Second presidential debate: Less commercials, tougher questions for candidates

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Attending the second presidential debate in Cebu on Sunday (March 20) are (in no particluar order) Sen. Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former Interior Sec. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago bailed out from the debate due to health reasons.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Organizers of the second presidential debate in Cebu City on Sunday (March 20) promised a "better debate" compared to the first one in Cagayan de Oro City last February 21.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairperson Andres Bautista said this debate will have a longer running time.  It was extended from two hours to three hours, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Contrary to the first debate which had advertisements taking about a third of the airtime of the event, organizers said the second debate would have less commercial load — this would allow candidates to have more time to expound on their platforms and engage the other candidates.

Organizers also said the format was modified into a panel format, moderated by veteran journalist and TV5’s news chief Luchi Cruz Valdez.

The panel will be composed of representatives from media hosts TV5, Philippine Star and RMN.

Only four of the five presidential candidates have confirmed their attendance.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago bailed out of the debate for health reasons.

Also read: Santiago pulls out of March 20 presidential debate

Tight security: Comelec chief initially barred from entering

Any of the four presidential candidates who confirmed attendance in Cebu debate could possibly be the country’s next top executive.

With this, authorities are on their toes to ensure safety and security of candidates, as well as the participants of the event.

University of the Philippines (U.P.) Cebu's Performing Arts Hall can accommodate up to 300 people. But a bigger crowd, composed of supporters and U.P. students, will be watching the debate on giant TV monitors set up in an open field, just outside the debate hall.

2nd presidential debate security 1.jpg Tight security is being implemented in the University of the Philippines Cebu, the venue for the second presidential debate.  

Police and military troops will be deployed in and around U.P. Cebu campus to ensure the safety of participants, as well to man the traffic in the venue.

Bautista said, he himself was initially barred from entering the U.P. Cebu campus for not being able to present proper identification and car-pass issued by the organizers.

According to Bautista, he even had to make some calls before he was allowed entry to the venue.

Despite this, the chairperson said he is happy with the security preparations.

Presidential candidates arriving

As of posting, independent candidate Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) are already in Cebu for the debate.

Poe arrived Saturday afternoon. In an interview, Poe said she worked doubly hard to prepare for the second debate. She explains the country has numerous problems that need to be addressed.

Poe also said she would pray for the health of her fellow candidate and colleague, Senator Santiago, whom Poe regarded as the “sharpest” and probably the “smartest” among them. The senator said the debate would “certainly be not the same” without Santiago.

Meanwhile, UNA President and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco said Binay and the UNA team visited the debate venue at U.P. Cebu late last night.

Tiangco said the opposition party is okay with the venue, describing it as “intimate” and “close to the crowd.”

Both Binay and Poe, on separate Eucharistic celebrations, attended the Palm Sunday Mass in the morning.

Davao Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte is also on his way to Cebu and is expected to arrive after lunch.  His supporters have also started to assemble in the area near the debate venue.

CNN Philippines senior correspondents David Santos and Ina Andolong, and correspondent Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.

Read: Binay hits Poe on citizenship

Related: Roxas to Binay: I don't have anything to do with MRT corruption raps