The Commission on Elections on Wednesday said it was targeting to stage its debate series for the May 9 presidential elections by the fourth week of February as it sought to provide candidates an opportunity to square off on issues that matter to voters.
While participation in the debates is not mandatory, Jimenez said he was hoping that all candidates will attend.
"One of the agreements of Comelec is that if a candidate refuses to attend, their podium will remain empty. So we will make a big deal of the fact that they're not there," he said.
"So I guess for a campaigner, that will be a huge motivation to actually attend. So we're pretty confident that they will attend," he added.
The poll body is considering a series of three debates, one each for the months of February, March, and April covering the entire campaign period which will officially begin on Feb. 8, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said.
"Nakikita namin na mataas ang interes ng mga kababayan natin sa mga pagkakataon kung saan nagkakaharap-harap ang mga kandidato, and we will make sure that we give them an opportunity to see that in a Comelec-sanctioned event para lahat dumalo," he said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay.
"We expect na mataas ang participation natin from the candidates when we stage the debates in February," he added.
A total of 10 candidates for the president and nine candidates for vice president will vie for the two highest government positions in the May 9 elections.
Comelec will organize and stage the debate itself, Jimenez said. Unlike in the 2016 elections where only one network can air the debate, all media outlets will be invited and can simultaneously broadcast the event this time, he added.
A moderator, which will not necessarily be from the media, will be chosen from a list of nominees to preside over the debates, he also said.
The poll body is also arranging three massive venues for the debate series, and the commissioners are looking to hold it in Visayas and Mindanao as well, Jimenez said. "Lahat ito considering the demands of COVID," he added.
There will be no audience members during the debates, and the candidates will be appropriately distanced from one another so that there will be no need for them to wear masks, Jimenez said.