Digital activism in the Philippines

Digital activism, e-activism, online activism, mobile activism.

These were the buzz words in a two-day training-workshop organized by The Asia Foundation for human rights defenders. More than two dozen of them went to Tagaytay City’s Taal Vista Hotel to get right down to business, take a look back at what Filipinos have done to make activism work for Filipinos, and to look forward at what lies ahead at this era of online and mobile interconnectivity.

The Philippines is no stranger to the activist, nay, revolutionary uses of hi-technology. In the drive to kick out the Spaniards in the 1800’s, Filipinos transformed the printing press into something that freed the country’s hearts and minds. The propagandists and revolutionaries used books and newspapers to show the nation the light that awaits those who fight the darkness.

To fight the Marcos dictatorship, Filipinos used the mimeograph, telephones, photocopy and the fax machines to expose the dictatorship’s deceit and to help foment democratic action. The first edition of Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society Revolution and the Ang Bayan were mass produced on mimeograph machines and these helped spawn a New People’s Army. In the cities, all sorts of manifestos, newsletters, leaflets, posters helped in no small way to slowly but surely defeat the dictatorship. By the time the Marcoses were leaving for Paoay en route to Hawaii on a helicopter, foreign media were faxing stories of Filipino heroism for reading by an admiring world.

Joseph Estrada mistakenly thought the landslide victory he won was a license to screw the nation. Filipinos responded by way of merciless Erap jokes that spread like wildfire through text. Television would later beam images of the mansions and women, the gambling and the graft issues, and later the very impeachment trial that rivaled telenovelas in riveting story lines laid bare by dueling lawyers and legislators-cum-judges. By the time the pro-Erap senators voted against opening the so-called “second envelop” that Filipinos wanted to check, we were only too prepared, too ready and too equipped to start, sustain and finish a four-day revolt. In so doing, Filipinos keyed in the name of the Philippines in the annals of technological and political history.

Between then and now, mobiles would continue to figure in new causes – fighting the telcos’ oligopolies, high taxes, new taxes, even in the moves to impeach President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Meanwhile, Filipinos immersed themselves the internet, excelling in social networking, in sharing and viewing photos and videos, the works.

Both mobile and internet activism would figure prominently in the humanitarian efforts to save the people of Metro Manila and Luzon provinces from the ill effects of supertyphoon Ondoy (Ketsana) as well as inept government officials who made matters worse. Recently, Filipinos used the web, social media and mobiles to cover and monitor the May 10 elections. 

Now, would activists and revolutionaries today seize these tools, mobiles and the internet for the causes of human rights, good governance and democracy?

No doubt about it.

(Note: The training-workshop will be mounted again on June 24-25 in Zamboanga City.)