Jabs and uppercuts: VP bets slug it out on social media

Don Kevin Hapal
Jabs and uppercuts: VP bets slug it out on social media
Robredo and Cayetano seem to be the top vice presidential candidates battling it out online

MANILA, Philippines – It may not have been as physical as the Pacquiao-Bradley fight, but the vice presidential debate held at the University of Santo Tomas on Sunday, April 10, was just as intense.

Like jabs and uppercuts, allegations and insults flew fast as the candidates vying for the country’s second highest post engaged in verbal sparring. Their word war sent ripples of reactions all over social media.

Early sparring

The fight already started even before the first bell.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Ferdinand Marcos Jr were already leading the Facebook conversations prior to the debate. Cayetano was the most discussed vice presidential candidate on Facebook at 44%, followed by Marcos at 35%, according to the data covering conversations from November 20, 2015 to April 5, 2016. Around 15.2 million users engaged in the conversations, generating 124 million interactions (likes, comments, and shares) on Facebook globally.

Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo came in third with 33%, while senators Antonio Trillanes IVFrancis Escudero, and Gregorio Honasan II took the bottom 3 spots at 20%, 16%, and 3% respectively.

Twitter seems to be Robredo territory, however, as she led the discussions there hours before the debate. According to Twitter’s Share of Voice, which ranks the candidates according to the number of times they were mentioned in tweets, Robredo was the overwhelming winner at 51%, from midnight to noon on Sunday.

By 4 pm, an hour before the debate, Robredo’s numbers improved even further to 76%. By this time, “LENI FOR VP” (emphasis theirs) also trended in the Philippines. 

The exchange

Robredo may have landed the first punch on social media, but her rivals proved tougher to beat, especially Cayetano. 

From 5 pm to 5:19 pm, the time candidates gave their opening speeches, Robredo was still the most talked about candidate on Twitter at 44%, followed by Marcos at 23% and Cayetano with 16%.

But by 5:36 pm, Cayetano overtook Robredo, taking the lead at 33%. This was after their debate on solving corruption. Meanwhile, Honasan, Escudero, and Trillanes remained in the bottom 3.

The glory didn’t last for Cayetano, however, as Robredo managed to regain her lead a few minutes after, just before the second round of the debate. 

Cayetano once again took the lead by 6:01 pm. It was at this point that the candidates were asked about death penalty, an issue that takes center stage in the Duterte-Cayetano platform.

Robredo once again took the top spot during discussions on economic growth, garnering 33%, but Cayetano managed to stick close with 31%. Meanwhile, Honasan’s presence on Twitter sank even lower to 3%.

It was by 6:27 pm when Cayetano got his biggest lead. His share of Twitter mentions rose to 45% during the discussion on political dynasties, followed by Robredo with 23% and Marcos with 17%.

Robredo regained the lead by 6:44 pm, during discussions on human rights, and maintained it until 7:01 pm as candidates debated on peace and order as well as Mindanao issues. At this point, Marcos also inched closer to Cayetano.

Cayetano, however, again rose to the top spot during the discussion on eradication of crimes, which happens to be the main battle cry of the Duterte-Cayetano tandem. He got 45% by 7:08 pm, while the rest of the candidates trailed behind.

Trillanes, who had consistently been in the bottom 3, suddenly moved up to the second spot at 25%. This was the time he challenged Cayetano to “be honest to the people” about being able to solve crime in just 6 months.

By 7:16 pm to 7:34 pm, Robredo once again regained her lead during the discussion on solving traffic and transportation issues. Marcos and Cayetano both trailed behind at 24%. 

By 7:50 pm, Robredo maintained the lead at 37%, followed by Cayetano with 24% and Marcos with 22%. Escudero, Trillanes, and Honasan were far behind, with 8%, 6%, and 3% respectively.

Note that the Twitter Share of Voice only reflects how many times the candidates were mentioned in tweets. These tweets may depict the candidates either positively or negatively.

A flurry of Twitter activity

Twitter discussions regarding the debate generated a lot of attention as well.

From 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm of April 10, 310,000 tweets came up regarding the Vice Presidential debates. The activity peaked a few minutes before 6:00 pm, with 2,700 tweets per minute.

The #PiliPinasDebates2016 hashtag also made it to the top trending topics locally and worldwide.


Meanwhile, Rappler’s Online Pulse also featured real-time visualization which showed the general sentiments of Twitter and Facebook users, powered by Senti.

According to the data, as of 9:45 pm on Sunday, 45% of social media posts about the debate were neutral, while 37.9% were negative and 17.1% were positive.

Senti also compiled and analyzed posts about each vice presidential candidate based on the words that were used – whether negative, positive, or neutral. The analysis covers keywords and terms in English, Filipino, Taglish, and any other variations of the language.

As of 9:30 pm, 33.2% of posts about Cayetano were negative, while 6.1% were neutral and 20.7% were positive. 

Meanwhile, 30.8% of posts about Escudero were negative, while 52.6% were neutral and only 16.7% were positive.

There were more positive posts for Marcos at 36.7%, but 23.7% were negative. 39.6% were neutral posts.

As for Honasan, he had 40.9% negative posts and only 18.4% were positive. 40.8% were neutral. 

Posts mentioning Robredo were 52.2% neutral, while 26.7% were positive and 21.2% were negative.

Trillanes had the highest percentage of negative posts at 45.7%. Only 16.3% of the posts about him were positive, while 38% were neutral.

For real-time sentiment analysis, go here.


On Rappler’s Facebook poll, Cayetano won with 42% by midnight, followed by Robredo and Marcos, both with 26%.

Meanwhile, Rappler editors named Cayetano the overall winner. Cayetano also swept Rappler’s online polls for all 7 rounds of the debate, but when we asked our readers who the overall winner was, they chose Robredo.

What do you think of the vice presidential debate? Who do you think won? Tell us in the comments or share your thoughts on X! – Rappler.com

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Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.