ANTIQUE, Philippines – Netizens brawl on Twitter and Facebook over rival candidates in the May 2022 national elections but residents of Aningalan, an isolated barangay in San Remigio town, don’t even have access to the internet or cellular communications.
“Naghipus kaja nga eleksyon. Asta kaja, wara gihapon kami ti mapili-an nga presidente,” farming couple Patria and Ephraem Gomez Sr. told Rappler. (This year’s election is quiet. Until now, we still haven’t decided on our choice for president.)
That’s because they haven’t heard from any of the presidential bets. They haven’t watched the debates or the live-streamed interviews. No national candidate nor their campaign staff has visited the farming village that Antiqueños call their summer capital.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed election campaign habits in the Philippines as health and safety concerns limit crowd gatherings, rallies, and door-to-door visits.
Before the pandemic, Aningalan folk participated in gatherings hosted by coordinators and volunteers to acquaint themselves with the national candidates and listen to their plans and platforms.
This year is different. The country’s technological divide is starkest here where couples like Patria and Ephraem feel deprived of the information needed for choosing national leaders.
Ads, gossip as info sources
Aningalan residents rely on radio and television political advertisements to familiarize themselves with national candidates. Free radio and TV rarely run the full debates and fora available on the Internet.
Jocelyn Tapulayan, a local tourist guide, said they also rely on roaming vehicles playing political jingles, displayed tarpaulins, and barangay gossip about certain politicians.
Most locals are unaware of the national candidates’ visits to the province, and nor has campaign literature trickled down to the area.
“Kung sin-o ang sikat kag ang daw nakilala run, tana lamang ang botohon kang mga tawo,” Tapulayan said. (People will end up voting for whoever is popular and more recognized.)
Patria said that since she hasn’t witnessed the debates or interviews, stories going around the barangay are her primary source of information.
Aningalan’s youth voters struggle to maximize their participation in this year’s elections because of the limited information they are getting.
First-time voter Abeguel Tahum feels a significant disadvantage as a Gen Z who can’t access crucial information from social media.
“Gusto ko nga may maman-an man ako para sakto akun boto (I want to be more informed to make sure that I vote for the right candidate),” Tahum said.
Locals appealed for person-to-person efforts from the national candidates’ coordinators and volunteers to learn about their plans and platforms.
Gomez said they are willing to open their homes to campaign teams and asked for videos of debates and interviews.
“Nami gid daad kung malab-ot kami rugya para mas mapamati-an namon ang andang mga plataporma,” she added. (It would be better if they can reach us so we can also listen to their platforms.)
Locals also suggested flyers or brochures and tarpaulins with a comprehensive list of credentials and platforms, preferably in Kinaray-a language, to help them scrutinize and choose their candidates.
According to Gomez, they are also wise voters as long as they receive sufficient information that will help them decide for the sake of their families, community, and livelihood.
Their appeals were answered on April 1 when volunteers of Robredo People’s Council (RPC) visited Barangay Aningalan.
These volunteers, who conducted house-to-house and market day campaigns in San Remigio villages, witnessed the disinformation and misinformation circulating in the municipality’s far-flung areas.
“Their responses are always associated with hearsay or rumors, and from sources with no credibility,” said youth volunteer Krizn Janica Tacaisan, who cited unvetted reports of candidates’ credentials.
Volunteer Feliz Mission also emphasized that people in the uplands can be easily swayed because they have a hard time checking if information is factual.
Based on their interaction with the residents, Mission realized that local politicians’ support for national bets influences residents’ choices.
When people have little to no verifiable information about national candidates, it is easier to persuade them to trade votes for money and commodities, the volunteers said.
Given the challenges, Mission hopes to continue their grassroots campaign.
“Seeing some of the situation of people there, you will really be motivated to continue since we all yearn for a government which will help them,” she said. – Rappler.com