Cagayan de Oro press to Pres. Debate organizers: “thanks, but no thanks”

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 February) — The Cagayan de Oro Press Club slammed anew the organizers of the  “PiliPinas Debate 2016” despite the increased number of slots for its members in the first round of Presidential Debates on Sunday.

In Manila, Rappler filed a lawsuit before the Supreme Court  on Friday against Commission on Elections chair Andres Bautista for granting exclusive broadcast rights to media corporations to the detriment of local news organizations.

GMA7, one of the organizers of the presidential debate increased the number of slots — from five to 25, 13 of that for the COPC members — who can get inside the debate venue at the Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday.

The club led by its president, Monsignor Elmer Abacahin and Herbie Gomez, raffled the slots to its members who wanted to witness the debate as “studio audience” agreeing not to bring any “covering equipment” like cameras and recorders.

Abacahin said the club is “saddened “ that the organizers curtailed the rights of local journalists to cover the event “freely and unhampered.”

He said many of the local journalists have signified they would cover the debate despite the restrictions because “it is their duty to bring information to their community.”

“We maintain and reiterate our stand that there should never be a monopoly in the media coverage of a presidential debate, and that government must ensure that such national event will be equally covered by mass media,” Abacahin said reading the Cagayan de Oro Press Club statement released Friday afternoon.

Abacahin thanked the organizers of the debate  for increasing the slots for the press club members.

“Thanks but no thanks too.  We will attend the debates but we are saddened knowing full well our wings are clipped,” Abacahin said.

In the statement, the Cagayan de Oro Press Club expressed indignation over the decision of the Comelec to let private interests overshadow what should have been its mandate under the Constitution.

“It is clearly a surrender of constitutional mandate to corporate interests. Many of us will try to adapt to this strange environment, observe, and cover the presidential debate the best way we can — while in protest,” the statement said.

MindaNews had earlier registered its protest by refusing to comply with the restrictive rules and will cover the Presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro outside of the debate venue and the media center.

Last Monday, MindaNews editor in chief Carolyn O. Arguillas said participation in the Presidential debate “should not just mean in terms of numbers – number of reporters allowed in, etc.. it should also mean WHAT ISSUES are going to be debated upon and WHO DECIDES what these are? Will these be general national issues? Mindanao-specific issues like the Bangsamoro Peace Process, Lumad killings, mining, drought, etc…? Next month in Cebu, will Manila again decide what issues will be debated upon? If that’s how these “national” debates are supposed to be done, then hold all rounds in Manila.”

In their suit against Comelec Chair Bautista, Rappler said the poll chief has allegedly permitted GMA7 network to become “a de facto censor” to ensure its monopoly on the debate content.

“We are convinced the benefits and advantages accorded the lead networks violate the Anti-Graft Law because they are unwarranted. They were granted to the lead networks without the benefit of any transparent or equitable process, certainly, no public bidding was conducted,” Rappler said.

Rappler said together with other online news, it signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Comelec for assurances that access to the debates will be granted.

It said the Comelec did not honor the agreement.

“Worse, the exclusive rights granted by the Comelec Chairman over a Comelec-organized event are now being used to infringe not only upon Rappler’s free press rights but upon those of our fellow reporters in Cagayan de Oro as well,” Rappler said on its on-line page. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)