body for its invitation and acknowledged the importance of the event.
“He opted, however, to conclude the entire 90-day campaign period with visits to his supporters and compliances with previous commitments for political events, like town hall meetings and political rallies,” Rodriguez added.
Marcos, who is leading in several pre-election surveys, skipped the first two Comelec-sponsored debates last March 19 and April 3.
The Marcos camp said he would not participate in debates that only intended to pit candidates against each other, claiming that the public was supposedly tired of “political mudslinging”.
But political analyst Tony La Viña argued, “A president needs to engage with the people, engage with the media, explain himself, explain his policies, and do so in a way that he can be proved.”
“Not just by propaganda, not just by saying things one way—things have to be 2-way, 3-way, 4-way even,” he told ANC’s Dateline Philippines.
Earlier this week, Marcos told CNN Philippines he would explain issues himself if he became president while expressing puzzlement at how some reporters were saying they had a hard time getting interviews with him.
He also previously said he was better off campaigning than joining debates to bring his platform to the public.
“Even if he wins by a landslide, even if it’s by a huge margin, you cannot just expect people to accept whatever their decisions are without it being explained, without it being debated,” La Viña said.
“And if he thinks he can govern on the basis of silence, right, of not communicating to the people, he’ll soon know enough, he’ll have a reality check that government doesn’t work that way and governance does not work that way,” he added.
Some political observers disagree with La Viña, saying Marcos had consistently raised his platforms of government in the different rallies attended by scores of thousands of people—without attacking any of his political opponents.
They also noted that Marcos’ critics had not as much as included in their criticisms other presidential candidates who were not invited or had opted out in other presidential interviews.
As of sundown Thursday, only two of the presidential candidates—Ernesto Abella and Faisal Mangondato—have given their assurances to attend the interviews, according to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.
But at a later Laging Handa hearing Commissioner Garcia said two more presidential candidates had confirmed their participation but did not identify them.
He added two vice presidential candidates also confirmed their attendance. Neither did Garcia identify them.
The Comelec, the government’s election watchdog, switched to an interview format instead of holding the last of its three debates after it was postponed due to the controversy over a contractor’s alleged failure to pay Sofitel for hosting the events.
The Comelec scrapped its town hall debates — supposedly the last one in the series of debates leading to the May 9 elections—after its private partner, Impact Hub Manila, allegedly failed to settle its dues with Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, the venue for the previous debates.
Garcia, during the Laging Handa briefing, said the Comelec would send the panel to the location of the candidates to conduct the interview.
Each candidate will be given an hour to discuss their individual insights and platforms.
Meanwhile, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center executive director Cezar Mancao II said Thursday the hackers arrested for ‘selling victories’ to Eleksyon 2022 candidates were able to obtain the data of voters.
Mancao said his information technology operatives told him the information on voters were among the data accessed by the hackers.
“As per the evidence gathered by my IT operatives earlier, there were data of (sic) voters,” he said in an interview on ANC.
“Well, as I have said, we have gotten access, we were given actually, if you are a voter we know where you would be voting, what province, what precinct, if you are still actively participating,” he added when asked what kind of data had been involved.
Asked if the hackers had access to the data of around 65 million voters in the country, Mancao said: “That’s what my IT operatives have gotten.”
But he quickly clarified that he did not see the leaked voters’ data and he had to verify it again.
On April 1, Comelec chairperson Saidamen Pangarungan said Smartmatic Inc., the service provider for the 2022 automated elections, claimed the “data leak” which occurred in its system was unrelated to the May 9 polls.
On April 24, the CICC and the Philippine National Police-Anti-Cybercrime Group arrested the three hackers allegedly selling sure win to candidates in entrapment operations in Imus, Cavite, and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Mancao said that mastermind Jeffrey Cruz Limpiado or “Brake/Vanguard/Universe/LRR” admitted that he paid P300,000 for the access to the system to former Smartmatic employee Ricardo Argana.
Argana initially surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with the breach to the Smartmatic system and went into hiding.
According to Mancao, the other two arrested hackers identified as Adrian de Jesus Martinez or “Admin X” and Joel Adajar Ilagan or “Borger” were cohorts of Limpiado.
“We have been watching them for almost three months now,” he said.
He said the hackers were marketing that they could make a candidate win because they could change the result of the election by showing the data they obtained from the Smartmatic system.
In related developments, the Department of Health urged voters who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to stay at home and refrain from going out during the May 9 Election Day.
Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in an interview on ANC, said since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Department had always advised those having symptoms to self-regulate by staying at home to avoid transmitting the virus to others.
“We know that exercising our right to vote is important. But when you have symptoms, you can’t insist on doing so because you might be infecting other people,” she said.
“I just want to be clear on that. The DOH is advising people, if you have symptoms, do not go out and go to your precincts because infections might occur,” Vergeire clarified.
She also underscored the people’s cooperation on this matter as there would be crowding in polling precincts on election day.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier reminded the voters to comply with the minimum public health standards in polling places on Election Day to prevent another COVID-19 surge in the country, considering the separate warnings of the DOH and OCTA Research of a possible increase in COVID-19 infections.
However, in early April, Comelec Commissioner Aimee Torrefranca-Neri said that the poll body is planning to set up “isolation polling places” for voters showing COVID-19 symptoms during Election Day.
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