Filipinos can do their part in upholding our democracy not only by voting for the right candidates but, in this age of technology, fighting disinformation that distorts people’s ability to make sound decisions, panelists in a virtual town hall discussion said Tuesday.
During the launch of Vote Right 2022, a campaign of advocacy group Democracy Watch Philippines in partnership with the Commission on Elections, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, characterized the conscientious voter as someone who possesses an open mind, actively searches for the truth, and who puts an effort into discerning which input from social media must, and must not, be believed.
A good and responsible citizen votes according to one’s conscience, he said.
“This is the candidate who will preserve and strengthen democracy, follow the law, respect human dignity, defend our territory in a peaceful but firm way, and rectify the culture of corruption in government,” Bishop David said.
Meanwhile, Stratbase ADR Institute president Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit pointed to the apparent disconnect between what voters say they want in a candidate and who are emerging as frontrunners in early surveys – a phenomenon that’s best explained by the prevalence and power of fake news.
“Today’s social media space is infected with the pandemic of disinformation, perpetrated by forces who need to distort historical facts,” he said.
Manhit pointed out that next to television, the Internet is the second most influential source of election information. The ordinary information consumer, however, does not necessarily fact check articles he or she sees online.
“The truth must be told. It must be told again and again so it does not drown in the well-funded deluge of lies and disinformation,” he said, as he conjured a governance scenario produced by an election decided by disinformation.
“Voter education today must combat disinformation with untiring passion and resolve,” he said.
Meanwhile, Myla Villanueva, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, emphasized that the work they do is critical to maintaining the credibility of elections.
“The young people may not remember this, but in the days of manual elections, wholesale cheating was happening in the canvassing where 2000 votes become 20,000 or sometimes, they would remove from one candidate and add to another in very big fashion.”
The PPCRV is legally empowered by the Commission on Elections to perform unofficial parallel counts, conduct voter education and registration campaigns, and be part of the voters’ assistance desk.
A big part of the PPCRV’s work is engaging the youth, especially encouraging first-time voters to take part in elections.
Commission on Elections spokesman and director for Education and Information James Jimenez meanwhile emphasized the ultimate benefits of an automated system which eliminates structural advantages such as perceived bailiwicks and command votes.
He also spoke about how the faster counting now eliminates any window of opportunity for dagdag -bawas (vote padding and shaving), and how the prompt release of election results protects election workers and potentially defuses tensions in hotly contested areas.
“When people no longer have time to condition the minds of the public to accept a predetermined result, then you have a fair environment for the elections where the election result is easier to accept for everyone,” Jimenez said.
While a lot of the success of the 2022 election depends on voters and their vigilance, “we cannot trivialize the contribution of the automated election system to our safe elections.”
Other speakers at the virtual town hall were Atty. Ona Caritos, executive director of Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), and Dr. Rachel Khan, associate dean of the UP College of Mass Communication and program coordinator of fact-checking initiative Tsek.ph.
In his closing remarks, Paco Pangalangan, convenor of Democracy Watch, sounded the call for Filipinos to exert due diligence in choosing candidates, to be more conscious of the source and quality of information, adopt a fact-checking mindset, open their senses and appreciate the evidence.
“The future of our nation is worth the effort,” he said.