Philippine elections in age of social media

Social media is fast reshaping upcoming May elections in the Philippines, with civil society making great use of it through a hugely successful campaign against publicity-hungry or credit-grabbing politicians.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor on

As an observer of the Philippine tech scene, it's interesting to see how social media is reshaping the country's elections, particularly the campaign season for the coming mid-term polls this May.

While I am not exactly a voracious user of social media, one can readily notice its huge impact even before the campaign period began. Civil society has made great use of it through the "anti-epal" drive (or as it's described locally as a campaign against publicity-hungry or credit-grabbing politicians).

To fully appreciate the significance of this movement, it is important to point out that it has been a tradition--a very bad tradition at that--for "epal" politicians to put up big streamers or posters that boast their supposed accomplishments when election time is fast approaching.

Those who are planning to run in the elections also usually resort to the same tactic of greeting local folks on every occasion imaginable. Thus, even on insignificant events, you can see traditional and would-be politicians spending precious funds on ridiculous banners such as those that proclaim "Happy Valentine's Day!" and with their faces usually splashed prominently. 

Since the start of the "anti-epal" campaign that saw Twitter and Facebook users report the multitude of "epal" posters and streamers, it has been refreshing to see these ads slowly declining in numbers. While others still can't resist bragging their supposed achievements while in public office, they have replaced their smug faces with the official seal and names of their local government units.

Another admirable offshoot of this social media-fueled advocacy is the stricter implementation of campaign materials, which in the years past, were scattered and pasted on every wall or electric post across the whole archipelago.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is getting a big lift from zealous citizens who are all fed up and angry with the antics of those running for public office, who are mostly members of political clans or dynasties. With social media, the Comelec is able to easily notify election candidates of their campaign violations through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Aside from issuing a formal notice, the poll body usually posts photos of illegal posters in social media, putting pressure on the candidates to remove them at once.

Compared to previous electoral campaigns, there are far lesser posters and streamers now. This is a big improvement. For the candidates who know better, they also now have a cheaper alternative campaign medium aside from TV and newspaper ads.

Lastly, social media has allowed voters to participate in the elections more vigorously than before. Now, voters can directly ask questions to the candidates and comment on their campaign platforms.

In fact, a senatorial bet was at the receiving end of the power of social media just recently when her disparaging comments on Filipino nurses during an election forum made the rounds on the Internet. She eventually apologized for her remarks but the damage had been done, so to speak.

The game has, indeed, changed. I just hope that the country won't waste this new opportunity to elect good leaders who can bring about real change in the Philippines. 

On a side note, I've always promised that I will post more often in this blog. And like a politician, I've reneged on this promise many times. But now that I'm almost done with law school, I'm promising--yet again!--to keep you guys more updated on the tech scene here in Manila.



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