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Voting Problems in Bukidnon: Vote buying, ‘Comelec’ issues, disinformation (Part 2)

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A special report (Last of two parts) 

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/05 July 2022) Nanay Ading, a 69-year old homemaker was enticed to vote for a candidate after she watched a video on Youtube.

She saw a person in the video explaining that former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr did not steal money but instead received a generous gift, tons of gold, from a client who was a secretive royal family. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr, then presidential candidate, has debunked the claim.

“It has been a while they were looking for it. Tons of gold? They can’t find it because it doesn’t exist,” the younger Marcos told a reporter in a recorded interview.

The content on the fabled gold, however, has remained on social media. Nanay Ading (not her real name), did not see the interview and insisted on the gold story. She said her family thought it must be true because content owners and Youtube did not take it down from the internet.

Aside from that, Nanay Ading said her neighbors told her that supporters would be given reward money if Marcos wins, a claim that was also belied by local candidates who supported him. 

She said the content and other entries in Youtube, which her grandchildren shared to her and others, were among the major sources of information she used to decide whom to vote on May 9, 2022.   

Aside from vote buying/selling, Commission on Election issues, and disinformation were among the most common issues Bukidnon voters encountered in the May 2022 polls, the results of focus group discussions (FGDs) organized under the BukindonNews.Net-led Piniyalan Reporting Governance Community Project 2022-2025 showed.

The community research project gathered responses from representatives of 40 organizations from at least 20 sectors in the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia for the “Aspirations for Good Governance FGDs and Consultations” organized in March to April 2022.

Aside from vote buying, 12 participants of the community research identified Commission on Elections-related issues and eight participants pointed to widespread use of fake news and disinformation as election woes in the province.  

Among the Comelec-related issues mentioned in the responses were disenfranchisement, lacked of sufficient information drive for ease in locating precincts, long queues on Election Day, and unchecked unfair campaign strategies.  A number of the focus group participants/consultation respondents also cited distrust in the automation of election or use of machines and perceived insecurity of votes cast. Bukidnon was among provinces, which experienced malfunctioning of a number of votes-counting machines (VCMs) and caused long queues. 

Lawrence David Baylosis, then President of the Supreme Student Council of Bukidnon State University, was one of those who mentioned disinformation as a problem that voters will encounter in the elections.
 
“Fake news and disinformation about the election and its candidates became rampant especially in the age of social media,” he said. Voters, he added, should search for legitimate and credible sources of information.

Other election related problems cited by FGD/consultation participants in the May 2022 polls were
candidates’ behavior such as harassment/commotion between candidates and supporters (seven respondents), media-related issues (seven respondents), COVID-related issues (six respondents), voter-related issues (six respondents), quality of candidates’ platforms (three respondents), inclusivity issues, and two other issues.

Among the examples cited for problematic candidates’ behavior were commotion between candidates and their supporters, threats, and intimidation.

Among media-related issues cited in the study were: “media not critical enough,” “taking sides of politicians”, “sensationalism on reading surveys,” and “media not able to call out enough of fake news”.   

Iyren Dalipe Neri of CMU’s Public Relations and Information Office said regulation might work against block timers who produce fake news. She also proposed digital literacy programs for citizens to fact check information they get from the internet.

“Fear of being infected will discourage some voters to withstand the long queues” was one of the COVID-related issues mentioned in responses for the FGD/consultations. Non-observance of health protocols like physical distancing could have possibly dissuaded voters, too.

Three participants mentioned in their responses that empty platforms of candidates, candidates who are not qualified, and candidates who do not really consult people, were among key election issues mentioned.

“(They consult) only during election campaigns. If in position already, they just create programs which are ineffective in addressing the problems in the community,” said educator and organic farming advocate Mr. Junah Bayag in his response for the Aspirations for Good Governance FGD/consultation.

A government worker pushed for a local candidate’s forum or debate so citizens can carefully weigh their positions and possible actions.

Marjorie Jimeno, of the Malaybalay City United Persons with Disabilities Association and Parents Mobilization Action Group said the problem of accessibility of the precincts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens is still there. 

She said there is a need to address finally the issue of PWDs’ election accessibility.

The problem of possible power interruption and garbage after the polls were also in the list of identified election-related problems.

More ideas for action
Jimeno said to address the issues of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable sectors, there is a need to analyze if candidates have plans for them. 

“As voters and citizens of the country, we should also be critical with the information that we consume as well as the information that we share to the public that concerns the election,” said Mr. Lawrence David Baylosis of the BukSU Supreme Student Council.

Baylosis, who served as BukSU student regent, said both Comelec and citizens have the responsibility to act.

“To address the trust issues of the voters towards the system, the Commission on Elections along with its electoral board should be transparent with every decision and move they make. Voters must also remain vigilant during the election,” he added.

Others offered their personal actions.

“(Let’s) discipline ourselves and accept the possible outcomes,” said Omel Parafina, of the LGBTQ sector representing Group of United Gays in Malaybalay or Gugma.

“I will not be a part of disinformation.  I will educate those under my watch and the public on surveys,” said a representative from the media.

Ma. Easterluna Canoy, from the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, said more than continuing information and awareness efforts to educate voters, it is also important to continue peoples’ dialogues to ensure indigenous peoples, for example, can fully participate in the elections.

“There should also be feedback mechanisms to facilitate citizens’ actions to thresh out issues from the peripheries. It should be beyond the Commission on Elections,” she added.

Roderico Bioco, of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Northern Mindanao said there is a need to build the infrastructure and capability to combat disinformation as part of the larger need for digital transformation, alongside data science in government decision making.

Eric Aelden B. Guangco, President of the Bukidnon KMME Association, said he would campaign against disinformation and fake news.

Junna Marie A. Ticar, of the Maapag Catumbalon Irrigators Association, Inc, said voters should be encouraged to choose candidates who are fit and have the right platform to serve their constituents. 

Erlow D. Talatala, a Malaybalay City-based visual artist and entrepreneur said sectoral cooperatives should organize so they can represent their sector in the next elections.
 
But Reynaldo Gil Lumarda, President of Greenminds Inc. and owner of Umanika Farm in Malaybalay City, who identified “clowns that sound like statesmen” among some candidates, said, indeed addressing election woes, like disinformation and vote-buying, is in the hands of the voters.

“Be a well informed and patriotic voter,” he added.

Lumarda said, unfortunately, there are no quick fix solutions as it entails developmental change.

Change, he said, goes on from home, to schools, and to (work), but the nearest is the most difficult – at home.

“Kung makita nimo nga modawat imo ginikanan (if you see your parents accept bribe), you will grow thinking it is the norm,” he added. (BukidnonNews.Net)

This story was published with support from Internews Philippines

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