The trolls have it

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

As we approach the starting gate for the 2022 election, it seems the group with the most effective trolls will elect the next president of the Philippines. Forget issues. Forget qualifications. Forget national interest. The trolls have it.

Social media has assumed a greater role in our politics than many of us would concede. It is about how it is used… or misused. For example, character assassination of rivals through fake news is an effective tool to retain political power.

Nic Gabunada, my former colleague at ABS-CBN, who organized and managed the Duterte social media campaign in 2016 probably never realized what power he unleashed. A marketing communications professional, he recognized the potential of social media for winning an election and used it.

Nic is a very smart but unassuming guy I first met at the Center for Research and Communication in the 80s. I bumped into him again when he joined ABS-CBN as research director. Nic is from Davao.

I don’t think he is still involved with the machinery and can’t be responsible for what it has become. What he started morphed… assumed a new life beyond winning an election… it is now a machinery for keeping political power.

The DDS or the Duterte Diehard Supporters (DDS) is a formidable social media army. And they keep the lights burning for Rodrigo Duterte.

That explains why Duterte’s ratings remain high even when the performance of his administration tumbles. The DDS shields him from any fallout. They are focused on protecting the Duterte brand.

The DDS messaging is kept simple. They attack the opposition through smear campaigns; distract or divert criticism away from important public issues; and suppress commentaries through personal attacks or harassment.

The result is a Teflon-coated Duterte. People may be dissatisfied with the administration’s handling of national problems as revealed by opinion polls but it hardly dents Duterte’s approval rating.

For example, the SWS survey found a record-high hunger rate of 30.7 percent (est. 7.6 million families) in September 2020. That’s hunger due to lack of food to eat – at least once in the past three months.

That went down in November 2020 to 16.0 percent or an estimated 4.0 million families experiencing involuntary hunger. That’s still double the pre-pandemic 8.8 percent (est. 2.1 million families) of families in December 2019.

Those are a lot of hungry tummies. Yet, Duterte’s image hardly dimmed.

A February 2021 Pulse Asia survey showed significant declines in how the public thinks the administration performed in areas such as graft and corruption, creating more jobs and reducing poverty. Duterte remains as popular as ever.

Indeed, the DDS army has practically eliminated a rival for Duterte’s anointed by demonizing Vice President Leni.

They promoted the message that she is useless. If they believed that to be true, they should have just totally ignored her as a nonentity. But they kept on hammering her with fake news to make sure the opposition is denied a credible candidate for 2022.

Now watch the DDS as they get Manny Pacquiao out of the picture.

PDP-Laban is about to split. PacMan just issued a memo as party president directing PDP-Laban members to “ignore” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi’s call for a national assembly today. Cusi is probably on a mission to get rid of PacMan by denying him the PDP-Laban platform.

Why? The word is out that Duterte is behind Sara’s presidential run despite the “hele-hele” bodabil act of disinterest being played by father and daughter.

Sara had been organizing for the run. In addition to the DDS, Sara can depend on the machinery of the DILG that goes down to the barangay level. They are about to pass Bayanihan 3 and they will be generous with billions of pesos in taxpayer money that will be available just in time for the campaign season.

It is weird that the most divisive regime ever will run on the message that the Dutertes will unite the people.

And failing to fulfil the promise of change after 6 years in office, the Dutertes will again run on the same promise to bring change.

“Tapang” and “Malasakit” will be made synonymous with the Dutertes. Strange… given that Duterte showed cowardice in the West Philippine Sea. He also didn’t have the tapang to face Justice Tony Carpio who accepted his debate challenge.

As for Malasakit, that was appropriated very early on by Bong Go in his Malasakit Centers. He plans to have a network of health centers that will be identified with him.

Expect them to also capitalize on Duterte’s drug war record. This issue keeps Duterte popular. Memo to Otso Diretso: The human rights (EJK) issues are not as important to voters as peace and order is.

For the 2022 election, the DDS network is ready to promote Sara Duterte or Bong Go. They have done it in 2016 and they are even more prepared to do battle next year.

The era of the political parties is over. In the past, their so-called national machinery was tested during presidential elections.

No more. Political rallies in town plazas are so old-fashioned and can spread COVID. Traditional media had been defanged after ABS-CBN was punished and the Inquirer owners threatened.

The cell phones in the hands of millions of Filipinos here and abroad are collectively the new battlefield. Free WiFi nationwide will make the electoral battle go digital. In this era, the trolls rule.

Organizing to meet this challenge will be tough for the opposition. They have to overcome the old political mentality that led Otso Diretso into electoral tragedy. They need a Nic Gabunada, but a lot younger and is totally savvy about how to use social media in a political battle.

Time is running out but there is hope to overcome if they become more realistic now. Stop talking among yourselves as in that PiliPinas survey. No one who understands real surveys will believe that unscientific online poll.

Finally, no more Otso Diretso self-righteousness. Focus on winning the election. Fight fire with fire on social media. But find a winnable candidate first. Or prepare for a political dynasty’s national coronation.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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