PRESIDENTIAL frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.,  on Friday turned down his closest rival’s challenge to a debate, saying a face-off with Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo will never happen and he prefers to communicate directly with the public.

Ms. Robredo, who narrowly beat Mr. Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential election, challenged the son and namesake of the late dictator to a debate “anytime, anywhere” so voters can scrutinize their characters and compare their visions. 

Mr. Marcos has attended just one of four presidential debates since campaigning for the May 9 election began, compared to Ms. Robredo’s three. 

Mr. Marcos led Ms. Robredo by 32 points in the latest survey in March and the two have a bitter rivalry, with Ms. Robredo’s affiliation firmly with the movement that toppled his late father in a 1986 “people power” uprising. 

“I am inviting Mr. Marcos to a debate to give the public a chance to face him and ask him about the controversies surrounding him,” Robredo said in a statement. 

“We owe it to the people and to our country.” 

Mr. Marcos’s spokesman, Victor D. Rodriguez, said “Bongbong,” as Mr. Marcos is commonly known, wanted to keep campaigning civil. 

“Bongbong Marcos’s Uniteam is guided by positive campaigning, no badmouthing. It sends its message and call for unity directly to the public,” he said in a statement. 

Mr. Marcos’s ducking of debates has been criticized by opponents and academic groups, who say the public is being denied the opportunity to see all candidates challenged and scrutinized.

Political analyst Earl Parreno said shunning debates was Mr. Marcos’s way of ensuring his “shallow knowledge of issues will not be exposed.”

Though incumbent leader Rodrigo R. Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is Mr. Marcos’s running mate and his party has backed Mr. Marcos, the president himself has said he wants to be neutral and has not endorsed anyone.

More than 67 million Filipinos have registered to vote in the elections, which historically have a high turnout. 

Posts contested include the presidency, vice presidency, 12 senate seats, 300 lower house seats, and roughly 18,000 local positions. — Reuters