MANILA - Shortly before leaving his Quezon City residence for his lunch appointment on Tuesday, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III sat in front of a computer web camera. In Makati City, his “new media team” and a group of reporters waited for him to appear on the video screen.
“This is my first chat. It’s my first time to interact through the Net. My generation is not that computer literate,” the Liberal Party presidential candidate said as he began talking to his audience.
Like a regular press conference, the niceties were short. Reporters immediately fired away questions.
“How do you like the experience surrounded by the biggest stars?” asked a journalist, referring to Aquino’s three-minute political ad featuring the biggest stars of the two leading television networks.
“It reinforces the responsibility that I have for people supporting our campaign,” Aquino responded. Sometimes, his voice was choppy, and he often squinted at the camera, but the exchange was lively.
“Are you in favor of expanding right of reply to online content?” another journalist asked.
“I would like to see a balance between right and responsibility. It should not transgress the rights of others,” Aquino said.
The video chat was limited to journalists and his campaign team. But according to Yolanda Ong, Aquino’s media manager, the medium may be used in the campaign.
Ong was also Aquino’s media manager in the 2007 senatorial elections.
“It’s an interesting activity. There are interruptions. I’m disoriented when they pan in and out. But in time, we will be better at this,” Aquino said.
The senator recognized the role of the Internet in the campaign. “We’re trying to reach all Filipinos not only here in the country. New media facilitates interaction. We would want to move into an issue-driven campaign rather than a personality-driven campaign. Issues will be vetted out here,” he said.
‘60 seconds with Noy’
Inspired by the campaign of US President Barack Obama, Ong said Aquino’s campaign would maximize “new media,” particularly the Internet, to compliment his mainstream media campaign.
Obama’s huge online presence was said to be critical to his victory.
“Obama introduced new campaign tools. His website was not just a web site, it was an online hub, where his supporters can exchange information,” said Donald Lim of Yehey and Internet and Mobile Association of the Philipines.
A personal supporter of Aquino, Lim was invited by Campaigns and Grey to discuss the growing role of the Internet in Philippine elections.
On top of his campaign in mainstream media, Lim said Obama was also able to maximize social networking sites. He had up to 3.3 million friends and 500 groups in Facebook. He had over 100,000 videos in YouTube and only 1,800 of them were official.
Obama was also able to use Googlemaps and other free services online.
Aquino’s camp is trying to do the same.
On Tuesday, Aquino’s camp launched “60 seconds with Noy." Every day until he files his certificate of candidacy on November 28, a one-minute video of Aquino’s “critical highlights” during the day will be uploaded in his official web site https://www.noynoy.ph/
The same video will be uploaded in various social networking sites. The team hopes that it will turn into a viral campaign.
Earlier, they also launched in the site the “Noynoy Avatar Contest” where they asked Aquino’s supporters to draw a caricature of him. The site is running a poll on the best caricature entry. The winning entry will be used in the campaign.
Through the web site, Aquino has also enlisted 1,407 campaign volunteers and 1,647 subscribers of his online newsletters.
Still TV but…
In the Philippines, television still has the biggest influence on the voters at 70+%, higher than the 22% of the Internet.
Unlike in the US, where majority of voters belong to the middle class, most Filipino voters belong to the D and E social classes. Many of them, especially in the provinces, don’t have access to the Interent.
Nevertheless, Ong sees big potential in new media.
“Television is still the most influential. But new media might replace some of the mediums we are used to in the past. We want to know how viable it will become. This is our attempt to begin to explore [a] cyberspace campaign,” Ong said.
Lim said there are around 28 million Internet users in the Philippines. Out of this number, around 18 million are voters. “This is a huge number and the pie is growing,” he said.
In the 2007 elections, Lim said there were only about 10 million Internet users in the Philippines. Around 60% or 70% of the users then accessed the Internet in their offices. Now, around 60% to 70% of Internet users go to cafes.
“This is a people’s campaign. To be honest, this is an experiment. We don’t have much money. I had to be creative. Since we could not go mainstream, this is the most fertile [medium],” Ong added.
Biggest online presence
Cheaper than the mainstream media—television, radio, and print—the Internet allows candidates to deluge voters with campaign materials.
During primetime, airing a 30-second television ad costs about P100,000. Online, it's practically free. Candidates can upload as many as they want. The challenge is to make the Internet users interested enough to check them out.
This is not a problem for Aquino. According to data presented by Campaigns and Grey, Aquino is leading other presidential candidates in terms of online presence.
Aquino has over 100,000 friends in Facebook and over 17,000 followers in Tweeter.
Senator Manuel Villar of the Nationalista Party has less than 40,000 Friends in Facebook and 556 followers in Tweeter.
Senator Francis Escudero has over 36,000 Friends in Facebook and over 14,000 followers in Tweeter. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro has over 5,000 friends in Facebook and over 3,000 followers in Tweeter.