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Social media advice for Mar Roxas

12:42 AM September 15, 2015

DEAR Mar Roxas,

I would like to think that you meant well in remembering the Zamboanga siege, during a time when many people have forgotten about it. But your failure to communicate your intentions properly betrays your greatest weakness that can doom your presidential dreams.

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Even as a senator, you were a believer in social media. In 2009, when you had just opened your social media accounts, you tweeted: “I guess Twitter and Facebook are growing on me, haha. In a way, they promote transparency as well.” Two years later, in a more serious tone you opined: “I hope that we will continue to meet here online, may it be on Facebook or Twitter, just to refresh our common ideals—democracy, being real and honest, civic duty and love of our country—even if we disagree on a lot of other things.”

You were not a regular Twitter user—there were months without a single tweet—but you tweeted some of the significant moments of your political life. When you made the fateful decision to give way to Noynoy Aquino in 2009, you tweeted: “My personal ambition ends where my loyalty and love for country begins. God bless Noy. God bless the Philippines.” You micro-blogged the disaster relief for “Yolanda,” and until you quit the post of interior secretary, you routinely posted “action shots,” such as meeting with the President about the recent Iglesia ni Cristo crisis.

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But there were also personal, unguarded tweets about playing golf with your son Paolo, spending your first Sunday married to Korina in Pancake House, rooting for the Boston Celtics and the Ateneo Blue Eagles, and even eating batchoy as a midnight snack.

These moments of candor give you a more human, even childlike, side. Like this tweet in 2011: “Yehey! 185 lbs weight target attained. Reward: Ice cream. Yehey, even more!”

Or, a year later: “I love PSY and Gangnam Style!”

Or doing the McDo sign with the crowd in Limketkai Mall, Cagayan de Oro. And posing inside a heart sign in the beach in Mati, Davao Oriental.

In a way, I find these tweets reassuring. For one, if you are to be our president, at least I know that you are (somewhat) health-conscious, and that instead of a midnight cabinet, perhaps all you would be tempted to go for is a midnight snack.

And I know that PSY will be allowed to have a concert in the country—that is, if he manages to score another hit.

But now that you are running for president, you have to use your social media presence to prove that you are “presidentiable.” Not to pretend that you’re poor (as some politicians are known to do), not to stop playing golf, not to stop walking your dogs in the park (I find them cute, by the way), but to recognize social media as a public platform, one in which you must communicate your solidarity with the experiences of everyday Filipinos (more than just having photos with them), and one that requires the greatest sensitivity and care.

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Which brings me to the “Happy anniversary” Facebook post. The original, as we can still see from Facebook, reads: “Hi, fellow veterans of the Zamboanga siege. Happy anniversary! Just wanted to take a moment and reflect and thank you for your leadership and commitment to the welfare of our people and country. Maraming salamat. Being with you all those 21 days has touched me indelibly…”

Quickly, you and your staff edited out the offending phrase.

But it’s not just the “happy anniversary” that I take issue with in that post. I am bothered by your referring to yourself as a “veteran” of the September 2013 Zamboanga siege. We know that you were there, and can therefore technically call yourself a veteran, but in making the siege all about you and how the event “touched you indelibly,” you missed out on paying tribute to the people—soldiers and civilians alike—who died during the siege, and the people whose lives were actually in real danger: the soldiers in the frontline, and the ordinary citizens of Zamboanga—men,

women and children—who feared for their lives and suffered during those 21 days in a way you never did.

You missed out on remembering the crisis as a way to underscore the importance of a lasting peace agreement in Mindanao.

Social media is a powerful force, especially if you have almost a million followers, and Facebook posts and tweets are not to be taken lightly. They are heirs to the pen in being mightier than the sword. They can hurt, just as they can inspire. They can bring back memories of the past, just as they can offer a vision of the future. If someone else did it, it was your mistake to have entrusted such a delicate job to an amateur.

If you are to be our president, your words—including those who speak in your

behalf—carry the dignity of the entire nation. Editing your posts is not an option. More is expected of you because you are aspiring for the highest office in the land. More is expected of you because you are offering yourself to be the hope of millions of Filipinos who are wishing for a better future. As you yourself once tweeted, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Our culture is one that is forgiving, and our news cycles are short, but in this age of screenshots and #ThrowbackThursdays, gaffes can have long half-lives. Which is why I hope that you will learn your lesson before it’s too late.

You once said, incidentally on another social media post: “Facebook is also about democracy. Democracy means the freedom to say what we want within the bounds of decency.”

I hope your campaign will take those words, particularly the last phrase, to heart.

Gideon Lasco is a physician and medical anthropologist. Visit his website on health, culture and society at www.gideonlasco.com.

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