Politics in full swing: As elections draw near, endorsements and controversies dominate local campaign news

4th report on the print and online media coverage of Elections 2022


METHODOLOGY: From March 21 to April 3, 2022, CMFR reviewed the coverage of leading Manila broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin), three other selected broadsheets (The Daily Tribune, The Manila Times, and The Manila Standard) and their online counterparts as well as independent online news sites Rappler and  Bulatlat.

Also See: “TV Coverage sidelines local elections; spotlights more controversies 40 days to 2022 polls“


ENDORSEMENTS AND controversies in the presidential race grabbed the attention of print and online media, with only brief front page prominence given to the start of the local campaign period. 

As election day nears, bigger crowds have swelled the rallies of presidential candidates Leni Robredo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr, which some newspapers reported on their front pages.

Front page prominence 

Mainly endorsements

The start of the local campaigns made banner stories in the Star, the Bulletin, and the Times, while the Inquirer and the Standard on March 25 highlighted the resignation of presidential candidate Panfilo Lacson from Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma (PDR) after his party endorsed the candidacy of Robredo. Lacson, who was chair of PDR, is continuing his campaign as an independent candidate.

While the Tribune did report on this development on the same day, its main story was on the talks between Marcos and President Duterte  which the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) – Alfonso Cusi faction arranged. The Cusi faction had endorsed  Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on March 21.

But President Duterte did not endorse Marcos, only his daughter, vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, who is running with Marcos.

Given the number of candidates running, there is no saying who will remain throughout the entire campaign, and who will be endorsing who as it becomes clear to them who are least or more likely to win in May.

The Times in its March 22 front page cited vice presidential candidate Rizalito David and his proposal for a “grand coalition” against Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte. 

On March 31, vice presidential candidate Lito Atienza called on Lacson to withdraw from the presidential race. Atienza said that his running mate Manny Pacquaio and Lacson’s running mate Vicente “Tito” Sotto III have more of a  chance to win the elections.

Crucial Controversies

Before the monitored period, government officials and agencies had already begun to red-tag participants in Robredo’s rallies, a concern that print highlighted as frontpage news. 

On March 24, the Inquirer’s banner was on the criminal complaints against Lorraine Badoy, spokesperson for the government’s anti-communist task force. She had accused Vice President Leni Robredo of colluding with communist rebels and making a “pact with the devil” to win the presidency on May 9. Three separate complaints were also filed by 26 individuals who were represented by lawyers Antonio La Viña and Rico Domingo.

The President himself added to these deadly allegations, red-tagging some partylists as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) in his regular public address. The Tribune and the Standard echoed the red-tagging, giving front page treatment to Duterte’s fact-challenged allegations on March 31.

In the same public address, Duterte questioned the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for its failure to collect the Marcoses’ PHP 203-B estate tax. The Star quoted the President, who reminded BIR of its mandate, in its banner story.

The Inquirer on March 26  did well to feature survivors of martial law who urged the BIR to collect the unpaid taxes, pointing out that “billions will be as good as gone if the son of the late dictator wins the presidency.” 

Red and Pink on the front pages

The broadsheets also gave frequent front page treatment to top presidential candidates Robredo and Marcos Jr. and their campaign rallies, with some publishing more reports on the latter. They also featured other candidates, but not as frequently as the two.

  • Bulletin featured Robredo’s and Marcos’ campaign rallies side by side on seven of its front pages;
  • Tribune featured Marcos’ campaign rallies on five of its front pages;
  • Standard featured Marcos’ campaign rallies on four of its front pages;
  • Times featured Marcos’ campaign rallies on two of its front pages;
  • Inquirer featured Robredo’s campaign rally on one of its front pages; while
  • Star did not feature either of the campaign rallies on its front pages

Comelec

All of print’s front pages picked up announcements and updates  by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), including the schedule and results of the Comelec debates, updates on the Smartmatic data breach, the distribution of poll supplies, the activation of the task force vs vote-buying, the printing of ballots, and the resumption of ‘Oplan Baklas.’

Inside pages

Regional print sections did not focus on the local campaigns. The reports in the inside pages were limited to quoting local officials’ endorsements of presidential candidates.

CMFR notes the Inquirer’s broader scope of coverage as it surveyed the provincial races, describing the “big political names” running, and noting how a “monopoly of force and funds” has come into play. 

The inside pages also included reports on the following: 

  • The answers by candidates to questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights and the fuel excise tax during the Comelec debates;
  • The election forum held by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and issues like the use of state force, corruption, and the characteristics of a good president that were discussed; and
  • The reminders from elections watchdogs National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and KontraDaya on ghost voters, election fraud, and vote-buying

Online Media continue issue-based reporting

Online media correctly spotlighted issues and sectors on the ground in their election reports. CMFR noted and welcomed the attention given to the following issues: 

  • Philstar.com highlighted youth climate activists’ urgent reminder that the next six years fall squarely into the crucial time window for international efforts to address the climate crisis. They urged the public to elect a leader that would commit to immediate climate action.
  • In a women candidates’ forum in Baguio City, Rappler reported that candidates discussed red-tagging, a topic that was not included in previous forums and debates. Inquirer.net also shed much needed light on the issue, putting together a timeline proving just how deadly red-tagging has been, despite NTF-ELCAC’s claims that the practice is “harmless”.
  • As CMFR previously cheered in its last review, Rappler followed through its reports on political dynasties in the regions, providing a closer look at the local campaigns and how a few families “wield tremendous power” in the regions. During the reviewed period, Rappler focused on Ilocos Norte, Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Eastern Samar.  
  • Amidst the rising prices of basic commodities, Bulatlat amplified farmers’ calls for the next President to focus on the country’s food security and food self-sufficiency.

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