Those who didn't join debates rank high in surveys, UP prof laments
MANILA (UPDATED) - How does one fact-check senatorial candidate Nancy Binay if she is absent in television debates, forums, town hall meetings, and other gatherings that allow voters to see candidates up close?
Binay did not attend a single debate or forum ahead of the May 13 elections, according to UP sa Halalan, a joint project of the University of the Philippines System, ABS-CBN, and the Commission on Elections.
"There are candidates that we really want to fact-check but they don't attend the debates and they don't say anything," said UP sa Halalan's Dr. Nicole Curato, an assistant professor of sociology at UP Diliman.
Curato said on "ANC Presents: Election Watch" on Tuesday night that she also wanted to fact-check the foundation that the daughter of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, but it was unnamed.
Binay, however, did appear on a solo live guesting at ANC before the elections.
She also granted interviews in other ABS-CBN News programs.
"Nancy Binay has been quoted in the media to only engage in debate when she's already in the Senate," said UP Diliman Vice-President for Public Affairs Prospero De Vera, who is also a member of the UP sa Halalan project.
"There seems to be an inverse correlation between those who attend the most and those leading in the rankings," he added.
De Vera said those who attended all the debates seem to be candidates who are trailing in surveys and those who have no money to compete well.
"There are candidates, especially incumbents who do not attend debates and rely on television ads," he said.
Fact-checking the elections
A key component of the UP sa Halalan project are fact-checks on the truthfulness of claims made by candidates.
"Fact-checking is a standard practice in US elections. We thought we would pioneer the fact-check concept in the Philippines," De Vera said.
Curato said the best students in her classes help in the doing the fact-checks.
"There are at least two layers, sometimes three layers of people doing the fact-check," she said.
Curato said they focus their fact-checks on "empirically verifiable" statements made by the candidates.
De Vera said they encountered difficulty with some candidates who are "fond of using buzz words that they have difficulty explaining."
"We are confident that the fact-checks can stand on their own," he said.
Citing the need for freedom of information, Curato said fact-checks would be better if more sources of information can be accessed by the public.
"Use the constituent universities to better fact-check local candidates in the future," she added.
Curato said aside from the Internet, they also used print archives in their research.
"To be fair, the Senate and the Congress have been very helpful," she said.
She said lower House officials gave for free records of some candidates.
De Vera said they also translated fact-checks into more understandable language for voters to understand.
A freedom of information law will help fact-checkers in future elections, he said.
"It would be best if we could get the financial records from the office of the legislators," he added.