CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 2 June) — The May 9 elections for local positions fell short of “being fair and honest” due to rampant vote-buying and disinformation, election watchdogs and other observers said.
Two days before the May 9 elections, reports from election monitoring groups said money ranging from P20 to P5,000 flooded the communities in Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte.
“Runners” on motorcycles distributed the money at night and in the wee hours of dawn to voters during the weekend before election day.
A local politician told this reporter he spent P150 million to buy votes. He won by a wide margin.
Art Bonjoc, a former journalist said what was disturbing was the voters stayed up late for the arrival of these runners who were bringing the money.
“The voters waited into the night. They have no qualms that what they are doing was wrong,” he said.
Bonjoc, who now works as a media consultant, said vote-buying helped a lot the politicians who were ahead in the surveys.
He said once the money was received, the voters voted based on the list of candidates given by the runners.
He said that in the process politicians who led in the surveys but did not engage in vote-buying lost.
A report made by the International Observer Mission (IOM), which was sponsored by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, said the May 9 elections were marred by rampant vote-buying, violence, disinformation and disturbing level of “red-tagging” of opposition politicians.
The IOM report was based on observations on how the elections went in Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Central Visayas, Western Visayas and Mindanao.
In Lanao del Sur, reporters saw teachers fill out the ballots in Sultan Conding Elementary School inside the Mindanao State University campus in Marawi City on May 9.
At the same school, reporters also saw soldiers apply the indelible ink on the fingernails of the voters who had just voted because the teachers failed to apply them.
In neighboring Malabang town, three persons were killed in just a matter of hours after violence erupted at the polling places on election day.
The Commission on Elections declared a failure of elections in 15 villages of Tubaran town because the supporters of two mayoral candidates became unruly.
In the lead-up to the May 9 polls, social media and airwaves became a major battleground for the politicians vying for local positions.
Cong Corrales, editor-in-chief of Mindanao Gold Star Daily and coordinator of #FactsFirstPH initiative said they detected a surge of disinformation and fake news starting at the end of March.
Corrales said that while most disinformation and fake news they monitored targeted candidates for national positions, a percentage was also busy targeting local candidates.
“Unfortunately we can not monitor all the traffic because we have only five staff members,” he said.
The media, coalitions, civil society groups, business organizations, and research and legal groups banded together to form #FactsFirstPH to counter disinformation and fake news online during the elections.
This army of fact-checkers scrutinized disinformation and fake news in the presidential race but nobody was around to check in the local levels.
Corrales said they were only able to check one out of many similar posts on Facebook during the campaign period.
He said disinformation was also rampant among the local radio stations where the airwaves are largely unchecked.
He said most of the disinformation were spread by radio commentators who were allegedly on the payroll of local politicians.
“It was really frustrating to hear how radio played a role in the disinformation campaign,” he said.
He mentioned that Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rolando Uy filed 11 cases of cyber libel against City Councilor and radio broadcaster Zaldy Ocon for allegedly imputing during his radio program that he is a drug lord.
Ocon surrendered to the police in Bukidnon after a court in Cagayan de Oro found probable cause in the complaint. He posted a P500,000 bail for his temporary liberty.
Uy won in the May 9 elections as mayor of Cagayan de Oro.
Neptalie Batolenio, chair of the National Union Journalists of the Philippines chapter in Misamis Occidental said poor wages among local community-based journalists make them susceptible to unethical practices.
Batolenio said town mayors recruited reporters to handle their radio programs, which they sponsored in local stations.
“Here in Misamis Occidental, radio reporters are paid P300 a day to anchor these radio programs,” he said.
He said almost all town mayors and politicians here have their radio programs that they allegedly use to spread disinformation and fake news against their opponents.
Batolenio said a one-hour radio program would cost around P50,000 a month.
He said the battle of disinformation in the airwaves was so intense that whenever a local politician called for a press conference only those in his payroll would be invited.
“So what happened during the campaign, the voters were not able to listen to real issues because the airwaves were flooded with disinformation and fake news,” he said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)
[This story is supported by a grant from Internews]