Print keeps Marcos Jr. on their front pages; online media spotlight issues on the ground

5th report on the print and online media coverage of Elections 2022

METHODOLOGY: From April 4 to April 17, 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 online media Rappler, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and Mindanews.

Also See: “TV coverage still on the same track; some gave space to voter education as Lacson and Moreno join forces to ask Robredo to withdraw

LESS THAN a month before election day, controversies and changes in candidate endorsements and in survey findings underscored developments in the presidential race, and kept it in print and online media. 

Print during the two-week period kept the spotlight on presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. by publishing reports on his families’ estate tax problem and his lead in the surveys. But the Commission on Elections (Comelec) gained a fair share of front page space as Filipino overseas voting started and problematic issues were raised, such as pre-shaded ballots and the lack of vote counting machines. 

Front page prominence 

Marcoses’ estate taxes

Raised in debates by rival candidates and demanded by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in a letter, news about the Marcos’ family’s unpaid PHP 203B estate taxes followed the exchange of quotes between lawyers and experts. But during the period reviewed, some broadsheets clearly favored the Marcoses by mainly citing the allies of the candidate and anonymous sources instead of using court rulings and other available documents as the bases for their reports.

Driven by their obvious pro-Marcos bias, The Manila Times and the Manila Bulletin on April 4, and the Manila Standard and the Daily Tribune on April 5 ran front-page stories defending the Marcoses’ non-payment of estate taxes. The Times, the Standard, and the Tribune all used Marcos ally and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile as their primary source. Enrile repeated the Marcos camp’s position that the tax proceedings should be concluded first and that the issue is politically charged as Marcos Jr. is running for the presidency. The Bulletin, meanwhile, cited unnamed BIR officials who supposedly arrived at a “consensus” that the Marcos heirs cannot be sued over their tax deficiencies. (See: “Marcos deficiencies: Covering the Marcoses’ unpaid estate tax“) 

Only the Philippine Daily Inquirer on April 6 cited Sen. Koko Pimentel III who said he needs one more senator to be able to start an inquiry which will summon BIR officials and estate administrators to a Senate hearing. 

Surveys, endorsements

Some broadsheets also kept Marcos Jr. in the news by reporting on the results of recent surveys and endorsements for him. 

All the broadsheets reviewed reported on the results of Pulse Asia’s survey on April 7 that Marcos, Jr. remains the frontrunner, but that Vice President Leni Robredo is gaining ground and closing the gap between them. But both the Times and the Tribune stood out for their frequent front-page reports that favored Marcos Jr. 

From April 7 when the survey was released to April 15, CMFR counted eight front page stories on Marcos from the Times and 6 from the Tribune. Their reports featured endorsements from local officials and favorable reactions expressed by other officials to Marcos’ sustained lead in the surveys.  The Times also cited Marcos himself as alerting his supporters to watch out for “cheating” after his top rival gained in the surveys while the Tribune noted Robredo’s gaining more numbers in campaign rallies merely as “spicing up the old rivalry.”

Screengrab of The Manila Times and the Daily Tribune front pages.

Meanwhile, the Inquirer on April 13 reported on Ikaw Muna (IM) Pilipinas’ switch of support from Isko Moreno to Robredo. The volunteer group that called on Moreno to run for presidency last year said that Moreno’s numbers have been consistently low in the polls, and that Robredo is the best bet to prevent a Marcos presidency. The third most-preferred candidate, Moreno told the media that he still believes in a three-way race on May 9.

Reports after the conference reported on how the candidates reaffirmed their stand not to withdraw from the race. Further, Moreno, Lacson and Gonzales called on Robredo “to be a hero and withdraw” from the presidential race. Abella backed out at the last minute and Pacquiao did not make it supposedly due to transportation issues.

On the Comelec front

Meanwhile, the Comelec also made news on various fronts. On April 9, the Bulletin reported on the start of overseas voting the next day, citing the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and providing information on how OFWs can cast their votes. The Inquirer on April 11 reported that the arrival of some ballots was delayed and five embassies did not push through with the voting due to unnamed difficulties. The next day, the Inquirer followed through the poll body’s mess, citing senators and groups who urged a probe into the incidents. These included the lack of vote counting machines and indelible ink, the long lines and disorder, delays in ballot distribution, and pre-shaded ballots.

Updates from the Commission on Elections included its plans on “covid-proofing” the polls, its reminders on differentiating ayuda from vote-buying, and updates on its task force vs “fake news.”

Stories also reported when the Comelec approved a resolution that granted chairman Saidamen Parungunan authority to declare areas under Comelec control. On April 12, Commissioner Socorro Inting stepped down as chairperson of the gun ban committee “in protest” of recent amendments to the poll body’s rules. In her resignation letter, Inting said she cannot remain as panel head after the en banc granted Pangarungan the power to exempt certain cases from the gun ban and place an area under Comelec control.

Some of the following events and issues appeared in some front-page reports. But these were mostly in the inside pages: 

  • Candidates’ responses to questions on political dynasties and corruption during the Comelec debates;
  • Positions by prominent presidential and senatorial candidates on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis, fuel subsidies, and disaster response;
  • Other controversies such as attacks against Robredo’s daughter, and President Duterte’s red-tagging some partylists; and
  • The importance of social media in the elections and the results of mock polls in universities.

Online media sustain focus on underreported issues 

Online media kept public attention on  marginalized sectors and other issues on the ground. In-depth reports gave these issues the treatment that can help voters and candidates think of possible ways of addressing their needs. CMFR notes and cheers the following media accounts that raised urgent issues and included them in their coverage:

Significant Follow-through

  • As CMFR previously cheered in its previous content analyses, Rappler followed through its reports on political dynasties in the regions, providing a closer look at the local campaigns and how few families “wield tremendous power” in the regions. In the reviewed period, Rappler focused on Cebu, Iloilo, and Pampanga.

Voter-centric reporting

  • reported on the importance of sign language in the candidates’ campaigns. The report featured a sign language interpreter who noted that persons with disabilities, especially voters, deserve to understand the campaign discourse. The report also gave more information on PWDs and what presidential candidates have promised them.
  • Mindanews asked undecided and decided voters what they are looking for in the next leaders of the country. The report showed what farmers, vendors, and taxi drivers are concerned with, and how as voters they too must get the candidates’ attention. 

More than controversies

  •  reported on the digital attack on Robredo’s daughter, pointing this out as part of a pattern of rampant misogyny and impunity. The report reviewed past remarks against women by government officials themselves, and provided statistics reflecting the reality of online sexual harassment including the age of victim-survivors, and the most common assaults online.

Citing experts in urgent issues

  • In a ‘letter to the Filipino voter,’ PCIJ talked to experts from different fields, and listed down urgent issues–the pandemic response, the job shortage, higher food prices, climate change, and human rights abuses– that the next president must address. 
  • Similarly, with a focus on addressing the health crisis in the country, Rappler and health experts proposed a comprehensive agenda to address health problems in the country.
  • Meanwhile, reported the efforts of urban poor communities in managing renewable energy resources and how the election is crucial for the urgent shift towards clean and cheap renewable energy. Amid rising food and fuel costs, and the world and climate crises, the report highlighted what environmental groups and scientists have to say, and the presidential candidates’ plans, if any, to follow through.