How to win Cebu: Will Santiago’s social media clout translate into votes?

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How to win Cebu: Will Santiago’s social media clout translate into votes?
About one in every 5 registered voters in Cebu is 24 years old or younger, based on Comelec records. The province has 2.7 million voters in 2016.

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago didn’t only miss the Visayas round of the presidential debates on March 20. She also hopes to win a good share of Cebu province’s 2.7 million votes with only a small team of volunteers on the ground, and by visiting campuses rather than holding conventional sorties.

This non-traditional approach echoes what she did when she ran for the presidency in 1992 and 1998, when she focused on going after young voters. (READ: Meet the ‘millennials’ behind Miriam Defensor Santiago’s campaign)

About one in every 5 registered voters in Cebu this year is 24 years old or younger, based on Commission on Elections (Comelec) records.

Senator Santiago’s campaign is “limited by the lack of campaign funds, but that is something that she wears as a badge of honor,” said Kim Arveen Patria, the senator’s media coordinator, in a phone interview. “She has always said that her campaign would be buoyed by the youth.” 

Patria estimated the campaign has 80 to 100 volunteers in Cebu, many of them students.

With 3.41 million likes on Facebook and 2.43 million followers on Twitter as of March 18, Santiago arguably has one of the largest social media footprints among the 5 presidential candidates.

Santiago has always been an articulate public figure, and social media has given her a platform to show off her humor.

On July 22, 2015, less than 3 months before the deadline for certificates of candidacy, the senator quipped, “I will run for president if I get well, simply because it’s boring, boring, boring. The landscape is boring. Who are you going to choose for president, aber?” 

That post appeared on the Facebook fan page for “Stupid is Forever,” a slim collection of Santiago’s jokes and some speeches, including “Weaponizing Social Media for the Ongoing Political Campaign.”

In that speech, which she delivered in February 2013 at the University of the Philippines in Manila, Santiago said, “Weaponize social media in the political campaign by accepting that the future of political warfare will take place online.”


But how will the senator’s camp make sure that all these likes and followers translate into votes on May 9? (READ: Does Miriam Santiago own the youth vote?)

Communities have built themselves around the Santiago campaign, Patria said. Youth organizations, overseas Filipinos, and other volunteers typically connect online, then meet offline to campaign for the senator. (READ: Youth volunteers join forces for Santiago presidential bid)

“Traditional sorties cost a lot of money,” Patria pointed out. Nakasanayan na ang hakot. Most candidates pay to gather an audience for sorties. But Senator Santiago does not need that because she is a celebrity in her own right.”

But while social media networks like Facebook and Twitter offer the campaign insights about what issues voters care about, Patria said that this presence doesn’t necessarily reach “the mass vote.”

“We are boosting that with strategically placed radio ads,” he said. Ahead of the first debate in Cagayan de Oro last February 21, the campaign also requested that the presidential candidates’ political ads not be aired during the debate itself. Only Santiago and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had no ads that aired during that debate. (READ: Of 2-hour presidential debate, 48 minutes were ads)

A 30-second spot on national television can cost more than P900,000, Patria pointed out. “Who’s bankrolling these big spenders’ campaigns? What favors will they call in if their candidates win?” –

This article is republished under Rappler’s content sharing agreement with the SunStar network in the coverage of the 2016 national and local elections. 

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