Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Last year, the swine flu (AH1N1) pandemic created widespread panic around the world. In the Philippines, the swine flu scare prompted the government to install thermal scanners in airports and government buildings. Catholic church officials discouraged the holding of hands inside churches as a precautionary measure against the spread of the deadly virus, while many Filipinos wore facemasks in public places. Hand sanitizers, alcohol, and flu vaccines, meanwhile, became popular consumer items.

Today, the swine flu threat is no longer a top security and health concern in the Philippines. Yet the Philippines is by no means free of the threat, which could actually be exacerbated by the elections in May. Indeed, even though swine flu vaccines are supposedly available today, this isn’t a guarantee that a new pandemic can be prevented.

So, what’s the connection between the virus and the election?

Handshaking is the most effective and most common form of election campaigning in the Philippines. Politicians and candidates love to shake hands and kiss babies in order to prove their ‘genuine’ affection for the poor and ordinary voters. If candidates want to win, they have to meet and shake the hands of their constituents in public markets, town plazas, schools, and inside the homes of voters.

There are more than 80,000 candidates vying for only 17,000 seats. This means there are 80,000 individuals who are physically interacting with 50 million voters everyday. This could also mean that there are 80,000 individuals who are potential carriers of deadly viruses. The number could be higher if we include the supporters and families of candidates. Each candidate has hundreds of supporters and family members who also interact with voters.

National candidates (for President, Vice President, Senator, Partylist groups) pose a greater risk because they frequently travel throughout the country.

Yet, while last year people were afraid to touch others because of the swine flu scare, today everybody seems to have forgotten the virus as handshaking becomes popular again as we approach the elections. There are no more thermal scanners in airports and government buildings and churchgoers are now holding hands again during mass. Filipinos are no longer buying facemasks and hand sanitizers in large quantities. In short, people have become complacent and lax again in promoting personal hygiene and public health.

Perhaps health officials should advise candidates to regularly wash hands before conducting handshaking campaigns every day. The public should also be warned to sanitize their hands after shaking candidates’ hands. Parents shouldn’t allow their babies to be kissed by young or old politicians.

It seems candidates are not just guilty of delivering dishonest campaign speeches, they could be guilty as well of carrying and spreading deadly viruses in the country. Can health authorities declare candidates as health hazards?

Twittering candidates

In 2007, detained rebel soldier Antonio Trillanes was not allowed to campaign outside his prison cell when he ran for senator. But Trillanes was still able to discuss his platform by maximizing Friendster, the most popular social networking site in the Philippines. Trillanes is still in detention, but he is now a senator.

Learning from the campaign strategy of Trillanes, candidates today are also using various social media tools to bolster their chances of winning in the elections. While many analysts look down on the effectiveness of online campaigning, politicians can no longer ignore the cyber community.

Friendster itself is less popular today because of the meteoric rise of Facebook. In fact, all major candidates have Facebook accounts. Another useful and popular election tool is the microblogging platform Twitter. Plurk is more famous among Filipinos, but politicians and their supporters prefer Twitter.

There are five types of Twitter users in the 2010 elections: 1) candidates; 2) online team of candidates; 3) core supporters of candidates; 4) media; and 5) voters.

Few candidates personally manage their Twitter accounts. Usually, candidates hire a web team to handle their emails, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. The popularity of a candidate’s Twitter profile can be measured by the number of re-tweets and followers it has.

Candidates use Twitter to update voters about the campaign activities. Volunteers can also be recruited through Twitter. Furthermore, it can disseminate party slogans through viral campaigns and provide a glimpse of what the candidates are thinking, feeling, or doing on a particular day and time. It is an effective vote-getting platform because it humanizes the candidates. It also offers an opportunity for voters to engage the candidates directly.

Overall, Twitter campaigning is now a recommended strategy for national candidates. But candidates must calibrate this type of campaigning by asking their supporters to refrain from sending unsolicited tweet messages and redundant tweet reactions. Candidates should also refrain from swamping the web with false information and deceitful campaign messages. Online citizens are easily turned-off by these underhanded propaganda tactics.

Who are some of the twittering candidates and what have they been tweeting?

Adel Tamano, who is running for senator: ‘enjoyed my market tour at Roxas market and Isabela province. The people were very warm and courteous. I wish every market was like this’

Ruffy Biazon, another senatorial candidate: ‘My throat hurts a bit..not from the campaign speeches but from karaoke night. I’m really not made for this’

Mar Roxas, vice presidential candidate: ‘Now in San Jose, Antique. Crowd is overwhelming! In the heat of afternoon sun, they’re out in the streets to greet & wave at us. Memorable!’

Loren Legarda, another vice presidential candidate: ‘The cleanest body of water in the world, Kawasan river, is a joy to behold. It’s found in Badian, Cebu. I wish all rivers are that way.’

Jejomar Binay, also a vice presidential candidate: ‘@icon128 Was great news indeed that social networking sites become potent instruments in responding to natural&man-made calamities.’

Alex Tinsay, media broadcaster who is running for senator: ‘So nice to be welcomed by my daughters back here at home. They’re still awake and we’re spending quality time. Had a chance to bond with my wife Judy and son John as they went with me to Davao. I’m so grateful for their care and support’

Joey de Venecia III, senatoriable: ‘Elated and flattered to hear my fellow Pangasinenses shout they would want to have a Pangansinense as Senator after 12 long years w/o one.’

Eduardo Piano, running for city councilor: ‘a firm handshake, eye contact, sincere smile, and a line or two: “good morning”, “how are you?” — a candidate to prospective voter’

Pia Cayetano, running for reelection as senator: ‘Got home in the wee hours from Pangasinan. Im getting used to eating and sleeping on the road.. Then working on my blog after midnight.’

Liza Maza, a senatorial candidate: ‘I am appealing to the PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines) Board of Regents to recognize the right of the students to accessible education and junk the proposed tuition…’

Mel Mathay, candidate for city mayor: ‘today is the start of the official local campaign, i started the day with a mass for blessings’

Related articles:

Thermal scanning and politics
2007 cybercampaigning

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