#eDemokrasya: ‘Digital in politics, politics in digital’

Here are my prepared remarks for the eDemokrasya Conference on the Use of Social Media and Technology for Democracy Promotion” on Feb. 21 at Hyatt Hotel and Casino in Manila, held with support from the USAID, the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems:

At the #juanvote "Miting de Avance". Photo grabbed from Blogwatch.ph.
At the #juanvote “Miting de Avance” in 2010. Photo grabbed from Blogwatch.ph.

Filipinos want and long for a better democratic system. It is a system where: any citizen could be a candidate, a group of citizens could freely form a party, run for office on the basis of track record and platform, painlessly vote and have the vote counted accurately and quickly, winners swiftly proclaimed and sworn into office and throughout their term office be held accountable for their promises and for how they perform their tasks under the law.

As of today, this dream is a pie in the sky.

Many are disgusted and disenchanted with traditional politics or trapo politics in all its forms that dominate the country. Many are disenfrachised by the current system. New candidates and parties, those who sincerely think and wish to act to bring changes, are not welcomed by a system dominated by guns, goons and gold.

Violence remains another face of the elections and maintaining power. Private armies, banned under the law, prop up evil political dynasties far away from the glare of media. Periodically, they commit abominable crimes – like the Ampatuan massacre and the many extrajudicial killings – but their patrons in national government delay the process.

Valid questions are being raised, many left unanswered, about the automated election system which some falsely claim is the magic bullet to kill trapo politics.

Digital – basically the web, social media and the many connectivity and digitalization tools – does not promise to solve everything. These however could help move how we do politics steps forward.

Digital in politics

Data and targeting. Political candidates and parties could rely less on ward leaders or local kingmakers if they rely on their own links to voters. A tool that has not yet been used by any political parties has been used by many businesses for a number of years now and that is CRM. Customer Relation Management tools keep tabs of voters in a particular constituency – the objective is to find out how to reach them, turn them into supporters, ask for their donation, etc.

A good CRM program would help candidates find out problems, issues and concerns of voters. It would also be a basis for a yardstick for assessing the work of field organizers, the reach of campaign activities, the deployment of resources including propaganda and publicity, and in the final stretches when candidates embark on GOTV efforts. This is true at all levels, meaning, you could see at any moment your target and your reach in the national or barangay scales.

Those who have the most useful information or data about the voters may have the best chance to capture those votes in this elections and in the future elections.

Websites, Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, YouTube, UStream and other channels

They must seize these social media channels for the opportunity to present themselves, their life stories and party histories, their platforms and programs of action, and their messages to voters. New candidates and parties could deploy cameras and mobile broadband to livestream and record rallies, fora and campaign activities for free. In other words, social media makes available the setting up of your own media channels.

Facebook is not just a measure or barometer of popularity. Yes, you may have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of friends in your Page, but if you do not have a strategy on how to leverage that numbers to encourage conversation and interaction – you won’t be able to convert that into action, and the most important actions here are for your Facebook friends to actually campaign and vote for you.

Remember: The huge difference between old and social media is interactivity. Digital forces and compels candidates and parties to open themselves to questions. Once you go social and online, be ready to respond to questions, to answer to the electorate. Social media is not a one-way street. Netizens do not look kindly on and actually act against candidates who opportunistically misuse social media.

Don’t just hire spin doctors and the usual cast of characters for a campaign. Set up or hire a Tech Team or an Agency to help you during and in between campaigns. It is many many many times better to spend on the proper use of technology than setting up or maintaining a gang of goons.

The numbers speak for themselves: Out of a population of about 100 million, 35 million have internet connection. 30 million are on Facebook, while 10 million are on Twitter. Filipinos watch the most number of videos and spend the most minutes in watching videos on YouTube. There’s a growing number of people who have smartphones. 35 million is many times more than the required votes to win the presidency, a seat in the Senate or the House,

Whether you want a great social media presence that is worthy of the world’s social media capital, or whether you would like to make apps and websites that not just impress but also identify and mobilize your supporters, and professionalize the conduct of politics – do it. They will help you understand and make use of digital, provide analytics and monitoring, a complete strategy and, of course, timely and periodic assessment. Hire Filipino social media strategists, community managers and app and web developers.

Politics in digital

  1. Citizen journalism reloaded: This 2013, we netizens are relaunching #juanvote, a social media-powered coverage of the elections. We will watch you, we will ask you tough questions, we will monitor your expenses. We call it #juanvote Reloaded because we will also campaign for issues close to the heart of netizens.
  2. Cybercrime Law and Digital Privacy Act, twin laws signed by President Aquino in 2012 aim to limit and mutilate internet freedom as we know it. Netizens have sued the government before the Supreme Court to invalidate the Cybercrime Law. Candidates and parties running for senator, congressmen and partylist representative should promise to repeal these laws.
  3. Freedom of Information: The Philippines is part of a small minority of countries still without a FOI Law. It joins tyrannical states in Africa and Asia where governments keeps many secrets while actively monitoring secrets.

    FOI is good for the country because it will make and keep officials and agencies transparent and accountable by recognizing any citizens right to ask questions and any official’s duty to reply.

    Those running for local government posts should vow to pass a micro-FOI ordinance at the level of municipality, city, province, or regional government. Why, because the Constitution says so and the public is demanding it.

  4. A better automated election system should be on your agenda, our agenda. Up to now, the Commission on Elections has refused to heed demand to make public the source code of the AES and PCOS machines. Nobody knows whether the AES accurately reads ballots, counts and canvasses votes, transmits votes, and so on. Join the citizens and watchdogs in demanding the immediate, unconditional and full disclosure of the source code.
  5. #betterinternet We want government to do something to improve internet services in the country. This 2013, stable and reliable 3G should be the norm in all cities and urban centers so government, businesses and entrepreneurs, schools and families could use mobile broadband positively and progressively. At the same time, one-third national connectivity is okay, even admirable. Our 35 million netizens are bigger than the populations of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. 65 million Filipinos await internet connectivity and we want candidates campaigning with a clear and workable plan to expand access to win.

Closing

These are all just notes on digital in politics and politics in digital which we hope would be covered or noticed by both candidates and citizens in the 2013 elections.

Digital tools are available to anyone – and I mean anyone. In the same way that the old media is there to either educate or to deceive. Using social media depends on the motive of the user. In this case, we implore candidates to take a stand for the progressive use of social media – to use social media to win for themselves a better electoral and political system where the winner actually wins, and where citizens win too. To make this happen, citizens actually hold the key by ourselves using the tools to compel candidates and parties, from those running for the Senate down to the candidate for municipal councilor, to make the electoral and political process better – free and open.

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