Firm says ‘Rastaman’ popularity shows humor still vital to PH elections
MANILA, Philippines — Prior to COVID-19, the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) is one of the most colorful events in Philippine politics — not just because of rival politicians but due to some “out-of-this-world aspirants” often branded as nuisance candidates.
With lockdowns still present, Filipinos turned to the internet to put some color to an allegedly dull COC filing from October 1 to 8, through the culture of memes and shitposting — which eventually gave way to the resurgence of a person known in social media circles as the “Rastaman.”
It is unclear whether the man is indeed a follower of Rastafarianism, but the rise of this tattooed man deemed as an “alternative candidate” may be the best proof that humorous story lines are still very important for people vying for elective posts, a media analytics firm said.
Isentia PH said in their report titled “Prelude to the Polls” that the seemingly undying popularity of Ronaldo Plaza, the senatorial aspirant in the 2019 midterm elections, can be attributed to a yearning for a funny twist to an otherwise serious political exercise.
Plaza, sporting a bandana and with several tattoos on his face — including the words “Rasta” on his forehead, nose and upper lip and the word “Man” on his chin, plus a motorcycle on his temple — became an internet sensation among people supposedly tired of politics.
“A video of him filing his COC from the last elections, accompanied by an interview, resurfaced this period. Netizens began posting memes giving him their ironic support and earning traction across social media platforms. Rastaman gained virality overnight as a result of an interview wherein claims to be ‘half-human, half-zombie,’” Isentia PH said.
“His popularity may be attributed to Filipinos finding humor in the candidate amidst the seriousness of the election season,” it added.
According to Isentia PH, the Filipinos’ desire for some laughs may be an attempt to hide a great frustration over what has happened in the country — from the issues on the COVID-19 pandemic response and the effects of lockdown restrictions.
“The period leading to the polls has been marred with an overall sense of frustration in the middle of the pandemic, and the internet gave Rastaman a platform and his persona has ensued popularity because of a ‘comforting absurdity’ — a key element in getting audience’s attention,” the firm said.
“As the internet shifted from memes to serious conversations, a swing of emotions and sentiment could come from various factors especially with news coming the public’s way daily. Rastaman’s popularity is a clear showing of how important humor is to storytelling, messaging, narrative, public relations, leading to a comforting nature that drives engagement,” it added.
Plaza did not file his certificate of candidacy for the presidential elections, but netizens are creating memes and altered photos of him as the top candidate — by using graphics made by different campaign teams and support groups.
One post showed Rastaman having the most social media mentions during the filing of the COCs — a news item that was made about Vice President Leni Robredo.
Another post showed Plaza in the place of a digitally created photo of former senator Bongbong Marcos, standing beside a tiger while holding the Philippine flag.
More memes can be seen in the Rastaman for President group in Facebook, which as of posting time has over 17,000 members. At the same time, Plaza has also willingly engaged his “supporters,” posting videos of him greeting several individuals.
He has also started collaborating with other influencers, including social media star and singer Donnalyn Bartolome.
Right now, Plaza’s popularity can be compared to another Filipino internet sensation, dancer Dante Gulapa, who rose to fame due to Facebook videos of him half-naked while doing sensual dance moves.
Gulapa also saw a cult following, with people greeting him whenever he is seen in public.
Isentia PH’s report on Plaza is part of its analysis on how the 2022 elections is shaping up, providing insights on social media engagement of several candidates. According to the firm, most of the social media buzz during the week-long filing of COCs centered on presidential aspirants Robredo and Marcos.
The company said that their monitoring of social media channels Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube showed that Robredo garnered around 1.7 million social buzzes, while Marcos came in second with 1.1 million social buzzes.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, another presidential aspirant, meanwhile got 390,000 social media buzzes, Senator Ronald dela Rosa with 254,000 social media buzzes, Senator Manny Pacquiao with 210,000 buzzes, and Senator Panfilo Lacson with 60,000 buzzes.
The 2022 presidential race is shaping up to be a tight race, with big names making big moves in the recent days. Aside from the names mentioned, labor leader Leody de Guzman, Senator Bong Go, and controversial military man and retired Armed Forces of the Philippines Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. are joining the race for the presidency.
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