CATH 'EM ON THE NET /  THE WEB ADVANTAGE

MANILA,
April 30, 2004 (STAR) By Nelson De Guzman - With less than two weeks to go until the May 10 elections, supporters of candidates from the presidentiables down to the local aspirants are aggressively gearing up for the final battle ahead.

The battle of the airwaves now rages in the streets. People are being bombarded everyday with propaganda from candidates promising a better future through posters and streamers, newspaper ads, television and radio plugs – and even on the Internet.

Candidates use the traditional media formats extensively but have still left a big bulk of undecided and uninformed voters.

Latest studies show an estimated 25 percent of the voters have yet to make a choice. How the message can be conveyed to the undecided and uninformed entirely depends on the candidates and their supporters.

With the enactment of the Absentee Voting Act last year, the problem of tapping the farthest Pinoy in the globe grew by leaps and bounds. A candidate has to take into account the distance and expenses of reaching out to the potential five million absentee voters around the world.

Fortunately, there is the Internet. A lot of Filipinos rely on the Internet to send e-mails to their loved ones or get the latest news from home.

Back home, a lot of us rely heavily on traditional media formats for information about the candidates. What can be frustrating is the lack of comprehensive discussions of issues and platforms of each candidate due to limited print space in newspapers and time constraints on radio and TV.

Web Advantage

This leaves the Internet as an alternative source of information. Aside from being global, a website has limitless space where the stand of a candidate on issues can be ventilated.

But the Internet also has its share of problems since it has a darker side. Those who have nothing else to do are trying to spread their weapons of "mass distraction" to deface websites, particularly those of presidential candidates.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales recently warned of online attacks and "cyber crimes" which are fast emerging as a global menace.

Gonzales made the statement days after hackers succeeded in pulling a joke on the website of an organization supporting presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

The hackers succeeded in utilizing the popular Google and Yahoo search engines by linking the word "bangungot ng bayan" ("nightmare of the masses") to the website of the Freedom Peace and Justice Movement (FPJM) supporting the movie actor’s candidacy.

The gag was reportedly part of what researchers called "Google bombing" which, according to Web Spy, means the "setting up (of) a large number of webpages with links" that point to a specific website so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link text.

It was not clear who or which group was responsible for the gag. Apparently they targeted Poe since he is riding on his popularity as a movie star despite his being a political neophyte with no higher education and zero experience in public service.

Government websites also fell victim to defacement even with the enactment of the E-Commerce Law.

Nasty Jokes

Former President Joseph Estrada himself fell prey when his www. erap.com was defaced. Like Estrada, his bosom buddy is now the target of nasty jokes and website gags.

E-mails circulate like wildfire over the Internet. Users are particularly bombarded with nasty jokes about Poe’s supposed intellectual inadequacy, just what they did during Estrada’s tenure.

Some are funny, but some are serious enough to reflect a widespread uneasiness over Poe’s quest for the presidency.

Websites and several news forums such as c, www.kuro.ph and www.dyoks.com, among others, are full of nasty jokes and comments against Poe.

Some are not directed against Poe alone; other candidates, including incumbent President Arroyo, are not spared.

Even before the election fever began, candidates have put up websites to publicize themselves with their platforms of government.

For his part, former Education Secretary Raul Roco, standard bearer of the Alyansa ng Pag-asa, has www.raulroco.com.

According to Roco’s website administrator Ramil Viñas, there has been no hacking attacks on their website so far.

Viñas admitted hackers have almost succeeded in "hijacking" the website in the past. Hijacking simply means directing the surfer to another website, usually to those sleazy triple-X sites through a simple text link from its URL (universal resource locator).

"So far, there had been no attempts," he said. "We can guarantee that our website is safe from hijacking and defacing."

Viñas explained that any attempt "usually involves an inside job." "Any former employee who knows the access codes or simply has an access can be a suspect. If that should occur, we could easily trace it," he said.

He said the last time they experienced hacking was in 1996 when an employee of their Internet service provider was found tinkering with the website. Hack Attacks

Virgilio Bugaoisan, a former newsman and a top honcho of the campaign machinery of independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said they would never fall prey to hacking attacks.

Lacson has www.888.ph as his website. Bugaoisan boasted that hackers would end up frustrated. "We got the best IT (information technology) experts in the field," he said.

Bugaoisan said any hack attack would be quickly detected, adding that security patches have been constantly upgraded, denying anyone unauthorized access.

Lacson’s website also has links which include his mistahs (classmates) at the Philippine Military Academy Class 1971.

The opposition senator can boast of the most comprehensive website along with Roco, Bro. Eddie Villanueva (www.broed-die2004.com) and President Arroyo (www.kgma.org).

Eddie Gil, a self-proclaimed trillionaire who claimed purchasing a million-dollar helicopter to prove his worth in the campaign, ironically did not see the benefit of maintaining a website to present his platform of government. (Ed: The Supreme Court has disqualified him from running.)

President Arroyo’s website presents her platform and achievements, bundled along with her biodata and photographs. The website has a lot of links, including one to the Office of the President where daily press releases and updates are presented.

The website even has an interactive platform where the user can sign in and send an e-mail via its "Guestbook" straight to the President. We do not know for sure if nasty messages are cut out.

Lacson, for his part, presents his platform on almost all issues; this is true with Villanueva and Roco too.

Villanueva, surprisingly, has the answers to all issues – from corruption, health to globalization – despite his being a religious leader.

Roco goes a step further by introducing his running mate and senatorial candidates with a simple "pop-up ad."

Poe Website

The most frustrating is that of Poe’s (www.fpjonline.com). One logging on to the website will be met by hundreds of news clippings and columns all delving on a single topic – the controversial disqualification suit filed against the actor.

Except for a brief introduction on Poe and his background, all its contents discuss the disqualification suit against him.

Apparently, his supporters are trying to impress people that their idol should not be disqualified but we have had enough of that. What is apparently lacking in Poe’s website is the actor’s much-needed answers to pressing issues the nation is facing today.

Poe is supposed to present his platform of government and a comprehensive discussion of the issues with only a few days until May 10. The movie star has been known to be media-shy about discussing platforms and issues – and is so, even on the Internet.

One analyst said that if elections were held today and the basis of the vote is website content, Roco and Villanueva will emerge the winners for having great content and "very neat websites."

A voter should explore the contents of the website of each presidential candidate. One should consider their platforms and experiences as their websites proudly present.

Election Day is just around the corner and a visit to the aspirants’ websites is a good move for any voter to make the right decision.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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