The final presidential and vice presidential town hall debates of the Commission on Elections were postponed after its organizer allegedly failed to settle its P14-million debt to event venue Sofitel Philippine Plaza.
Commissioner George Garcia said a representative of Sofitel has asked the help of the poll body to collect payment from event organizer Impact Hub Manila, which was tapped to mount the “PiliPinas Debates 2022: The Turning Point.”
Garcia said the final leg of Comelec debates—originally scheduled for April 23 and 24—has been moved to April 30 and May 1.
“We will not be able to proceed with the debate as scheduled. But they are not cancelled. It was reset by next week, by April 30 and May 1,” he said.
In an ABS-CBN report last night, several Comelec officials are being asked to explain their participation in the allegedly “grossly disadvantageous” partnership with Impact Hub Manila, a start-up contracted to mount this year’s series of election debates that eventually faltered.
In an internal memorandum obtained by ABS-CBN News, Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay flagged several possible irregularities with the poll body’s deal with Impact Hub, which is allegedly financially incapable in staging projects of such scale.
“Why was Impact Hub chosen organizer and how were they vetted?” Bulay said in a strongly-worded memo dated April 22 of the firm led by CEO Celeste Rondario.
According to Bulay in the memo, some of his colleagues were willing to cough up P15 million to save Impact Hub from its financial mess with Sofitel.
Garcia said the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas will be the poll body’s partner in the rescheduled debates.
“They said they will give us a good venue for the presidential and VP debates,” he said.
“They just have a request, and KBP wants all the presidential and vice presidential candidates to be there and are all present. Because of course, they will spend, and of course, they will give such efforts,” Garcia added.
In its demand letter dated April 20, Sofitel said Impact Hub’s Celeste Eden Rondario repeatedly issued them bouncing checks.
Meanwhile, Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay apologized to the candidates for the resetting of the debates.
“We apologize to our candidates. We are doing an investigation to get to the bottom of this issue,” Bulay said.
Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, for her part, said the Comelec is not a party to the contract between Impact Hub and Sofitel.
For his part, presidential aspirant Sen. Manny Pacquiao said he would attend the rescheduled debates if his rival, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., would also attend.
“If the other candidate will attend for the first time, I may be forced to attend the town hall debates. If Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will definitely attend, I will attend,” he said.
“All I’m saying is that a good opportunity for us presidential candidates to be complete in the debate will be missed,” Pacquiao said.
Presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson and vice presidential candidate Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said they are most likely to skip the last debates given the recent changes in schedule.
“The campaign period will end on May 7. That’s 15 days from now, and then we will have to adjust? We also have schedules that we must honor,” Lacson said.
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