The Philippines: Southeast Asia’s Avant-Garde in Elections and Campaign Management

Partyforumseasia: The Philippines has not been famous for a stable party system, clean politicians or a level political playing field. But this year they have moved ahead of their neighbors in Southeast Asia in a remarkable way: Against all the odds of their developmental shortcomings and demographic and logistical problems, the 9 May elections have surprised and deserve recognition and praise for at least three achievements:

1. Successful Electronic Vote Counting
In the 7000 islands archipelago of the Philippines an electronic counting and transmission system has worked without major problems. For all the potential vote counting machinetechnical difficulties and sheer number of voters and polling stations this achievement deserves greatest respect. Processing nationwide the presidential votes plus 12 seats to the Senate; 297 seats to the House of Representatives; all governors, vice governors, and 772 seats to provincial boards for 81 provinces; all mayors and vice mayors for 145 cities and for 1,489 municipalities, all members of the city councils and 11,924 seats on municipal councils; and governor, vice governor and all 24 seats in the regional assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is simply herculean.

2. The Maverick Anti-Establishment Candidate Wins the Presidency
For the first time an outsider from the poorest island of the country, Mindanao, and with limited campaign funding has won against the Manila establishment. The campaign expenses differ significantly: Duterte officially spent USD 8 m,  Grace Poe, the second runner up USD 11 m, and Binay, 3d runner up 10 m, while runner up Mar Roxas’ expenses are not yet filed. Duterte
Duterte’s Mr. Clean-up image as mayor of Davao City has hit a chord with voters fed up with patronizing Manila and the many chaotic facets of life in the Philippines, from crime and corruption to poverty and slums and traffic jams.


Nicanor Gabunada, the new president’s keyboard strategist

3. Duterte’s  Low Cost Media Campaign is the Ultimate Trend Setter in the region!
The man behind this media campaign is Nicanor “Nic” Gabunada Jr., an entrepreneur, marketing consultant and media executive. According to Duterte’s campaign spokesman Peter Tiu Laviña, social media was a “game changer” in the 2016 presidential elections, providing a large contribution to the electoral victory of the president elect.
According to the Rappler (Link), Gabunada said that “The undeniably huge force behind the presidential bid of Rodrigo Duterte was organic and volunteer-driven.”, and “that the lack of funds forced them to be creative in organizing the online presence of the Davao city mayor’s campaign.” “Because of their “creative” strategy, Gabunada said they weren’t really able to spend the entire P10 million ($214,199) budget given to them.”
The Rappler article reveals more details of the campaign:

– “Gabunada estimated there were around 400 to 500 volunteers but each volunteer had his or her own network to tap. “We were able to amplify in the sense that each one of the volunteers was handling groups with members of around 300 to 6,000,” he explained. “I think the biggest group had 800,000 members.

– “For a person on the other side without knowledge of community organizing, the sudden surge of online sentiments for Duterte looked like it was made by “bots.” However, Gabunada insisted that his social media team did not make use of them but instead relied on “influenzers” on social media who were actual people with a strong following.” “We used live people, not bots,” he emphasized. “When we want certain things to trend on Twitter, we have our Twitter warriors who post like anything or keep the same post just to have a quick trend.”

According to (Link) the Philippines ranks only narrowly behind world leader Brazil in the time spent daily on the internet: it is a staggering 5.2 hours on desk- or laptops and 3.2 hours on mobile devices. This must have helped Duterte’s keyboard warriors a lot.

The lesson from the Philippines: A volunteer-driven and low-cost social media campaign can be the ultimate equalizer in all future elections in countries with sufficient internet penetration, which means nearly all ASEAN members. But the political system must be open enough, of course.

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