Comelec: The rules are clear, no notes allowed

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — What are the rules in a presidential debate?

Social media lit up with questions on Sunday (March 20), when the second presidential debate spearheaded by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was delayed by more than an hour due to a miscommunication regarding the rules imposed by the poll body.

Related: #PilipinasDeLate: Filipinos rant as they wait for second presidential debate

Ina Andolong, a senior correspondent of CNN Philippines, reported that Vice President Jejomar Binay – who is the standard-bearer of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) – brought notes with him for the debate, which the other candidates spoke up against.

Andolong tweeted that Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said that debate participants were not allowed to bring notes to the podium.




TV5, the network that hosted the debate, released a statement about the issue, saying: "On behalf of the management of TV5, the President, Mr. Noel Lorenzana and the head of News, Ms. Luchi Cruz-Valdes, would like to apologize for the inordinate delay in the 2nd Presidential debate that was brought about solely by the confusion on the rules implemented by the COMELEC on the Debate. In the end, the Management of TV5, the COMELEC and the presidential candidates, have agreed that despite the technical and procedural issues, it is more important to allow the debate to proceed and not deprive the public of their right to witness this historical, exciting and Aksyon-filled event."

Luchi Cruz-Valdes, head of TV5's News and Public Information department, addressed the delay, saying: "Comelec rules had initially stated, at the outset, that there should be no notes or documents to be brought by the candidates during the debate... This was a standing rule that was not communicated to me."

Cruz-Valdes went on to say that a few days before the debate, Rep. Toby Tiangco, a member of Binay's political party, had called her to ask whether Binay could bring notes with him.

She said, "In my earnest desire to make sure that all the candidates would be present, and not thinking that there was such a rule, I did say 'I think so, of course.' After which I had asked if there was rule on that and I was not told there was a rule."

Bautista: No notes allowed

On Monday (March 21), Bautista clarified the rules of the presidential debate by way of a phone interview with CNN Philippines chief correspondent Pia Hontiveros.

"The rules were clear from the beginning. We had agreed that candidates could bring notes and documents but only backstage. They could refer to them during breaks. But they could not bring any documents or notes to the podium," Bautista explained.

When asked if the candidates could take down notes and read from them during the debate itself, Bautista answered in the affirmative.

He said, "That's correct. There are pieces of paper and a pen provided for them so that they could make those notes."

Hontiveros then asked how a repeat of the incident could be avoided in future debates, mentioning that CNN Philippines would be hosting the only vice presidential debate on April 10 and ABS-CBN hosting the third presidential debate on April 24.

Bautista said, "Hopefully, we can highlight these points that have already been previously agreed upon. Some were saying that we should have written documents, although again, if we are already able to build consensus I don't really see the need. But we can talk about that... when we meet with the representatives of the vice presidential candidates so that we can iron out any differences that they may have in respect to the rules."

Hontiveros asked Bautista if the Comelec had been receiving calls from the candidates' camps asking for clarifications.

Bautista said, "No, none at all. I thought that these rules... claro na ito. So we were a little bit surprised. But again, what happened was because the group of Vice President Binay called the network directly instead of clarifying it with Comelec."