THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) may push for a law that will punish presidential candidates who refuse to participate in national debates, according to a commissioner.

“After this election, maybe we can ask Congress to pass a law for organized presidential debates along with rules and punishments,” Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia told an online news briefing in Filipino on Thursday.

He said it is difficult to sanction debate skippers in the absence of a law. “We are asking for help from our law department and I cannot add any more to the sanctions because there is no law for it.”

Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. was the only candidate among 10 who failed Comelec’s presidential debate this month. His running mate, Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio also skipped the vice-presidential debate.

“Whatever we impose may be questioned as unconstitutional,” Mr. Garcia, Mr. Marcos’s former lawyer, said.

Comelec earlier said it would bar candidates who snub its debates from live-streamed e-rallies on its Facebook page.

Vice-presidential candidate Walden F. Bello earlier called the decision a “weak sanction.” “We need stronger penalties for these people because this is so undemocratic that they are not here,” he said at the Comelec vice-presidential debate.

Comelec will hold its second presidential debate on April 3.

Comelec spokesman James B. Jimenez said next month’s debate would let candidates discuss topics in greater detail.

Candidates will be asked a general question per segment, and in each succeeding portion, the candidates will be divided into groups of three to debate on a topic, he told a news briefing.

Each presidential candidate would be given two minutes to answer each question and 60 seconds for their closing remarks, he added.

The next debate will focus on government accountability and domestic policy.

Mr. Garcia said the pending disqualification cases against Mr. Marcos would be resolved by mid- to late April.

Newly appointed Comelec Chairman Saidamen B. Pangurungan earlier said they would fast-track the decision on pending lawsuits.

“Some commissioners are on official business abroad,” Mr. Garcia said. “By next week, if the resolutions are available, we hope to sign all of them in one sitting.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez