5 changes to media in Duterte’s Philippines

5 changes to media in Duterte’s Philippines

Impact on PR and marketing

Before the controversial Donald Trump turned the American elections on its head, there was Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. With Davao City as his model, the erstwhile mayor from the south rose to overwhelm his Manila-based rivals and became the country’s 16th president.

1. Chat for real time coordination

A lot of factors played in Duterte’s successful presidential run. But there’s one thing that gave the Duterte media campaign an edge in the fast-paced race. The Duterte media bureau coordinated using FB Messenger chat groups.

When something develops for instance, a draft of a press release is already being discussed in the media chat group. It does not matter where the very mobile core group was as they keep up with Duterte’s sorties. Once the final draft got approved, the area coordinators would immediately seed the press release within their respective jurisdictions.Facebook Messenger, Philippines

Other Manila-based media bureaus that coordinated the crafting of press releases via email cannot but fall behind. The Philippine media, on the other hand, was still digesting the story as the candidate Duterte moved on to the next story. The Duterte campaign dictated the pace.

Savvy PR practitioners can’t do without their team’s chat groups in FB messenger, Viber, or (for the more security conscious) WhatsApp. In fast moving situations like the management of large events as well as issue and crisis management, team coordination in real time is a must.

Philippine map, Manila, Cebu, Davao, Boracay
Note how far Davao is from Manila.

2. Duterte news cycle disrupts

The traditional media had its first taste of covering Duterte as the newly-elected president during his late evening press conferences in Davao City. Of course, reporters more accustomed to the so-called decent way of speaking by Manila-based politicians were unprepared for the new president’s gutter language.

However, I want to point out something else. The hours were too late for the front pages of both national and local dailies.

Filipinos turned to radio, the 24-hour television news stations CNN Philippines and ANC, and online news agencies like Rappler. Accustomed to news sources timing their press conferences to the news cycle, the president’s late hours disrupted traditional media.

The time has come for media to come to terms with real time news, or shall be say the Duterte news cycle.

As media lurches towards real time content,  it is likewise imperative for public relations people and marketers to keep pace and be abreast of unfolding news 24/7.

3. Traditional media struggles

Nevertheless, problem is not just grappling with real-time news. The Philippine media has to deal with how a highly popular President Duterte and his thousands of active followers in social media criticize journalists of their coverage of his “war on drugs.”

In its response, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), which is the leading daily newspaper in the Philippines said:
Since its founding in 1985, the Inquirer has upheld the highest standards of excellence in journalism. Even as we’ve courageously pursued the truth in our coverage, we’ve endeavored to get the administration’s side of any controversy.

As the media establishments struggles to defend its credibility, it also has to deal with the process caused by traditional media’s increasing inability to hold its gate-keeping role.

For several years, ordinary citizens can put up blogs and posts in social media questioning news from the established media. The rise of popular pro-Duterte influencers like Mocha Uson hastened this process. President Duterte further placed a cloud of doubt on the credibility of Philippine media.

The proliferation of so-called alternative news and black propaganda should, nevertheless, lead towards growth of an information-savvy constituency looking for credible news. Strategic PR practitioners should abet and be part of this growth.


4. Social media fills gaps

Most Filipinos, with their high social media engagement during the just concluded election campaign and the gaps in mainstream’s media’s ability to deliver the news in real time, turned to social media for news. The vacuum became fertile ground for further growth of social media engagement particularly in Facebook — warts and all.

Perhaps, this explains why Filipinos topped a report on time spent in social media.  Digital in 2017, a report released by Hootsuite and We Are Social Ltd. last January 2017, showed that Filipinos spent four hours and 17 minutes daily in social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter.

This growth is not merely fueled by the spread of fake news and trolls from all political sides — a trend started by operators of troll centers (so-called online warriors) during the election campaign.

    • In Cebu City, Mayor Tomas Osmeña took advantage of his Facebook page, not only in engaging his supporters, but also in issuing statements that journalists would pick up. Recently for example, his posts supporting a road rage victim went viral. While he went with a Swat team in pursuit of the suspect, the mayor kept abreast his Facebook followers, including the local media, of the police operation late into the night.

  • Local papers have began giving more attention to their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to broadcast real time news.
  • Reporters are now encouraged to post about the events they are covering, some even report events using Facebook Live.

5. Content remains King but …

The Philippine experience shows that content — whether solid news, alternative news, or native advertising — remains king. However, there are certain considerations:

Tell Stories.

Your stories should be something worth sharing to others. Of course, stories that your readers believe. And, in a real-time media environment, these should be timely.


Content in long-form will be here to stay. But also consider shifts in what your audience look for online content like more visual stories, infographics, slideshows, interactive content.

Video tops the Net

Yes, nothing beats video. Some 500 million people watch video daily on the Internet. Another 82 percent of users watch video content in Twitter. People spend more time in landing pages with video. In fact, these pages drive more conversions.

Build trust

Even as you build trust with your audience, don’t forget the search engines. This means not engaging in spam, getting rid of configurations that search engines would consider spam, and kicking out spam bloggers from your users/mailing lists.  This means crafting good content that adheres to good SEO standards.


Providing content is not one-way. Good content is your part of the conversation with your audience. The other part of their feedback. They will comment on your blog, tweet you, or engage you in Facebook. A good conversationalist listens.

Popular pro-Duterte entertainer Mocha Uson has a Facebook Page
 that she calls the Mocha Uson Blog.

The Game Has Changed

Yes, the media game in the Philippines has changed. This reality we all should grasp as we navigate today’s seeming chaos. This is awareness of the game — what David McAdams described as “the ability to see the strategic world around you with open eyes” in his book “Game-Changer.”

There are several factors. These definitely include new technology that disrupted the media establishment’s control of information gateways, the emergence of a myriad of social media influencers, and the rise of President Duterte. That’s the list we cited above.

Of course, this is incomplete. We hope you would give us your thoughts as we seek parallel or even contrary insights to understand today’s reality.



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