Influence, Corruption, and Disinformation in Philippine Political Campaigns

Political Campaign Strategies in the Philippines

In the Philippines, endorsements from celebrities and influencers, dynastic politics and corrupt election systems bolster money politics. But electoral fraud on a grand scale is rare.

A toxic campaign suffused with vicious mudslinging and TikTok memes drowned out the clarity of candidates’ message platforms. Nevertheless, voters are often open to political engagement.

Social media

The deep patronage system in the Philippines bolsters money politics and vote-buying, and politicians frequently misuse public service delivery for electoral purposes. Vote-selling impedes the democratic process, yet remains widespread. This article assesses the use of the Internet by Philippine political parties and discusses their effectiveness in promoting their platforms and mobilizing voters.

During the 2022 presidential election, Duterte was aided by an army of keyboard warriors who fiercely defended his leadership and undermined his opponents. These digital partisans are often paid, and it is difficult to discern between genuine online support and fake news. This is the context in which reliance on social media as a political campaign strategy can become problematic. It also underscores the importance of rigorous data collection and scientific methods when evaluating these campaigns. Public deliberation, in the form of town hall meetings, may improve the efficacy of electoral campaigns by making party platforms more persuasive to specific societal groups.

Vote-buying and vote-selling

In 2022, millions of Filipinos will vote for their next president. The election will likely be one of the most consequential in recent history, with an early lead by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of the nation’s exiled former dictator. Although allegations of electoral fraud—including vote-buying, political violence and glitches in electronic voting machines—have marred past elections, the most recent polls have been largely considered credible.

Endorsements of celebrities, influencers and dynasties carry enormous weight in the Philippines, where millions of voters make choices based on their familiarity with a candidate or his or her family. In addition, many people work abroad, earning billions in remittances each year that sustain their families and fuel economic growth.

The upcoming presidential election may also see the return of “vote-selling,” where voters exchange money for votes. This trend could be exacerbated by social media micro-targeting, which allows for pieces of disinformation to target specific voter groups. This is a growing threat in the Philippines, which should push the next administration to prioritize policy reforms and new legislation that will seriously address disinformation.

Foreign interference and influence

In the Philippines, foreign interference and influence can take several forms. One form is covertly funding a campaign to increase the chance of victory for a candidate whose election may benefit a specific interest, or to support candidates that serve as ‘spoilers’, splitting votes and increasing political polarization. It also can include spreading disinformation or engaging in the exploitation of the media.

High poverty rates and persisting social inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic make Filipinos especially susceptible to appeals for stability and economic advancement, and willing to overlook an authoritarian legacy of unaccountability, corruption and political repression. In addition, a widespread disillusionment with democracy has contributed to the rise of anti-democratic forces such as Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

To counter these trends, governmental institutions must recraft a new social contract based on inclusive societal deliberation. Yet, Philippine democracy will likely remain beset by growing polarization and inequalities until the country confronts its brutal past.

The rise of fake news

As the Philippines faces COVID-19-related restrictions on large-scale campaign events, and 81 per cent of the population is on Facebook, candidates are increasingly relying on social media to capture the attention of voters. As a result, the number of trolls is growing.

Participants in my study who lean towards supporting or opposing the Duterte government expressed a disconnect between their views and practices regarding racially-tinged pandemic digital disinformation online, and their everyday conversations with friends and family. This is partly due to the societal context in which many Filipinos implicitly subscribe to well-entrenched racial hierarchies of themselves and their cultural others, but are often loath to talk about them openly.

In the face of increasing political polarisation and the rise of fake news, it is critical to establish non-partisan fact-checking as a key democratic function. However, quick and cosmetic solutions like imposing stricter media literacy rules may do little to address the underlying problems of the current electoral process.

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