THE SECOND round of the Comelec-sanctioned presidential debates for the 2022 elections held April 3 was attended by nine of 10 candidates. The only one absent was Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., who also skipped the first round. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

THE SUPPOSED third and final round of official debates among candidates for the countrys top two positions in this year’s elections will be changed into a panel-interview format following a muddle involving the Commission on Elections (Comelec) organizing partner, Impact Hub Manila. 

The final debate was scheduled last weekend but had to be postponed due to Impact Hub Manilas failure to fulfill part of its financial obligations to the venue, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. 

The new dates, April 30 for vice presidential bets and May 1 for president, were in conflict with the candidatesschedules.  

“The Commission on Elections, in partnership with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), has announced that the concluding event of the Pilipinas Debates 2022 Series will no longer be Vice-Presidential and Presidential Town Hall Debates,” Comelec said in a statement on Monday.  

“In consideration of the inevitable scheduling conflicts as the candidates approach the homestretch of the campaign period, and as advised by the KBP, the COMELEC will now be adopting a Single Candidate/Team – Panel Interview format,it said.   

KBP, a non-government and non-profit organization of the Philippine broadcast media, held its own presidential forum in February that discussed topics such as unemployment, corruption, and foreign relations.  

Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia told reporters in a Viber message that the discussions will be pre-recorded and that Comelec would be in charge of production and editing.  

“The debates will be aired between May 2 to 6 and all (candidates) will be entitled to a one-hour panel interview,” he said. 

As for the Impact Hub Manila controversy, Mr. Garcia declined to give further comment as the investigation is ongoing.    

“The presumption of innocence still stands until completion of the entire process,” he said in a Viber message.  

Comelec Commissioner Rey E. Bulay told a press briefing on Monday that 14 departments of the election agency have submitted responses to the inquiry that he is leading.   

He said it will take him a week to study the responses.  

Comelec’s private contractor allegedly owes the venue P14 million. 

“Unfortunately, the initiative between the two private companies encountered some misunderstandings,” Impact Hub Manila said in a statement dated April 23.   

“While there have been incomplete reports as to the cause of the miscommunication, Impact Hub Manila will refrain from publicly divulging these matters and will endeavor to discuss them with Sofitel and other stakeholders privately. 

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, who is running for vice president, told a press briefing last Friday that he and his running mate Senator Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson, Sr. might skip the debates, citing a conflict of schedule.  

Mr. Garcia told reporters in another Viber message that Comelec would send out on Monday the invitations to the modified forum.  

“We will adjust to where the candidates want the debates to be held and whether they would prefer the debates to be face to face or virtual,” he said in Filipino in a Viber message. John Victor D. Ordoñez