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Comelec asked to hold presidential debates overseas

BAGUIO CITY— A migrant workers’ rights advocate urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Tuesday to consider holding a fourth presidential debate abroad for the benefit of an estimated 1.4 million absentee voters.

Senatorial candidate Susan Ople said the Comelec could hold another round of the PiliPinas 2016 presidential debates in either Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia, the two countries that have large populations of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“The [overseas] presidential debates will be for the benefit of our OFWs. There are 1.4 million potential votes via absentee voting mechanism [that could be tapped],” she said in a press conference here.

As of 2015, the Comelec said some 300,000 OFWs in the Middle East have signed up for overseas absentee voting, while 105,000 registered to vote in Hong Kong.

Acknowledging the power of OFW votes, Ople, who is running for senator in the May elections, said migrant workers could also influence the way their family members in the Philippines would pick candidates.

“OFWs wield a great deal of influence among their family members. The reality is that the next administration will be faced a lot of challenges on the OFW front, especially with the conflict in the Middle East,” she said.

The first round of PiliPinas 2016 presidential debates was held last Sunday at Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City. GMA Network, Inc. and the Philippine Daily Inquirer presented the event in partnership with the Comelec.

Two more debates for presidential aspirants have been scheduled in March and April in Cebu and Pangasinan, respectively.

A debate for vice presidential bets, meanwhile, will be held on April 10 in Metro Manila.  —KBK, GMA News