Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Suarez | and the 2016 PH elections


At 26, Pepe Bawagan passes off as your typical computer geek. He is both an alumnus of the Philippine Science High School and University of the Philippines Diliman.

A computer science graduate, he writes software for a small IT company that is only five years old and specializes in developing Web applications.

He also dresses the part of a computer geek when we interview him. Blue jeans, sneakers and a blue roundnecked T-shirt make up his attire. Mustachioed, he wears eyeglasses and sports a crop of curly, black hair.

The interview takes place late afternoon at the lobby of the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center in Makati City. The two of us have just attended an introductory workshop on data driven journalism.

This is a new genre that relies heavily on data gathered from computer networks and databases. Not only does it require the traditional journalistic skills of a newspaper reporter or magazine writer. It also requires the expertise of a computer programmer, data analyst and data visualizer. Thus, his presence also at the workshop organized by, an NGO that promotes the use of IT as a tool for citizens to demand good governance.

That he has attended this workshop shows he is an atypical computer geek. He is also interested in social and political issues and not only in the finer points of information technology. As such, he believes in contributing his professional skills to help improve Philippine society.

“I consider myself an activist,” he tells us. He admits he never joined a political organization while still a student at UP. And even today, he has never joined one.

But the UP experience exposed him to the ferment of social issues and ideas. As a student, he explored these on his own. This is why he, along with his colleague Levi Tan-Ong, put up the website for the May 2013 midterm elections and why they intend to put up an updated version of it for the national elections scheduled for May 2016.

The website is his own little way to help change the culture of personalistic Philippine politics where candidates are elected more for their popularity than their competence or stances on vital issues.

The first version of was an interactive list of all senatorial candidates and their positions on a number of issues such as the death penalty, divorce and the Freedom of Information Act. Their stances could have been one of the following: Strongly For, For, Don’t Care/No Stance, Against, Strongly Against.

There also was a separate page for a user of the site to visit. In it was the same list of issues and the possible stands. This was for the user to click his/her stand on a particular issue. An algorithm would then enable the user to match the candidates with his personal stances on particular issues.

Pepe Bawagan intends to do this once more this 2016 when Filipino voters will choose the next president, vice president, a new set of 12 senators and their district representatives for the House of Representatives.

He tells us that’s updated version will definitely include data on the presidential, vice presidential and senatorial candidates. Funds and the number of volunteers permitting, the website will also include data on the congressional candidates competing for the 240 seats in the House of Representatives.

He tells us there will be more data on them. Not only will these include their stands on issues; it will also include their past voting records on these issues, if any. So, too, will data on any bills they have previously sponsored, if there have been such.

The updated website will be hosted in a free hosting app such as Open Shift, according to him. He says creating the site will not be difficult to do and the only difficulty will be in the algorithm that enables users to match their preferences on issues with candidates who have the same stances.

“We’ll just have to do the math and see what works,” according to him.

He tells us that what will truly be challenging will be the data gathering. It will be tedious work that will require intensive and extensive research. For this task, he will need 10 to 12 volunteers willing to work for free at this arduous task.

Work on’s system has already started, but data gathering has not yet. “We’re still looking for volunteers who can start ASAP,” he says.

Donations in terms of cash from concerned citizens would also be welcome. Because of these challenges, he admits he cannot yet give out a timeline for the project’s completion.

But we can sense a firm determination on his part. “If Filipinos still cannot vote for candidates on the basis of issues, they should at least vote for competent people,” he says.

For those wanting to become volunteers for the site, you may get in touch with Pepe at


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