Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can Social Media Save the 2019 Midterm Elections in the Philippines?

Photo from Dailymotion
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

As the Philippines draws near to its midterm general election on 13 May 2019, held on the second Monday of May prescribed by Republic Act No. 7166 for national and local elections since 1992, the woke generation or the millennial and Gen Z will again dominate the expected 61 million Filipino voters across generations this year, remaking the 2016 presidential election by virtually representing 24.73 million voters aged 17 to 34 years old, almost half of the 54.36 million registered voters, who helped install the six-year tenure of President Rodrigo Duterte.  

The voting landscape in the archipelagic insular Southeast Asian country remains evidently young as these digital natives adapt to social media and internet of things. The midterm election will see a game-changing political culture with 62 senatorial hopefuls vying for 12 seats, the highest number of candidates since the 2010 polls, as they and other politicians in provinces and cities capitalize their advocacies and idiosyncrasies through social networking sites during the election campaign period while the Philippines continuously brag the title of being the world’s social media capital. This election will also vote for new officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao activated by the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) after successful runs of the the two-part plebiscite on the ratification of the new organic law.

Political participation through social media in the Philippines creates political platforms that revolve around the ideal and currency of power. Power sets the ideal consumed by social actors encapsulated by either empowerment or illusion that translate to an expression of personal identity of candidates or mobilization of party groups. It draws asymmetrical relationship that propagates personalization of political sphere. In essence, political participation becomes vital when channeled through often dense social network over which people can share their own narratives and concerns.

The lines separating culturally and socially-held conventions are blurred in the virtual space and on the ground while more digital adaptives participate in a variety of ways in arenas and on issues not made accessible to certain social actors during elections. In gist, the power dynamic among social actors has become more inclusive and by at times more asymmetric. Hence, the revolutionary effects of social media among millennials in the Philippines’ national political life has been sobered and dismissed. 

Its effect on social media and how that translates to society’s formation of culture has produced a dual effect. One that culture funnels a trench of resistance and the other that sees culture homogenizing undercurrent, a vision of a cosmopolitan society that comes with a global platform of interaction. This emerging order is still undefined where individual cognitions and emotive features from various social actors all with relative access to online platforms render the order unstable. Apparently social media has clearly taken a personal dimension that hinges on the arena of politics expanding with a high value on personal expression and exchange. The upsurges of personalized politics thrive when an ethos of diversity and inclusiveness defined by tolerance for various viewpoints are linked across loosely bounded political networks. It continuously reinforces the entrenched patron-client relationship that has been carried over from traditional politics and conventional media.

While social media is free, it is highly susceptible to political partisanship. Traditional media and even media personalities often give the impression of embodying relative realities. While there is considerable media diversity, the ideological spectrum is much narrower. Even if Filipinos came later and in lesser degree to the internet connectivity aside from bagging the slowest average internet speed in Asia Pacific, explosion of internet use over the years cemented the country as a social network hotbed, consistent with Filipino culture being a strongly-knit network by spending most of the time interacting and socializing online. At present social media in the Philippines has already created a dent on how we view the country’s political culture whether it is regarded as an agent of change or merely an extension of traditional politics. 

Philippine political culture carves a young democracy 75 years after hundred under colonial rule. Filipinos are caught in the fast continuum among the traditional, modern and postmodern influences. Amusingly an examination of Filipino millennials in social media reveals a clashing divide among conservative and progressive beliefs across issue areas. And the nature of this clash ranges from the entertaining to the academic, still altogether begets very personal, a reflection of Philippine networking culture. It speculates a vicarious pleasure in schadenfreude or scorn that may become detrimental to people in authority. Opinionated accounts of political experts can be taken pugnaciously as a fact and naturally shape public opinion that devours their credibility.

In the end, cultural entrenchment and resistance in Philippine social media landscape before and during elections visibly presents a patron-client relationship and the rule of the elite that defines the political and cultural structures blending in an at least a nominally democratized society with limited state control. The fusion has created a media that in one sense is beholden to certain politicized social actors and on another, proclaims balanced presentation of facts and strong pro-people opinion when facing its audience. For its dubious character, mainstream media is tolerated and remains a power in shaping public opinion. The role of social media over issue-based mobilizations and campaigns employ quantitative measures that may suggest the potency of the new media platforms in altering public opinion and discourses. However, netizens unconsciously extends the arena of personalizing a political strategy. A fact that not all Filipino millennial voters are considered information-driven citizens apparent to partisan sentiments that can be extremely shared over an open platform that creates added value to the sense and sensibilities of the country’s collective values.  

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