MANILA, Philippines - The camp of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was forced to shut down the candidate's official Facebook Fan Page after hackers gained illegal access to Aquino's Facebook account and started unsubscribing the LP bet's online supporters.
A thread on Aquino's LP bet's Facebook page on Sunday said: "Our Official Facebook Fan Page has been hacked, and supporters are maliciously being unsubscribed by the hacker. We are temporarily shutting it down. Rest assured our admins are working 24/7 to restore it to normal operations."
The thread has garnered close to 3,000 comments more than 11 hours after it was posted. Some of the comments from Aquino's more than 1.3 million supporters said the incident will not deter support for the LP bet.
Others, however, said the hacking incident could be a ploy by Aquino's camp to gain sympathy for the presidential frontrunner.
The hacking incident is the latest twist in the runup to the May 10 presidential election, which is being contested by a total of nine candidates.
Curiously, the official website of Aquino's fiercest rival, Nacionalista Party bet Manny Villar, was also hacked last month.
Nacionalista senatorial bet Gilbert Remulla said the hacking incident on Villar's website coupled with the spread of a hoax e-mail on Villar's US mansion are part of an online campaign to discredit Villar. (Read: Pictures of Villar's 'US mansion' a hoax)
"From the very beginning we have waged a campaign based on positivity and principles—both online and offline. But underground elements seem to persist, and a cyberwar is being waged against us–what with the flurry of black propaganda texts and "mansion hoax" e-mails to spoofing our identity on social networks. We can now add website hacking to the list of cybercrimes being committed to take down Manny Villar," he said.
Analysts earlier said Philippine politics has plunged to ugly lows ahead of next month's presidential election as candidates take advantage of the Internet and mobile phones to smear their rivals.
Among the worst examples, Aquino has had to deal with a hoax psychiatric report claiming he is mentally ill and took drugs, while his main opponent, Manny Villar, has been accused of lying about his dead brother.
"They have reached a new kind of low," said Jorge Tigno, associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, referring to the mudslinging campaign tactics being employed by the presidential candidates.
In the past, those vying for the presidency in the Philippines were generally seen to be above the heated rivalries of lower-level politicians, according to Tigno.
But the dramatic rise in Internet usage since the last presidential elections in 2004 as well as the deepening Filipino addiction to text messaging has given candidates new ways to deliver messages, particularly among the young.
"Now, you have a greater role for information technology," Tigno told AFP.
"The campaigners know you have a younger set of voters. They use the Internet and cellphone texting, and that is the way campaigners disseminate doubts about an opposing candidate."
Aquino learned this the hard way after an anonymous blog posting this month carried a report supposedly from a prominent psychologist saying he had treated the politician and diagnosed him with mental health problems.
The fake report said Aquino suffered from "major disorders and learning disorders" -- reinforcing previous false rumors that he was autistic. It also said he took marijuana as a teenager.
The doctor and the institution named in the report later said the document was fake but not before it had been picked up by the mainstream press and dominated the political campaign for nearly a week.
Villar denied that he was behind the false report but he nevertheless challenged Aquino to take a psychological test to prove he was mentally fit to run the country. With a report from Agence France-Presse