MAY 8, 2007
 (STAR) By Rowena Orejana - With only a week to go before May 14, political candidates are rushing about, pouring in the last of their energy and finances into the final stretch to grab one of the much-coveted 12 senatorial seats.

Thirty-nine candidates vie for the 12 positions in very much the traditional way: campaign sorties, posters and television, radio and newspaper advertisements. Only a few made a foray into cyberspace, the much-touted wave of the future.

Various online sources put the number of Filipino Internet users to be somewhere between 7.82 million (cia.gov and internetwoldstats.com) and 12 million (digitalfilipino.com). The last site states there are 41 Internet service providers and 8,000 Internet cafés.

It’s hardly a number to sneeze at. Twelve million votes can probably put a candidate in the Senate.

But perhaps, it is because most people see the Internet as too futuristic that not a lot of the senatorial aspirants have taken advantage of it. Most have put up their own websites, some as a token to the technology, others to clarify issues against them.

Both senatorial slates have put up their websites: Team Unity at http://www.teamunity.ph and the Genuine Opposition at GenuineOpposition.com. These sites contain their line-ups, the platforms of each bet and of the slate as a whole, and press releases.

Senatorial aspirants Manny Villar, Mike Defensor, Migz Zubiri and Chiz Escudero have put up their websites where one can check their track record, laws passed, and positions on issues, and even post comments.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s website is full of clarifications and explanations of the issues (read: black propaganda) against him.

Justine Espina-Letargo, a reporter from a government station who is currently taking a post-graduate degree in new media in Singapore, however, complained that one can hardly get a feedback from the candidates through their websites. "I posted a question on Chiz’s website two weeks ago, but up to now, there has been no reply. I guess, there’s no one assigned to give replies to those who post questions on their websites," she said.

Though it seems a campaign tool of the future, it would seem to have been a big mistake for candidates not to pay attention to the Internet.

Apart from setting up their own websites, some candidates have also taken advantage of sites such as Friendster and Multiply to reach out to the young voters.

Among those who have put up their own Friendster accounts are Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Rep. Francis Escudero and military rebel Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Trillanes has a blog where he tackles issues and controversies about the Army and the Navy. His Friendster account also contains his "eight-point vision."

His supporters are also maintaining a blog for him at www.friendsoftrillanes.blogspot.com. His online campaign could explain why, though he is not in the top 12, Trillanes still ranks relatively high despite his being detained.

Hampered by his detention, he turned to technology as an alternative campaign strategy. "We will maximize technology — TV, radio, print, text (SMS) and the Internet," he said.

Escudero is also among those who have maximized the use of Internet campaigning. Chiz was the first politician to use live chat in launching his election campaign.

But it seems it is independent candidate Kiko Pangilinan who stands at the very edge of Internet campaigning.

Kiko admits, though, that it is still unclear whether this path would result in more votes.

"We are trailblazing in this area and so the full potential of reaching out to voters remains to be seen. Still, we believe that because of the number of OFWs, it is just a matter of time before Internet campaigning becomes a necessary feature of future national campaigns," Pangilinan said.

Recently, Pangilinan has launched his very own YouTube-based channel dubbed "KTubed (Kiko Tubed)" on multiply.com.

KTubed is like an online "reality show" or a video diary of his day-to-day campaign activities. It shows an intimate side of political campaigning: how Kiko starts his day, how he relates to his daughters, and how he handles the hazards of physical campaigning. It is a campaign strategy unlike any other which may possibly appeal as well to Filipinos abroad who are missing life in the Philippines.

Apart from the individual candidates, party-list groups, particularly the so-called "progressive" groups, have taken advantage of the Internet.

Bayan Rep. Satur Ocampo was the first politician to air reaction over his impending arrest over YouTube. Using the Internet for a relatively low-cost campaign seemed natural.

Kabataan is also another party-list group campaigning online. Its campaign targets the sector it hopes to represent in Congress.

Politicians are making greater use of the Internet than ever before in their campaigns, but opinions differ on the impact that the Internet will ultimately have on the votes cast.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, GO political strategist and campaign manager, said Internet campaigning is a serious form of campaigning but it is not an alternative.

"Even in the US, television still prevails as the major means of communicating a message. Plus, there is no substitute yet for independent and objective news reporting as a source of information for the voter," Osmeña said.

He added there is no way to gauge its effectiveness or reach.

Indeed, some political strategists in the US say that the Internet’s impact on politics is overhyped. But there is no arguing that the Internet is the way to go.

Republicans in the US have used the e-mail as a new form of direct-mail campaign, something that Filipino politicians have yet to do.

With about 12 million Internet users, the e-mail is an exciting avenue to reach voters; it’s cheap and efficient.

On the other hand, the Democrats have raised cash through small-scale donations over the Net. It is unlikely, though, that this form of fund-raising would be developed in this country over the next couple of elections.

There are various reliable websites and blogs which give updated news and information on candidates, political parties and other election matters.

There is the Pinoy Voters Academy of Simbahang Naglilingkod sa Bayan (http://www.slb.ph) which provides useful links to candidates’ websites. Philippine Eleksiyon 2007 gives a daily report on important election news. Votester@team-yehey.com asks bloggers to submit election articles and conducts an online survey on voters’ preferences.

The different television networks and publishing companies with online services also offer interviews of candidates in their podcasts.

Internet campaigning in the Philippines has barely scratched the surface of the new media. The opportunities, not only for the candidates, but also for the creative geniuses behind these websites, will prove to be boundless.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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