Candidates to use text messaging

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — AFTER taking the campaign online, political candidates are eyeing text messaging next to reach out to more potential voters, now that the Commission on Elections has allowed the use of either the short message service or the multi-media message service of telecommunication companies for the May 14 polls.

Former Senator Edgardo Angara, who is running under the administration slate Team Unity, said the 2007 mid-term polls could be the most technologically- savvy so far as candidates had no choice but to go multi-media for their campaign.

“Before, it was just newspapers, radio and television. Now we cannot discount the reach of the Internet and text messaging,” said Angara, one of a number of Team Unity bets who has created an account in the online global network Friendster, which has more than five million Filipino users.

“That [text messaging] kind of campaign is exciting because it’s very new, but Comelec must ensure that the guidelines spelled out by the National Telecommunications Commission are followed,” he said.

The power of text messaging was first seen in 2001, when millions of Filipinos sent SMS jokes about deposed President Joseph Estrada, and millions more sent SMS messages calling on the people to oust him and later helped catapult then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into power.

But Team Unity bet Prospero Pichay Jr. has warned that malicious “texting” was expected to increase in the run-up to the May elections.

He said part of the challenge was the cost of mounting an SMS campaign, considering that one text message cost P1.

“We could end up spending P5 million to send text messages to five million voters and fail to reach the other 39 million voters,” he said.

Fellow administration bet Joker Arroyo said the same laws covering free speech should be applied to text messaging to avoid what he called “hate campaigns” and libelous texts.

NTC head Danilo Cuenca said there were no guidelines for using SMS in the election campaign, but candidates may still run after people sending out malicious text messages against them.

“Candidates may file a complaint against the user. Especially if it’s a postpaid line and a registered number, candidates could ask telecommunications companies to provide the text and call data records of the number as evidence,” he said in a television interview.

Smart Communications spokesman Ramon Isberto cautioned politicians against using SMS.

“The cautionary note is it can be counterproductive to send text broadcasts. Subscribers’ inboxes are a very private space, so any unwanted messages there could irritate the subscriber and backfire on the candidate,” he said.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. called on future legislators to come up with laws that would regulate text messaging.

“I think we should have a way to determine who the sender is, not only for the election but other purposes,” he said, adding regulations on e-campaigning and their implications on candidates’ spending limit would be discussed in the Comelec’s next en banc session.

About 70 percent of all candidates’ total campaign money goes to television giants ABS-CBN and GMA-7.

Pichay said ABS-CBN was charging P180,000 per 30-seconder commercial on prime time, and GMA-7 about P220,000.