OZAMIZ CITY (MindaNews / 19 May) – In the last elections, social media played a major role in the campaign. Politicians hired their own crew of “social media warriors” from among vloggers and journalists to create content or materials to make their online attacks against their opponents.
The campaigns at the provincial and local levels had been marked with mudslinging and allegations and social media became a nasty battleground.
But how exactly did the politicians optimize use of this new campaign platform?
Two rival politicians in Misamis Occidental admitted being “heavy users” of this new platform and even having “social media warriors.”
Reelectionist Representative Diego “Nonoy” Ty of the National Unity Party and Oroquieta City Mayor Jason Almonte (PDP-Laban) revealed details of their operations during separate interviews with MindaNews in the run-up to the May 9 elections.
In the race for the first congressional district of Misamis Occidental, Almonte eventually won, garnering 91,781 votes against Ty’s 65,106 based on 98.25 percent of the election returns counted as posted in the Halalan 2022 website of ABS-CBN.
Ty admitted he had a maximum of 12 “social media warriors,” which he claimed were “youth, mostly volunteers.” Two “handlers” were overseeing their operations, he added.
“My social media team monitors issues against me online, then reports to me everything they see,” Ty said. The warriors then come up with something to counter the rival’s attacks, he added.
Ty claimed he was not using “black propaganda” against his opponent, but only highlighted known issues against the rival candidate.
The congressman said that since Almonte was mentioned by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the narco politicians in 2019, his team looked for a picture of Almonte wherein he appears haggard and looked like a drug addict. “We had his picture placed beside mine, where I looked a very decent person, and challenged the voters who they’d prefer to be congressman,” Ty said.
He had the picture uploaded on social media and even printed tarpaulins for distribution in the various towns in his district.
Ty’s social media team also highlighted Almonte’s other alleged vices, like gambling at cockfights and drinking.
“We had Almonte at a disadvantage. This image portrays him in a very bad light,” Ty said.
But of course Almonte fought back, and had his own socmed operators to also spread disinformation against Ty in the local radio stations and Facebook.
His team found a picture posted by Edu Manzano on Twitter during the 2016 campaign when the actor ran for senator. In the picture were Manzano, the late Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo “Aldong” Parojinog and Ty. They cropped out Manzano and showed only the two local politicians close together, Parojinog’s right hand on Ty’s right shoulder.
Parojinog and 14 others – including his wife Susan, brother Octavio Jr. and sister Mona – were killed during a police raid on July 30, 2017. Parojinog was on the list of suspected drug lords that President Rodrigo Duterte read in August 2016.
Almonte said they printed posters of the picture and distributed it around Oroquieta City and the towns of Plaridel, Aloran, Baliangao, Calamba, Concepcion, Jimenez, Lopez Jaena, Panaon and Sapang Dalaga, the areas under the first district of Misamis Occidental.
Ty complained that the picture was even included in a video presentation broadcast live on Facebook.
“I was with Aldong because we were both mayors,” Ty explained as he denied allegations that he was a business partner of Parojinog.
“I was never a partner. That was a malicious propaganda against me,” Ty complained.
While fact checkers scrutinize disinformation and fake news in the presidential race, no one was around to check in the provincial and local levels.
Ty acknowledged that in Misamis Occidental, radio still has the widest reach, much more than social media because many remote areas still do not have internet nor cell phone signals.
But he said they have to give special attention to social media because what is online can be easily shared with a lot of people. “What you hear on the radio you usually do not record. But what’s on the internet stays there forever,” he said.
During most of the campaign period, Ty and Almonte, unlike other candidates, stayed away from the public, holed up in some safe place and managed their campaigns with mobile phones and internet from there.
Their isolation from the rest of the world was not because of COVID-19. The rival politicians have been living this way after a Misamis Occidental vice gubernatorial candidate, Lopez Jaena town Mayor Michael Gutierrez, was shot in the head and killed by a sniper in Tangub City just before Christmas.
Ty and his family, and around 20 of his followers, stayed inside Shang’s Resort, which he owns, in the municipality of Plaridel.
He had the front section of the resort covered with a wall of tarpaulin to make it impossible for anyone from seeing what was going on inside the resort.
Almonte, on the other hand, hid inside the gamecock farm he owns in Oroquieta City, which he turned into his campaign headquarters.
He, too, feared for his life and stayed inside the farm with his followers, monitoring how his campaign was running through mobile phones. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews. This story is supported by a grant from Internews.)