CNN Philippines hosted the first presidential and vice-presidential debates at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) with a virtual audience, in partnership with Microsoft. Citizens were able to participate in the Philippine electoral and democratic process while maintaining restrictions in place during COVID-19.
Ahead of the national elections in May, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has planned three presidential and vice-presidential debates. In addition, news organizations are also given the opportunity to conduct COMELEC-accredited debates of their own to further give voters across the country insight into candidates’ policies, priorities, and positions on pressing and current issues.
CNN Philippines’ presentation, titled “The Filipino Votes” was set for February 26th and 27th, 2022 at UST’s Quadricentennial Pavilion, for vice-presidential and presidential candidates, respectively. However, with limitations on public gatherings still in place due to COVID-19, they faced the challenge of replicating the audience atmosphere and direct engagement that would feature in the event under normal circumstances. For this, CNN Philippines partnered with Microsoft to power a virtual audience experience using Microsoft Teams.
With Microsoft Teams, a combined virtual audience of nearly 800 individuals from various segments of society including Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), senior citizens, students, professionals, and various other social groups were able to attend the debates, interacting and responding in real-time to both the candidates and CNN Philippines’ news anchors who served as moderators for the event.
“Technology has been at the forefront of the world’s response to COVID-19—enabling nations and communities to adapt, thrive, and sustain our way of life in spite of the challenges we continue to experience,” said Microsoft Philippines Public Sector Director, Joanna Rodriguez. “As an organization, we’re committed to ensuring our technology benefits the world around us, driving lasting innovation and purposeful impact today and for the future. We’re excited by the opportunity to do just that for the Philippines. This partnership with CNN reflects the transformative nature of digitalization and its cross-cutting purpose – the democratization of technology to empower the government, the institutions, and the citizens of the country.
“The Filipino Votes” convened nine of the country’s ten presidentiables and seven of nine vice-presidentiables, making it the most well-attended media-led candidate debates so far in the lead up to May 2022 elections. Both debates were broadcast live on television and CNN Philippines’ online channels and have reached more than 4.7 million Filipinos nationwide. The debates are available on-demand via CNN Philippines’ social media channels.
"The May elections will be a critical crossroads for the Filipino people, a test of our resolve to strengthen the rule of law, human rights fundamentals, accountability and transparency of government. And our debates will serve as our modest contribution towards this end. Microsoft's team of engineers, project managers, and technicians provided us the technology and platform to set up the debate’s virtual audience and showcase an immersive and communal viewing experience to our viewers," said CNN Philippines President, Benjamin Ramos. "We at CNN Philippines are so proud to partner with Microsoft as we successfully staged a very important event which educated and informed our electorate as we draw closer to decision day."
In line with its national commitment, Microsoft Para sa Bayan, Microsoft Philippines has been working closely with national and local governments, businesses across industries and communities to accelerate purposeful innovation and digital transformation through a broad range of initiatives, technology interventions, and skilling efforts to empower stakeholders and create sustainable societal impact.
"For 27 years now, Microsoft has been a partner to the Philippines. We have always been and will continue to be allies in nation-building," said Rodriguez.
Microsoft Teams is a secure teamwork and collaboration platform that brings together apps, communication tools, and shared spaces that people and organizations need. Its powerful meeting and videoconferencing capabilities allow for thousands of users to join calls, making it a trusted virtual event platform since the pandemic, seeing similar use in the Parliament of the Maldives, and Malaysia’s youth-led Digital Parliament. Its Teams Live Events capability allows users to broadcast to up to 10,000 participants and its Together Mode uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, creating the feel of an in-person gathering.