Gags From The Past

by Juan L. Mercado

Move  over  Madame  President and   First  Gentleman  Mike. A  photo of  Defense Secretary  Gilberto Teodoro and  wife   Rep. Monica Prieto-Teodoro of  Tarlac, on their website,   is captioned: “The  Next  First Couple?”.  Is  the  future  here  now?

A former  United  Nations communications specialist stirred our interest in websites of  “presidentiables”.  Our UN duty stations in Thailand had overlapped.  This UP graduate has retired and is back home.  From her Rockwell flat, she drew up “a cursory review of social networking tools used by 12 “presidentiables”.

She made her review available to Viewpoint, with a caveat: “Things change so quickly on their websites and blogspots”, she said. Chiz Escudero shifted his site from being mostly Filipino into English Ping Lacson’s limited networks ballooned into 10 sites.

“I don’t want to be accused of saying inaccurate statements. So, don’t use my name for now” O.K. Such passion for accuracy is admirable.  But cyberspace technology alters so rapidly. And  Filipino  matira-matibay politics drives change just as radically. A Utopian point of frozen reality is simply not possible.  Snapshots will have to do.

All “presidentiables”, from Senator Loren Legarda to Mayor Jejomar Binay, “have multiple presence”, on Internet, albeit in varying degrees,” she wrote. “They’re into Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Multiply, Twitter and others. They use ‘new media’ for social communication  and reaching political constituencies.”

An estimated 1.2 billion people used Internet worldwide in 2006. That’s 13 percent over 2005  levels. About 88 percent of Icelanders are “wired”.  Swedes follow at 76 percent.

Here, 54 out of 1,000 Filipinos get on the Net, either at home or in cafes, UN Human Development Report notes. This lags behind Malaysia’s 435.  The Net brought Barrack Obama’s appeal for election contributions  into  660 out of every 1,000 American homes.

Without exception, all aspirants here upload the usual speeches, vitae, photos, etc. They burnish credentials.  Noli de Castro skirts mention of the presidency. Erap even spins songs. Senator Manny  Villar identifies  with overseas Filipino workers.  Sen. Francisco Pangilinan repeats his early decision to seek the vice-presidency.

Threats to presidential ambitions are parried in websites. Thus,  Erap musters his legal panel to rebut  constitutionalist  Joaquin Bernas study on “absolute bans” against former presidents seeking re-election.  Senator Manny Villar jabs critics of  C-5 road budget insertions. “Ask C5 users if the P200 million was worth it?”, an article reads.

Metro Manila Development Authority’s Bayani Fernando operates 12 sites. You read that one right. T-w-e-l-v-e. Senator Mar Roxas has 11. His blogspot covers education, peace in Mindanao to lower-priced medicine. Unlike other “wanna-bes”,  he stakes out his position on the controversial  
reproductive health bill. And there’s a write up on his engagement with former ABS-CBN anchor Korina Sanchez. But of course.

“The ones who’ve configured their websites, in preparation for 2010, are Mar Roxas and Dick  Gordon,” the note adds. “The rest have not done the same yet.” But all stitch, into some pages of their sites, their desire to run.

Presidentiables sense “the power and impact that technology can harness. (They) quickly multiply messages on it to other mainstream media.” The  Hayden Kho”  sex video scandal underscores this pass-on effect.

“Filipinos have quickly taken up to blogging to voice out their opinions on the election and various political issues, “(These ) make many blogspots robust and dynamic.

As a consequence, most aspirants “use the interactive new social media to create their respective virtual communities of supporters. Their websites invite people to subscribe to their team (e.g., “Friends of Mar; Escudero Team, etc.)  They offer interactive registers for users.

Roxas, Escudero and Fernando are “the most successful in building their virtual constituencies.   
Their e-forum and blogs are dynamic, interactive and robust. Threads of discussions and feedback on issues raised by candidates or followers themselves. Sites are regularly updated.

The not-yet-40 Escudero reads demographic tables. He seeks to tap into the “youth bulge”:  Escudero’s site claims a total of 23,000 registered users. Roxas gets some 300 to 500 comments per issue. The rest have  yet to activate  their blogs to get at least 20-50 “hits” per day.

“Panfilo Lacson’s blogs are very much one-way, the analysis  notes.. “They  register zero comments.”

Pew Center released a  report entitled: “The Future of the Internet II.” Based on a survey of 742 technology thinkers and stakeholders, the conclusion is: “Internet will continue to spread in a flattening and improving world”.

It will not be painless.  Not everyone felt a “networked nirvana” would be possible by 2020’, BBC reported.  Concerns range from clashing commercial interests, “interoperability” (different formats working together) to  government curbs. Firewalls by China and Burma are examples.

Here, the  “presidentiables”  could  find  their voices gagged by the pending Right of Reply bill( HB3306).  Reps. Raul del Mar and Raymond Palatino  warn that clamps, in the bill, cover  Web sites, emails, texts  Internet social networking sites, even iPod users and other electronic devices in its scope.

If approved, and President Arroyo welshes on her promise to veto the measure, it would bring  today’s  “presidentiables”  bustling websites into a gagged martial law past.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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