Leonardia unlikely to attend debate if no agreement on format reached

City PIO photo

Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia is unlikely to attend the debate of mayoral candidates Saturday if no agreement is reached on a face-to-face format and other mechanics, his representative George Zulueta said Thursday, January 13.

But the University of the Philippines Law Alumni Association-Negros Occidental Chapter (UPLAA-NO) organizing committee said it will push through with the event.

“We are all set to proceed with our virtual debate in town hall format, as planned,” UPLAA-NO said in a statement Thursday night.

“Debate Eleksyon 2022” between Bacolod mayoral aspirants Leonardia and Albee Benitez and gubernatorial bets Eugenio Jose Lacson, Juan Orola Jr. and Ma Socorro Sibulan Okada via Zoom is set from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Saturday.

All representatives of the candidates, except for Okada whom they were unable to reach despite earnest efforts, have been briefed during their technical run and they look forward to hosting the candidates’ debate via Zoom, the organizers said.

Bacolodnons and Negrenses may comfortably and safely watch the debate in the comforts of their home through any of the following FB live streams: USLS(, UPLAANO (, (; and INQ Plus (, they said.

“For those who misunderstood our mechanics consistently communicated to them from the start and/or insist on their preferred format, we have already responded directly to them in private,” the UPLAA-NO organizers added.

Despite the minor distractions, the UPLAA-NO debate organizers said they are excited to collaboratively provide a platform for the public to know who the candidates are, their positions on certain issues and to help them make informed choices in the lead up to the May 2022 elections.

“We also hope that all our invited candidates will grace our event and give the voters of Bacolod and Negros Occidental, who confer power upon our elective public officials, the honor and privilege of this opportunity for engagement on Saturday,” UPLAA-NO said.

Commissioner Rowena Guanzon of the Commission on Elections will open our event, to be followed by the mayoral and gubernatorial debates.

The debates will have 3 segments, where questions from sectoral representatives will be fielded, followed by those from the general public. Candidates will then ask questions from each other.

Zulueta said he and Ramon Antonio Pandan of UPLAA-NO were supposed to meet Wednesday but the latter cancelled the meeting.

“According to you, your organization has already decided to proceed with the purely virtual debate via Zoom, hence denying our request to revert to the face-to-face cum virtual debate format in USLS as originally agreed during our meeting in the City Mayor’s Office,” Zulueta said in a letter to Pandan.

Zulueta said they are confident, based on the general public’s comments that a face-to-face debate that they are seeking “is verily fair, acceptable, exciting and free from any doubts that a debater would be aided by any person or instrument, like a teleprompter, for coaching purposes”.

“May we thus reiterate that Mayor Bing is willing and ready to participate in a live face-to-face debate format in any mutually agreed venue under mutually agreed rules and guidelines,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that you insist on maintaining a purely virtual debate via Zoom when, in fact, we will be observing proper health protocols in the USLS Coliseum, which is such a huge venue that is most appropriate for this debate given the COVID situation”, he said.

Zulueta stressed the need for all camps to be consulted in order to agree on the rules of engagement.

Unilateral rules and conditions should not be imposed on the debaters, he added.

“I believe, we must first arrive at some kind of agreement with regards to the debate rules and guidelines,” he said, before it can take place.

UPLAA-NO said the debate is being held virtually as a health precaution amid the surge in COVID-19 cases. The national Inter- Agency Task Force on Wednesday elevated Bacolod City to Alert Level 3.

“We have designed the event to be effective and safe, as has been done in other jurisdictions during this time of pandemic,” UPLAA-NO said in response to Zulueta.

“We hope that Mayor Bing will not deprive the public, whose votes he seeks and whose welfare he promises to look out for, this opportunity on Saturday,” it added.*

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