Politics, traffic and social media

- The Philippine Star

The petition of the Metro Manila Development Authority to ban the holding of political proclamation rallies, caravans and motorcades along major thoroughfares in Metro Manila is absolutely necessary and the only sane thing to do with the already insane traffic we all experience everyday. Traffic everywhere has become even more chaotic than ever, with the heat of the summer exacerbating the boiling temper of motorists who have to put up with hour-long gridlocks any time of the day particularly in EDSA, C-5, Quezon Boulevard and Taft Avenue.

MMDA has been increasingly finding its hotline and official Facebook page deluged with complaints from irate motorists who have to weave at snail’s pace through side streets and alternate routes because some “big-shot” local candidate closed down certain streets for a miting de avance or political sortie. MMDA chair Francis Tolentino is right in asking Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes to give the MMDA more teeth, knowing that mere coordination, rerouting and issuance of advisories to the commuting public are not enough to relieve the horrendous traffic jams in many parts of Metro Manila.

Aside from lost man hours, a lot of resources are wasted due to traffic with the cost estimated at P137.5 billion in 2011 alone. According to a study presented by UP Professor Jose Regidor, the cumulative cost of traffic congestion in Metro Manila in the last decade is placed at P1.5 trillion, and that doesn’t even include the additional cost of fuel estimated at P4.2 billion. But for politicians especially those running for local positions, the traffic they cause could make them be “deleted” in the May elections by voters who do not find the antics of “epal-iticians” amusing.

Interestingly, the demographics for the Filipino voting population has changed with around half of the 52 million-plus registered voters for the 2013 elections belonging to the youth sector (18 to 33 years old). They are the most active Internet users, highly adept with advanced technology and armed with smart phones and other gadgets. According to a study by global media firm Universal McCann, more than 80 percent of Filipinos ((or about 80 million) are actively engaged in social media like Facebook and Twitter, and are the No. 1 uploaders of photos (think Instagram) and videos on the web, aided no doubt by mobile devices and high speed Internet connections at home. The Philippines was recently dubbed the social networking capital of the world.

Obviously, advancements in technology have made it easy for Filipinos to get — and disseminate — information about anything or anyone including politicians with just the click of a mouse, the swipe of a screen or the touch of a button — and woe to those who incur the ire of these “tech savvy” voters. And while surveys may be good indicators of popularity for those considered as “name brands,” negative information especially when it quickly spreads through text, YouTube, Twitter, FB and other social media can affect a politician’s standing, like what happened to Chiz Escudero when his “Heart” problems started surfacing.

Which is why tech savvy candidates are now utilizing the power of the Internet and social media to reach out and “meet and greet” more voters. A very good example is US president Barack Obama who, during the 2008 US elections, utilized digital media to organize, connect with voters, counter negative publicity and raise funds in what some dubbed as a “get out the vote” campaign. Even in the US, the power of the youth vote was notable in the last elections, with the youth turnout even larger than in 2008 and Obama getting the nod of the under-30 voting group at 67 percent.

In the Philippines, the youth are mobilizing on their own, seen in such groups as “Rock the Vote 2013” spearheaded by La Salle students to educate the public about their right to vote, and how the ballot they cast can help shape the destiny of the nation and their future. The aim, we are told, is to motivate and mobilize young people to be active, using “popular culture” via music, media and naturally, cyberspace and social networking sites.

Of course, dancing and singing will still be part and parcel of campaigns, but the old style of doing these things on the stage will soon come to pass thanks in large part to the digital age. In fact, if politicians want to sing and dance to get the attention of voters, why not just videotape a choreographed dance routine in the comfort of their office and simply upload it on YouTube or share it on Facebook? Better yet, they can just “edit” the Gangnam Style video and put their face on the body of Korean artist Psy. They can even do the Harlem Shake for good measure.

For instance, while supporters enjoyed the dancing of Manila mayoralty candidate Erap Estrada and vice president Jojo Binay during a campaign rally, more people enjoyed watching their dance moves on YouTube rather than on a sortie. Besides, uploading a video is a more cost effective method of spreading political platforms, allowing politicians to reach more people in a less irritating manner than say, radio or TV ads. Social media “shout outs” are certainly less annoying than the megaphone-powered, blaring shout outs of local politicians.

Despite all the noise and hysterics coming from critics about the PCOS machines, majority of Filipinos do not ever want to go back to manual counting. Those planning to run in the 2016 elections will be surprised on what the new technology will be like because more likely than not, “dagdag-bawas” will simply be history.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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