Young Filipinos stand to be a force in May 9 general election

Camille Elemia
2022.05.05
Manila
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Young Filipinos stand to be a force in May 9 general election Supporters of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. welcome the presidential candidate at a campaign rally in Tacloban, Philippines, April 9, 2022.
Stringer/BenarNews

Young Filipinos are playing a crucial role in the high-stakes general election next week, from canvassing door-to-door to raising their voices at campaign rallies, with polls showing a majority of them favoring a late dictator’s son as their next president. 

Seen as a driving force in the presidential election and other polls taking place across the Philippines on May 9, millennials and members of Gen Z here are big consumers of content spread over social media, one of the main tools that candidates use to attract votes. More than half of the country’s 69 million registered voters fall within this youthful demographic, according to the election commission (Comelec). 

“New voters will be the game changers,” George Garcia, an election commissioner, said Thursday, adding that 7 million had registered as first-time voters for the 2022 polls. 

Six of 10 registered voters are between 18 and 41 years old – those who would be considered millennials or members of Generation Z, according to Comelec. 

Earlier this year, the commission predicted that the demographic would be a force in the presidential, senatorial, congressional, provincial and municipal elections happening on May 9. 

Fifty-six percent of people who registered to vote for this year’s polls range in age from 18 to 41, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in February. 

“It’s a very interesting development. It’s good for the country,” the Comelec official said then, according to local news reports. 

“I think it’s important for everyone to know that the youths are prime movers of this coming election,” he said. 

Jenny Famy, now 20, registered to vote for the first time in 2019, when other congressional elections took place. 

This year, she plans to vote for someone who is not a “traditional politician.” 

“Because after decades in power, they have not improved the country’s situation. I only feel their presence during election season when they need votes,” Famy told BenarNews. 

Marcos Jr. popular among youths 

The youth vote is taking center stage in the contest between the top two candidates in the presidential race: Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the current front runner in the latest surveys, and incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo, the runner-up in those opinion polls. 

Marcos, who is the son and namesake of the former dictator who ruled the country for 21 years in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s – mostly under martial law – leads in all public opinion polls. 

According to a pre-election survey conducted by local pollster Pulse Asia last month, 72 percent of voters aged 18 to 24 said they would vote for Marcos, while 23 percent were leaning toward Robredo. 

Similarly, among the 25 to 34 age bracket, 58 percent said they would pick Marcos Jr., compared with only 25 percent for Robredo. 

Most of these young voters were not yet born during the years of martial law (1972-1986) imposed by then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos. This makes these voters more susceptible to disinformation on social media, analysts and researchers say. 

Marcos was ousted from office by a peaceful people’s power revolt but his regime was blamed for killing thousands of people, and the Marcos family was accused of stealing billions from state coffers. 

According to Joel Mark Barredo, a Filipino political activist based in Bangkok, “misinformation, disinformation … historical revisionism is not unique to the Philippines. 

“I just came from Cambodia and I met with some young people there, and they don’t believe that the Khmer Rouge genocide even happened, or they doubted at the very least,” Barredo told BenarNews. 

“But what hurts the most when it comes to my country, the Philippines, is that we’ve been there, we’ve done that. We toppled a dictator … that reigned with blood on his hands, with terror, greed and a distorted legacy,” he said. 

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Youth volunteers take part in door-to-door campaigning for presidential candidate Leni Robredo in Valenzuela, a district in northern Manila, April 7, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

Robredo’s campaign, meanwhile, is fueled mainly by the energy of its youth volunteers. 

On Wednesday, about 30 youth volunteers conducted their final house-to-house campaign before Election Day in West Rembo and Cembo, barangays in Makati City, Metro Manila, that are known as pro-Marcos turf. 

In recent weeks, after Robredo’s prodding, volunteers started ground campaigns nationwide to push back against disinformation campaigns and fake news allegedly disseminated online by supporters of Marcos. 

Some residents were open to listening to the volunteers, while others simply refused to talk to them. 

“We are aware of the truth. Our generation does not want to repeat the horrors of the past; that is why we are striving for good governance,” said volunteer Alec Santarina, 25. 

Social media campaign 

The Marcos camp has invested heavily in his social media campaign. To date, his YouTube channel, with over 200 vlogs that depict him as cool and relatable, has more than 2 million subscribers. He has 6 million followers on Facebook and more than 1 million followers on TikTok. 

While Marcos denies using disinformation tactics, Tsek.ph, a website and collaborative fact-checking initiative by Filipinos, said Marcos benefitted the most from disinformation while Robredo was the chief victim. 

Most of the alleged misleading claims that promote Marcos focus on his father’s presidency, falsely portraying it as “the golden age” of the Philippines, and on false claims that there was no evidence on the family’s ill-gotten wealth. 

Analiza Liezi Perez-Amurao, an assistant professor at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said Filipinos, “especially the younger generation, have been told by their parents, their grandparents about the supposedly what they’re dubbing as the golden years during the martial law era.” 

Earlier this year, she conducted a social experiment on Filipino expatriates in Thailand. It found that young people believed that the martial-law period was golden. 

“[I] asked them if they have any proof, [but] they could not provide [it],” she told BenarNews. 

“So, it’s all about … what they heard from other family members … just simply believing in what was told to them.” 

Margaret Andres, 25, who lives in Addition Hills, a barangay in Mandaluyong City that is heavily pro-Marcos, refused to believe that her candidate his relatives were tainted. 

“If they are indeed corrupt, why are they not in jail? That’s just politics.” 

For the longest time, she said, people were “brainwashed” to think that the Marcos family was evil. 

“Not anymore, we now know the truth from social media.”

Subel Rai Bhandari in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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