By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Siquijor Rep. Rav Rocamora filed Tuesday a bill, making it “an election offense” the failure of national and local election candidates to participate in Commission on Elections (Comelec) organized debates.
He filed House Bill No. 8549, requiring national and local election candidates to participate in Comelec-organized debates. Rocamora said his bill seeks to ensure that voters are given sufficient information on the plans of the candidates and to assess the quality of leadership that political bets wish to offer.
“I believe the bill, if approved, will be a major piece of legislation, which will enhance our democratic election process. By requiring election debates, we afford the voting public the chance to scrutinize the candidates. This is part of ushering in better quality of elections, from the campaigning down to the vote itself,” he said.
He said under his bill, the political candidates’ absence in a debate would be considered as an election offense and a ground for disqualification, except in cases of hospital confinement, temporary detention, or similar grounds.
“The right of the people to be officially informed of the qualifications of a candidate to allow them to make the proper choice is important. Making refusal to participate a ground for disqualification and an election offense ensures that candidates will take the voters seriously,” Rocamora said.
“This bill is a perfect vehicle to enhance the peoples’ right to be informed of the candidates’ qualifications, and ensure that only those qualified are included in the list of official candidates,” he said.
HB 8549 tasks the Comelec to organize the debates together with at least three civic organizations or people’s organizations.
The time, date, venue and the rules of the debates is to be agreed upon together with the candidates or their representatives, Rocamora said.
The debates must also include a discussion of the priority projects and programs of the candidates and their stand on the most pressing local and national issues affecting their constituencies, according to the bill.