Institutionalize political debates to promote citizens’ right to information

MANILA, Oct. 3 (PNA) — The House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms is now in receipt of a proposed statute institutionalizing political debates among national candidates.

Rep. Teodorico T. Haresco, Jr. is confident Congress could still pass HB 6164 to be known as the “Political Debates Act of 2015,” amending Republic Act No. 9006 otherwise known as “The Fair Elections Act.”

“I believe that a well-informed voting population would be able to carefully and intelligently choose the qualified and rightful leaders of the country,” Haresco said.

HB 6164 aims to institutionalize political debates among candidates by making it mandatory for 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 author explained.

Each debate, he added, shall not be less than 60 minutes, exclusive of airtime commercials and advertisements.

“Section 7 of R.A. 9006 states that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ‘may require’ broadcast media (Radio/TV) entities to sponsor said debates. We must change the word MAY, which is not mandatory, to SHALL, to make it mandatory,” the author pointed out.

The said Section 7 also provides that “The debates among presidential candidates shall be scheduled on three (3) different calendar days: the first debates shall be scheduled within the first and second weeks of the campaign period; the second debate within the fifth and sixth week of the campaign period; and the third debate shall be scheduled within the tenth and eleventh week of the campaign period.”

Likewise “the sponsoring television or radio network may sell airtime for commercials and advertisements to interested advertisers and sponsors,” Haresco said.

The Fair Elections Act, Haresco pointed out, requires the Comelec to procure free airtime from at least three national television and radio networks for equal allocation to all candidates for national office.

This, he said, was in line with the policy enunciated in the said law, which declares that the State shall, during the election period, supervise or regulate the enjoyment or utilization of all franchises or permits for the operation of media of communication or information to guarantee or ensure equal opportunity for public service, including access to media time and space.

“However, for the past elections, there has been no mechanism that requires nationally elected candidates to make known their qualifications, platforms and their positions on national issues through intelligent debate,” Haresco said.(PNA)