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The ruling parties’ (lack of) platforms

To guide voters in the upcoming 2013 elections of the upper house, I decided to study the campaign platforms of the major parties. This in a way is a follow-up to a previous post in which I detailed Five Ways to Elevate Political Discourse in the Philippines.

The first of the five points I made in that post was for the parties and/or their coalitions to publish their official platforms. I decided to do a web search to find out what these parties/coalitions have stated to voters as their policy directions once voted into office. Here is what I found.

Let’s start with the administration ticket. We have recently learned from the Comelec that Team PNoy was not officially registered as a formal coalition. It is to be treated as merely a “tagline”. So as far as having a formal platform on which to launch their candidates, I went to the Liberal Party website where the Team PNoy candidates are hosted.

Here I found very little regarding the legislative agenda the administration is presenting to the people. All that I found was the same old “platform” that the LP took to the electorate in 2010, which is really a kind of “party principles” or motherhood statements. There really isn’t any detailed policy agenda here.

Three years after taking charge of Malacañang Palace, I was expecting a bit more. If we as voters are being told to treat these elections as a referendum on PNoy’s presidency, there should at least be a list of his achievements and what he plans to carry forward towards the remainder of his term in office, with the team that bears his name.

I then did a web search of UNA (United Nationalist Alliance), the only officially registered coalition with the Comelec, an alliance comprised of the parties headed by the vice president, the senate president and a former president. Again I was disappointed, as all I found was a Facebook page with a brief mission and description of the coalition. It does not really provide any detailed platform or policies for the 2013 election.

So in terms of providing a detailed set of platforms, both major coalitions failed to even provide some kind of agenda for the Filipino people. That speaks volumes about our political system.

Next, I decided to go to the political parties that comprise these major coalitions. I already went to the Liberal Party’s website, as mentioned above. I then decided to visit the website of the Nacianalista Party (NP), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the Partido ng Demokratikong Piliono-Laban (PDP-Laban) and the Partido ng Masang Pilino (PMP). It was a dead end as most of these sites were empty shells or sites for their party heads. The NP site had some information regarding their three nominees, but most of the content was on the spouse of its president (the spouse is running to join him in the senate) and the foundation which they run.

Makabayan, which is fielding one senatorial candidate (it has dissolved its alliance with the NP), probably has the most detailed policy platform of all the major parties competing in this election. Their 10-point platform is discussed in detail in a document that you can download from their site.

The Democratic Party of the Philippines website contains a 12-point agenda that its three candidates support. Very little detail however is provided on this platform.

Ang Kapatiran’s website provides voters with their stand on 5 major issues, reproductive health, gun control, pork barrel, political dynasties and freedom of information. It also provides detailed policy positions on each of these issues. It also has a 50-point plan for the nation. It is fielding three candidates.

I couldn’t find anything on the Social Justice Society, which is fielding one candidate.

As far as I can tell from this quick web search, it is the alternative political parties which are more serious about developing policy platforms from which to launch their candidates. It is perhaps a sad feature of our democracy that the parties that respect voters enough by providing them with detailed information about their platforms are the ones lagging behind in the polls.

Undeterred by this dismal outcome, I then decided to look at the individual candidates themselves and here I found a bit more information regarding their policy stances and platforms. Off hand, I found eleven (UPDATE: as of 14 March 2013, it is now fourteen) who have outlined some sort of platform. These are Bam Aquino, Chiz EscuderoRisa HontiverosLoren Legarda and Koko Pimentel of Team PNoy, JV Ejercito, Gringo HonasanErnesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri of UNA, Teddy Casiño of Makabayan, and Greco Belgica of the DPP. (UPDATE: to this list we can now add Sonny Angara, Jack Enrile and Peter Cayetano)

I am not saying the other candidates don’t have platforms. They might not have released them yet or published them online. A lot of candidates have policy positions or advocacies listed on their personal pages. Some incumbent or former legislators provide detailed information regarding their priority bills. So the implied message here is that we should re-elect them based on their previous performance. It is preferable that they tell us why we should re-elect them. What is the work that remains for them to complete?

The absence of consolidated party platforms puts the burden of selecting the candidates based on their individual platforms onto the voter. This is made even harder by the scant or incomplete information that can be found regarding their positions and personal legislative agenda.  The following is a run-down of what I found on the individual candidates.

Team PNoy

  1. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Jr – has a website that provides his profile and accomplishments as a legislator in the lower house. At the bottom of his home page, there is a video clip labelled, “Agenda ni Rep. Sonny Angara sa Senado” from a TV interview presumably, but it was not working at the time of this publication. (Update: he has been steadily updating his site with news from the trail which details his legislative agenda.)
  2. Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV – from his Facebook page you can read his policy prescriptions for encouraging entrepreneurship and skills matching. There are a few news releases which feature his statements and advocacies.
  3. Allan Peter Cayetano – has a Facebook page which shows him going out into the community but provides very little in terms of the sort of laws he has either sponsored as a senator or plans to push for if re-elected. (UPDATE: he has recently launched his platform here)
  4. Francis “Chiz”Escurdero – buried deep in his website is a 7-point agenda with no date.
  5. Risa Hontiveros – has Facebook page which provides some of her recent policy pronouncements particularly on making healthcare “more universal” and that of her Akbayan partylist members.
  6. Loren Legarda – has a website that lists her advocacies in the form of a useful acronym called L.O.R.E.N. From here you can read the sort of bills she has filed as senator some of which have been turned into law.
  7. Jamby Madrigal – has a website which details her policy stance on a number of issues and her past accomplishments as a senator. There is a non-functioning tab on her site for “Platform”.
  8. Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay, Jr. – does not have a web presence, but his profile in the senate website provides his bio and his legislative agenda while serving there.
  9. Aquilino “Koko”Pimentel III – has a Facebook page which provides some policy positions the senator has taken on infrastructure and governance.
  10. Grace Poe Llamanzares – has a Facebook page which does not really provide much in terms of a legislative agenda or her position on any relevant policy issues.
  11. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV – has a website  which provides information on the bills and resolutions he filed in two sessions of congress and some policy, research material mostly on national security issues which date back to 2001 and 2002.
  12. Cynthia Villar – has a website which details her accomplishments as a congresswoman and as the head of the Villar Foundation. Very little in terms of policy detail on how she intends to pursue her tagline “Hanep Buhay”.

UNA

  1. Nancy Binay – as a colleague from this site has said, she does not have a web presence at all.
  2. Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco – has a Facebook page which shows her two video advertisements. Unfortunately, apart from the endorsements of her three celebrity daughters and a few throw away lines about her advocacy, there is hardly any detail regarding what she plans to push for as senator.
  3. JV Ejercito – has a website which lists a 13-point agenda which the mayor of San Juan plans to pursue in the senate.
  4. Jack Enrile – has a Facebook page which contains a video of his campaign speech. He details the problem of hunger which he intends to focus on and nominates the bill he sponsored as congressman, which he claims will address it.
  5. Richard “Dick” Gordon – has a web Facebook page, but has very little information about why he is running.
  6. Gregoria “Gringo” Honasan – has a website which lists his platform as senator.
  7. Ernesto Maceda – has a website which lists a 13-point agenda which the former senate president intends to pursue if returned to the senate.
  8. Mitos Magsaysay – has an “official Facebook fanpage” which shows her touring as a candidate, but there does not seem to be any content devoted to policy detail.
  9. Miguel “Migz” Zubiri – has a website which details his platform around five themes.

Other parties/candidates

  1. Sammy Alcantara (Social Justice Society) – has a Facebook page, which contains a short video clip in which he answers a few shallow media questions, nothing with regards to policies.
  2. Greco Belgica  (Democratic Party of the Philippines) – has a four-point platform found in an image in his Facebook page.
  3. Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño (Makabayan) – has a website which contains a platform and policy positions on several issues.
  4. Lito Yap David (Kapatiran) – has a Facebook page but has nothing about his candidacy.
  5. Baldomero Falcone (Democratic Party of the Philippines) – has a Facebook page with hardly anything on it.
  6. Edward Hagedorn (Independent) – has a website but the vision and initiatives shown there deal with the city of Puerto Princesa where he is the mayor.
  7. Mars Llasos (Kapatiran) – has a blog  which seems to be regularly updated.
  8. Ricardo Penson (Independent) – has a Facebook page which shows his anti-political dynasty advocacy. It seems he is campaigning mainly on this issue.
  9. John Carlos “JC” delos Reyes (Kapatiran) – has a Facebook page with no platform or policy positions.
  10. Christian Señeres (DPP) – has a Facebook page which has a video which shows his profile as a former partylist lawmaker and some policy positions.
  11. Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas) – has a website but it does not contain a platform or policy positions of any kind.

I am happy to be proven wrong. So should any of the candidates or their representatives wish to make corrections to this, the Comments page is most welcome for them to do so.

 

On Youth and Social Media: A Deck of Practical LOLcats

Fresh Look: The Role of Youth in Nation Building
Public Relations Student Society of the Philippines
August 29, 2012, 1:00-4:00PM
NTTC-HP Auditorium
University of the Philippines Manila

On Youth and Social Media: A Deck of Practical LOLcats

[SLIDE 1] Members and officers of the Public Relations Student Society of the Philippines, fellow speakers, students, teachers, and friends, good afternoon.

I’m from The Pro Pinoy Project, and we run a commentary web site that we envision to be a kind of global community center for all things Pinoy. I’ve been asked to speak a bit about “how the youth is utilizing social media […] in nation-building and how it is used as a medium to promote nation-building in social youth”. As the title of my presentation indicates, I’ve decided to structure my talk today around a series of image macros that are called LOLcats, which ought to be familiar to you. For the benefit of those who might not be, a LOLcat [SLIDE 2] is a picture of a cat accompanied by text that is usually wrong in terms of grammar and spelling—at least in standard English. In kitty English, which has its own rules too, the caption is perfectly correct.

Lest you be tempted to not take any of this seriously, LOLcats have already become the subject of critical academic attention in the form of a dissertation submitted to the London School of Economics. Media planner Kate Miltner, who wrote the study as part of the requirements for a Master of Science degree in Media and Communications, says, “Even if LOLCats were just a collection of silly cat pictures, they would have value simply because they, as [one of my study participants] said, make life easier. [SLIDE 3] But, as this study has shown, LOLCats are much more than that. They are a venue through which people express their emotions, connect to their loved ones, and define group identity. This not only gives them value; it makes them important.”

According to Miltner, the LOLcat is widely considered to be the “archetypal Internet meme”, and its enduring appeal, if nothing else, makes it remarkable, considering how short-lived its siblings tend to be. The LOLcat has been around for nearly a decade, and its origin can be traced at least as far back to the 2005 tradition of “Caturday” that was propagated by users of the imageboard 4Chan, the source of numerous other Internet memes. The main idea that I would like to put across with my use of LOLcats today is that the Internet functions as both a condition and a limit for human ingenuity, especially when we consider the Philippine social media situation—an idea that I will build on over the course of this presentation by making six key points. I don’t imagine that any of them will be especially original or surprising, but there is value to be had in reminding ourselves from time to time about what we already know—even, perhaps especially, the patently obvious.

[SLIDE 4]

1.    The social mediascape is still a small world.

One of the more exciting and disturbing effects of social media is how it has flattened the world. Politicians, bureaucrats, civil society leaders, advocates, journalists, celebrities, and organizations are now all as easy to reach as one’s friends and relatives, if not easier. The potential significance of social media conversations lies precisely in this unprecedented level of access to highly influential and powerful people. After all, if you manage to catch the attention of enough of them, you can speed up the dissemination of crucial information to the right parties, which could then have the effect of ensuring that said information will be acted upon. An example would be the coordination of rescue and relief operations during the recent flooding brought about by the monsoon rains—the nameless weather phenomenon that brought such devastation to several parts of the country earlier this month. If you were on Twitter or Facebook during this time, then you probably noticed a sort of purposive frenzy in the sharing of hotline numbers, the use of unified hashtags, the classification of calls for help into topical databases, and the creation of specialized maps, all made possible through the efforts of both public figures and ordinary citizens.

We must not be misled, however: Internet users in the Philippines make up less than a third of the entire population, are mostly young and concentrated in urban centers, and tend to be from the middle and upper classes. A majority of these users don’t even have private access to the Internet—the Internet café is still the place from which they are able to enter cyberspace. The circumstances are evolving, of course, but there are structural limitations. The costs of electricity, of computer hardware and software, and of computer literacy, among others, mean that, insofar as social media are concerned, there are at least 63 million Filipinos whose needs and dreams, which may be vastly different from ours, are not being heard, much less considered. Philippine society in general is seamed and raddled with various inequities, and this includes what has been referred to as the digital divide.

[SLIDE 5]

2.    Social networking sites and blogs, compared to other forms of media, do not enjoy high levels of public trust.

Because few have access to the Internet, the low levels of public trust accorded to social networking sites and blogs shouldn’t be unexpected. It’s worth adding that it’s through these two channels that a lot of misleading data tends to spread. While social media may be democratized media, the absence of a central authority and the lack of a system—not to mention the will—for verification, fosters an information ecology that is particularly hospitable to misquotations, distortions, rumors, and downright false claims. For instance, during the same week or so of monsoon rains that I mentioned earlier, a number of people spread around photographs of the destruction caused by Ondoy in 2009 without identifying them as such. There are also a number of bloggers who are attempting to practice what is called “citizen journalism”, but, as with mainstream media, clear editorial guidelines and a basic sense of responsibility for the sorts of stories that are published are fundamental to credibility.

[SLIDE 6]

3.    The majority of people online are there to seek out entertainment.

Music, videos, and images are the types of content that are preferred by most Internet users—they’re not thinking so much about nation-building as about how cute, or funny, or weird, this cat is. (The sheer preponderance of pictures and clips featuring adorable animals on the Internet—I’m partial to pandas myself—sometimes makes me wish that such materials had some sort of miraculous, cancer-curing, poverty-eliminating, world-saving power.) Factor in the whole kit and caboodle of content designed chiefly to amuse, such as remixes, covers, parodies, and yes, memes, and it’s not hard to conclude that human beings have way too much time on their hands than they know how to spend productively—some of them, anyway. Further militating against the creation and popularization of serious, finely nuanced, and well-researched content are the difficulty of reading on a computer and a seeming aversion among Internet users to posts that can’t easily be skimmed over or summed up in a glance, especially long texts.

[SLIDE 7]

4.    The use of social media may tend to hamper empathy and critical thought.

Social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter can give rise to the impression that one is the center of a thoroughly customizable universe, made up of mechanisms and populated by beings that have no other purpose than to bend to one’s will. After all, it’s a ridiculously simple matter to make or unmake relationships, especially ones begun online. These same platforms also induce many to perform their lives with a degree of constancy and self-consciousness never before seen in the human story. A few psychological studies have suggested that there could be a connection between the use of social media and increased self-absorption, exhibitionism, and narcissism, and there is at least anecdotal evidence to support such a view: consider, for example, the recent outpouring of idiotic, savage, and violent hatred against Robert Blair Carabuena, the motorist who slapped MMDA traffic enforcer Saturnino Fabros over the course of a heated argument. Carabuena was clearly in the wrong, but that doesn’t justify the calls for his death that certain netizens made and, sadly, continue to make.

[SLIDE 8]

5.    A social media conversation doesn’t just need voices—it needs value.

Because social media platforms perpetually invite us to broadcast to the world at large what we’re thinking and doing, we may feel compelled or entitled—perhaps both—to crank out opinions on every possible topic and issue as quickly as we can. That doesn’t mean we should give in to the impulse. As exhilarating as rapid-fire exchanges might be, a good number of social media conversations—assuming they can even be called that—are about as useless as a floppy disk at a file-sharing party, if not more, because the participants are poorly informed or insufficiently open-minded, particularly when the discussions revolve around public affairs. Just because we enjoy freedom of expression doesn’t mean we should weigh in on absolutely everything, as doing so could merely contribute to the propagation of ignorance and the lowering of the level of discourse. The debate over the Reproductive Health Bill, for instance, is not helped by the extreme positions taken by certain factions within the groups that are for and against the controversial piece of legislation—in lots of places online, what debate there may be comes in the form of shouting matches in which the opponents regularly trade barbs and taunts.

[SLIDE 9]

6.    We cannot change a world that we do not live in.

While social media could eventually become indispensable to disaster response here at home, and have proven beneficial to diverse movements for change all over the planet, whatever information we’re able to access as a result of these tools is worthless unless we act upon it in the much larger realm beyond the screen. It is helpful to look back at the lives of our national heroes, whom we paid tribute to last Monday, or that of recently departed Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo, whose tragic death we still mourn, and bear in mind that they were able to accomplish great things without the technologies that we are privileged to enjoy today.

I would also like to emphasize that we are human beings, not bits of data, and that we should strenuously resist any and all attempts to reduce our selves and our relationships to crude arrangements of bios and profiles, likes and favorites, followers and friends. “Only connect” is the famous epigraph with which the British writer E. M. Forster opens his masterful novel Howards End, but of course he did not mean “Only add friend” or “Only follow”. If we are interested in transforming lives for the better, in remaking society in the image of our highest ideals, in building a nation upon a bedrock of freedom, justice, and peace, then we must learn to connect with, which is to say live in, the world, which brims with more difficulty, complexity, and mystery than can ever be domesticated and mediated by any device, no matter how wondrous, sophisticated, or advanced.

Thank you.

Some notes on digitizing social change

What follows is a modified version of a talk that I, on behalf of The Pro Pinoy Project, delivered last 20 February 2012 at Saint Louis University, Baguio City, as one of the resource speakers for the Digital Technology for Social Change: Creating Impact in a Networked Society seminar series, a project of the British Council Philippines.

My fellow speakers were Niña Terol-Zialcita, Micheline Rama, and JP Alipio. Members of the British Council Global Changemakers network, namely Jecel CensoroJoseph MansillaAnna Oposa, Dwight Ronan, and Ponce Samaniego, also talked about their respective advocacy projects.

Some Notes on Digitizing Social Change

Good morning. Thank you to the British Council Philippines and Saint Louis University for having me here, and to all the participants for the gift of your presence—or your tele-presence, for those of you watching the live stream of this session.

That the Internet has brought about, and will continue to bring about, wide and sweeping changes all over the planet would appear to be a matter already beyond question. In 2006, the print edition of TIME’s annual Person of the Year issue bore a shiny, reflective panel on its cover—the reason being that the Person of the Year was “You”. Lev Grossman, explaining the choice, wrote that one of the stories of 2006 was a “story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes”.

Grossman was referring to the dramatic impact brought about by Web 2.0, an umbrella term, that, following Prashant Sharma, covers online services that were built to facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, crowd-sourcing, and collaboration. And while Grossman did warn against romanticizing Web 2.0—despairing at, among other things, the hatred and the lack of spelling skills that many of its users seemed to have in abundance—he nevertheless asserted that it gave rise to the “opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person”.

Regardless of whether “You” was the right pick, it is worth pointing out that succeeding Person of the Year issues saw TIME recognizing people who, without the Internet, might not have otherwise been thus acknowledged. In 2008, the magazine selected Barack Obama, whose successful campaign to be the President of the United States of America was driven in no insignificant way by online support. In 2010, the recognition went to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of an immensely popular social networking company—you may have heard of it: it’s called Facebook, and it recently filed for an initial public offering (IPO) worth USD5 billion. Last year, TIME chose “The Protester” in view of the massive demonstrations that—with the help of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, among other tools—were organized and still roil across the globe: in Europe and North America, in the Middle East and North Africa.

Given the theme of this seminar series—“Digital Media for Social Change: Creating Impact in a Networked Society”—it might be the aforementioned protests that spring to mind when we, with an eye to our own history of revolutions, try to imagine what can be done in the Philippines today. Using digital media, can we bring about positive social change? Or—to paraphrase from the preamble of our Constitution, a document which is supposed to be an expression of our collective will as the sovereign Filipino people—using digital media, can we promote the common good? Conserve and develop our patrimony? Share and enjoy the blessings of independence and democracy? Establish a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace?

Yes. Yes, of course. If I didn’t believe that, I would never have come before you to speak at this forum. (Incidentally, the girl in the picture has “optimistic” written across her hand in Arabic.) And yet the previous questions were more than merely rhetorical ones. Social change must always be understood as taking place within specific constraints, and especially so when we seek change by digital means in these islands. Such constraints cannot simply be conquered or transcended by sheer force of will—they form part of the unavoidable “social thickness” that must be lived through and negotiated with.

It hardly needs saying that I am not a Luddite: I own a mobile phone, a laptop computer, and an e-reading device; I have been a user of the Internet since the late 1990s, a time when a connection speed of 56 kilobytes per second—torturously slow by contemporary standards—was considered acceptable; I have been blogging intermittently since 2001, starting with Blogger.com, when it hadn’t yet been acquired by Google; and I spend several hours a day online chatting with friends, looking at pictures, watching videos, reading articles, and broadcasting banalities via social media platforms.

My stance as regards the Internet, however, is principally a cautious one. I am wary, even skeptical, of the various claims that are being made for it, verging as some of these claims do on what I would call “digital evangelism”: a zealous, fanatical conviction in the transformative power of digital technology in general, and the Internet in particular.  We must remember that the Internet is a relatively new development in the human story, and while many a commentator has declared that it will rival and eventually dwarf the printing press in terms of cultural impact, much of its potential, particularly in the Philippines, remains exactly that: potential. Digital change-makers who lose sight of this risk being engulfed by narcissistic self-regard.

All the same, you would not be ill-advised to take my words—as the fantasy writer George R. R. Martin might put it—well-salted. It may interest you to know that one of the first skeptics about technology was Socrates.  In Phaedrus, the Greek philosopher tells his titular interlocutor a story about the Egyptian god Theuth, who is credited with the invention of arithmetic, calculation, geometry, astronomy, draughts, dice, and, most importantly, the use of letters, or a system of writing. Theuth, desiring to make these inventions available for other Egyptians to use and benefit from, pays a visit to another god, Thamus, who is king over all Egypt, to show and explain each of the things that he has made. When they come to the letters, Theuth says that writing “will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit”.

Thamus replies with a gentle rebuke: “O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

Socrates was not completely wrong about writing—certainly it had some of the effects on knowledge and memory that he had feared—but he could not have foreseen this: the world that the written word had made possible, as well as its attendant wonders, not least of which is our ability to revisit his thoughts, precisely because they had been written down by Plato.

The first part of my presentation is derived from an ongoing, if not entirely systematic, process of research into and reflection upon digital media and the ways by which it is reshaping our lives and labors, and my primary objective here is to raise to the surface questions and concerns that I hope will help all of us to gain a greater awareness of the context that we inhabit, and a better appreciation of the possibilities for action. The second part of my presentation deals with The Pro Pinoy Project, the organization that I represent, and some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for what may be called “participatory journalism”.

I will begin by drawing up a map of the local digital mediascape. The nature of a map is such that it is necessarily incomplete, and mine is a very partial one that focuses on the Internet, but I hope it will be sufficiently illustrative of some of the issues and limits that we must contend with.

Let’s talk about infrastructure.

Sometime last year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a publication via its web site called Measuring the Information Society 2011, which features two tools that are used to monitor developments in information and communication technology (ICT) worldwide: first, the ICT Development Index, which tracks indictors pertaining to ICT access, use, and skills in a given economy, and then rates that economy on a scale of one to ten; and second, the ICT Price Basket, which considers the costs of fixed-telephone, mobile-cellular, and fixed-broadband Internet services vis-à-vis the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of a given economy.

 According to the latest findings by the ITU, how did the Philippines fare? With regard to the ICT Development Index, our country got 3.22 out of 10, ranking 16th out of the 27 economies classified as belonging to the Asia and the Pacific region, and 92nd out of all the 152 economies that had been included in the study. As for the ICT Price Basket, the ITU computed that the composite cost of ICT services in the Philippines was about 9.2% of the per capita GNI, based on a GNI of USD2,050. As a point of comparison, consider that the top 28 countries included in the study have composite costs of less than 1% of the per capita GNI.

The situation is not much better for the global majority.  As the ITU remarked, “Despite […] encouraging trends, as at end 2010, some 70% of the world’s population (and almost 80% of the developing countries’ population) were not yet using the Internet, and even fewer via a broadband connection.”

 Another study of interest that came out online the year before is the Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011, which is a collaborative effort between the World Economic Forum and INSEAD. The report measures the degree to which countries are leveraging ICT for enhanced competitiveness using the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), which uses a scale of one to seven. The NRI is composed of three sub-indices, and each of these sub-indices is calculated using a particular set of indicators.

The overall networked readiness of our country is 3.6 out of 7, with a rank of 68th out of 138 economies. For the Environment Sub-index, which gauges the market environment, the political and regulatory environment, and the infrastructure environment of a given economy with reference to innovation and ICT development, we got 3.5 out of 7, ranking 94th. For the Readiness Sub-index, which contemplates the readiness of individuals, businesses, and governments to use technology, especially ICT, in their day-to-day activities and operations, we got 3.9 out of 7, ranking 99th. For the Usage Sub-index, which measures the actual ICT usage by the main social sectors of an economy, we got 3.3 out of 7, ranking 71st.

At the risk of oversimplifying, what these two reports tell us is something that we may already suspect, if not know: the Internet in the Philippines is poorly developed and very expensive.

The Global Information Technology Report also includes a number of papers from contributors, including a team from management consulting firm Booz & Company.  Entitled, “Building Communities around Digital Highways”, the authors, led by Karim Sabbagh, make a case for the need for digital highways, which they define as “nationwide high-speed broadband enabled by a combination of fixed as well as wireless networks”, and evaluate their current state. They argue that, “[a]ccelerating the deployment of digital highways and deriving their full benefits […] requires fundamental changes in vision and action throughout the entire broadband ecosystem”, which means that policymakers, operators, device manufacturers, application developers, and other stakeholders should be actively involved in what they call the “broadband ecosystem” . Furthermore, those in the broadband ecosystem must also reach out and collaborate actively with adjacent ecosystems, such as health care, education, and energy, in order to help them maximize digital highways and the advantages these highways can offer each sector.

Obviously, one entity with an important role to play in establishing the broadband ecosystem is our government , so it bears asking what sort of “vision and action” we can expect from it. I will go over three pertinent aspects of the government framework for the Internet.

Last June 29, 2011, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), headed by chairman Ivan John Uy, launched the Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) 2011-2016, a five-year plan that professes to be animated by a vision of “a digitally empowered, innovative, globally competitive and prosperous society where everyone has reliable, affordable and secure information access in the Philippines”; “a government that practices accountability and excellence to provide responsive online citizen-centered services”; and “a thriving knowledge economy through public-private partnership”.

Can the PDS, in fact, be able to facilitate the realization of these grand goals? Pro Pinoy editor-in-chief Cocoy Dayao doesn’t believe so, and has suggested in a post that the PDS be scrapped—a point that I agree with, as careful scrutiny of the PDS would reveal that is concerned chiefly with establishing a broadband network for the government, and does not establish clear directions for how to deal with issues that directly affect the growth and proliferation of digital technology, such as the cost of electricity in the country, which, according to an October 2010 study by think tank International Energy Consultants, is the highest in Asia. Of course, any discussion of the merits and demerits of the PDS would seem to be useless at this point, because six days before the plan was launched, President Aquino, by way of Executive Order No. 47, virtually dissolved the CICT: the issuance renamed the commission as the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) and placed it under the Department of Science and Technology, a move that several BPO companies protested. To what extent the ICTO is implementing the PDS, if at all, is not very clear. The administration has said that it does want to set up a national broadband network (NBN), but it will not happen this year, as Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary has said there is no allocation for it yet. And of course, the very concept of an NBN is still politically sensitive—some of you may recall the NBN-ZTE scandal that erupted during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Another matter that I would like to bring up is National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Memorandum Order (MO) 07-07-2011 .

Let me talk about the context of this order briefly. An issue that had several quarters of the Internet community last year up in arms early last year was a proposed order from the NTC that, while requiring telcos to set a minimum guaranteed speed for connections, would have allowed them to impose bandwidth caps on its subscribers, too—ostensibly on “network abuse” and “anti-piracy” grounds, neither of which holds up under inspection. With reference to “network abuse”, it is simply too vague a term that readily lent itself to abuse by self-interested service providers, thus punishing consumers who simply wish to maximize what they are paying for—which for not a few might mean playing games on Facebook, watching videos on YouTube, and publicizing every stray thought on Twitter 24 hours a day, but there is nothing wrong with any of that. As regards “anti-piracy” concerns, let’s face it: no amount of data restriction could truly be used as a tool to further the cause of “anti-piracy”, because capping would only make piracy slower, not impossible. Several of our writers covered this issue quite thoroughly, and one of them, Pierre Tito Galla, drafted a position paper that was circulated among concerned Internet users before being submitted to the NTC for consideration, as well as published in Pro Pinoy.

Fortunately, as a result of the public outcry, the NTC decided against implementing the aforementioned order. What it issued instead, some months later, was MO 07-07-2011. In some ways, though MO 07-07-2011 looks better than the prior proposal, it is still “ampaw”, as Galla put it in a post. He remarks that while MO 07-07-2011 does require transparency in billing, provide for a minimum monthly service reliability level of 80%, and give Internet service providers (ISPs) flexibility in terms of packaging and pricing their products, it is deficient in terms of the following: it does not provide effectively for pre-paid Internet connectivity, given that reliability is measured on a monthly basis; it does not require service reliability to be measured at the subscriber end; it is silent on data volume capping, despite the NTC asserting that it could regulate broadband services, meaning that telcos, which consider broadband a value-added service, can still impose unreasonable limits; and it does not compel ISPs to establish customer-friendly mechanisms for getting rebates in case the minimum service reliability level is not met. (If you’ve ever had to complain to your ISP about poor service, like I have, you know how absolutely hellish the experience can be—so much so that sometimes the problem almost seems to be your fault all along, starting with the decision to subscribe.)

Allow me now to discuss a recent legislative development . The Senate recently passed Senate Bill No. 2796, which is entitled the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and has Sen. Edgardo Angara as its principal sponsor. While the bill may be well-intentioned, it suffers from a number of significant flaws, some of which I will identify.

First, the bill, as Sen. TG Guingona pointed out when he voted against it—the only senator to do so—“legislates morality” when it defines cybersex as a crime in this manner: the “willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration”. Evidently this provision is designed such that law enforcers can go after operators of cybersex dens, which unfortunately are burgeoning in the Philippines. Note, however, the qualifying phrase: “for favor or consideration”. If we were to compare it to, say, the definition of prostitution under Republic Act No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which is “any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person by another, for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money, profit or any other consideration”, then doesn’t the provision in the bill appear stricter, because broader? “For favor or consideration” and “for money, profit, or any other consideration” do not mean the same thing.

Second, the bill affirms that acts of libel, as set forth in the Revised Penal Code, can be committed in cyberspace. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that our libel law is rather medieval. A case in point: the United Nations Committee on Human Rights ruled in October 2011 that the penalization of journalist Alex Adonis for libel constituted a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adonis was imprisoned after he lost a defamation suit against former House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

Third, the bill has no provisions that pertain to stalking, bullying, or harassing people in cyberspace, which means that these acts, regardless of duration or degree, would be perfectly legal in the event that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is passed into law.

Do our leaders really understand what goes on in cyberspace? I myself am not sure, and it’s a question worth thinking about, because the decisions that our officials make will have an impact—positive or otherwise—on all of us who use the Internet.

 Who are we that will be affected? Who are the Filipino netizens?

The figures I will be citing during the next several slides come from Digital Philippines 2011: Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index Highlights, a study that was conducted in 22 major cities, including Metro Manila, among 1,500 male and female users, aged 10 and above, across socio-economic classes.

Let’s start with geographic distribution . In the period covered by the report, only 30% of people in national urban Philippines used the Internet in the past month, with 26% in Luzon, 30% in Visayas, and 17% in Mindanao. In Metro Manila, the figure is 43%, while in Cebu and Davao, the figures are 34% and 37%, respectively.

 In terms of age, Internet usage was highest among those aged between 10 and 19 (53%) and between 20 and 29 (43%). Among 30- to 39-year-olds, it was 21%. Among 40- to 49-year-olds, it was 11%. And among those aged 50 and above, it was 3%.

 Where are people accessing the Internet? There are several options, of course, but the dominant option is the Internet café at 66%, nearly double that of the next option, the home, at 35%. Other places of access, such as school or work, have an aggregate of 13%.

 With regard to socio-economic class, usage was highest, unsurprisingly, among classes A, B, and C, at 66%. Among users in class C2, it was 53%, and among users in classes D and E, it was 24%.

These findings tie in with what the social scientist Raul Pertierra pointed out in “The new media and politics? Or the politics of new media?”, a paper that was published in the 2010 anthology The Politics of Change in the Philippines . There, Pertierra said, “With the exception of class, cellphone and Internet use in the Philippines is comparatively neutral. […] Class is the main impediment to a more equitable access to the new media […]”

To put it more starkly: at least 70% of Filipinos have no Internet access.  I say “at least”, because the Yahoo!-Nielsen study focused on urban areas. When we try to think about using the Internet as a means for bringing about social change, we have to remember that we are not reaching a significant majority of our fellow Filipinos: at present, 63 million of them—assuming a conservative population figure of 90 million—are not online.

 What about those who are online? What can we know about their patterns of behavior?

 In terms of content, the five most preferred types are: international music at 68%; local music at 65%; interesting photos and videos at 59%; games at 56%; and technology and gadgets at 55%.

 The top five online activities are: social networking at 82%; search at 80%; instant messaging at 69%; visiting Internet portals at 67%; and visiting public chat rooms at 65%.

The fact that Yahoo!-Nielsen identifies social networking as the top online activity is interesting to juxtapose with data from Wave 3 and Wave 4, which are studies on social media that were undertaken by Universal McCann in 2008 and 2009, respectively. If we put together the numbers from these two latter pieces of research , we find that the social media activities done most frequently by Filipinos are: watching videos at 98.1%; reading blogs at 90.0%; uploading photos at 86.4%; creating a profile on a new social network at 83.1%; and uploading videos at 67.5%.

What should we make of these numbers? When we go online, most of us aren’t there to promote a cause or to advance an agenda, to research for class or to do work—we’re there primarily to amuse ourselves: we listen to music, watch videos, and interact with friends. This preoccupation with entertainment isn’t necessarily bad, of course, but it is something that we do have to bear in mind.

British Council Philippines Digital Technology for Social Change

 One point that I hope should be abundantly clear by now, after all those statistics, is the existence of what is referred to as the digital divide, which is not so much a single chasm as a series of gaps between the Filipinos who are privileged enough to have access to the Internet—which includes us who are gathered here now—and the Filipinos who are not similarly privileged: gaps in knowledge, in literacy, in resources, and in power.  We should ask ourselves, then, whenever we access the great fund of information that is the Internet, how we are using our privilege, and why.

In 1980, the year that Polish poet Czesław Milosz  was hailed as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, he intoned what seems to be both observation and warning during his Nobel lecture—one that is even more germane today: “Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.”

Whether that is true could well be debatable.  It is more difficult, however, to dispute what technology writer Nicholas Carr has said: “As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our ‘intellectual technologies’ […] we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies.” Or, as the Jesuit John Culkin put it more succinctly, “We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us.”

Perhaps, before asking how we can use digital technology to change the world, we should ask how that same technology is changing us. While some of these changes may be for the better, I’m sure all of us are aware of disturbing behaviors that appear to be specific to cyberspace, and my contention is that these are not isolated incidents, but symptomatic of larger problems to which the Internet tends to contribute or exacerbate as medium, and against which we must guard. I will cite two examples.

 Take, for instance, mobbing.  I’m sure all of you know who this guy is: he’s Christopher Lao, who was caught on video by a media outfit trying to drive his car through a flooded street. He failed in the attempt, and his car wound up floating in the water for a while. He immediately became an online sensation when, in reply to an unaired question from the reporter, he cried, “I was not informed”, as he looked like a spoiled brat whining about a thus far inevitable Philippine reality. Vicious comments and hate pages proliferated at dizzying speed online.

His critics neglected to ask some questions, however.

Why did Lao take such a foolish risk? It turned out that he had been rushing home to be with his young daughter, because his wife was stranded in her office.

More crucially: how was that footage taken to begin with? The existence of the video proves that members of the media outfit were present at the scene. Did they think to warn Lao from proceeding down the street? Did they try?

 In any case, as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said, “[Apart] from sharing the news, people had started to call Lao names—used rude and/or insulting words to describe him and the incident—in other words, a clear abuse of social media.”

Another example:  failing to exercise critical thinking. The Mosquito Press, a satirical news site, released a story saying that a Harvard study had named Filipinos the most gullible people in the world—a story that was promptly picked up and treated as genuine by no less than a professional writer, The Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa. This set off a round of much-deserved scorn from several quarters for Pedrosa, but she was unapologetic: in her next column, she declared that it was still true that Filipinos are generally gullible, and her citing the spurious study was precisely to make that point . Manuel Buencamino, another of Pro Pinoy’s writers, had this to say in response: “I’m still in pain from the steaming hot coffee I blew through my nose after I read her column and the ‘correction’ she made the following day.”

 While we’re on the subject of thinking, we might as well ask: How is Internet changing our brains—not only metaphorically, in the sense of the “mind”, but also physiologically? There is quite a lot of literature on the subject, but one paper that I think is worth mentioning was written by child development scholars Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Barzillai.  In “The Importance of Deep Reading”, Wolf and Barzillai redeploy Aristotle’s concept of three lives to talk about how the transition from a print culture to a digital one affects learning. In their view, society at present is able to pursue the life of activity and the life of enjoyment, and the digital learner is well-suited to both these lives. The life of contemplation, however, in spite of its increasingly diminished place in contemporary life, is also important, and is vital to what they call deep reading—“the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection, and insight”—which encourages deep thought, and in turn leads to the formation and development of structures in the brain that would otherwise not be so formed or developed. A world that makes no room for the life of contemplation, then, might be one filled with individuals who are less analytical and less purposeful about the information that they encounter: perpetually distracted and easily deluded.  As Wolf says in her book, Proust and the Squid, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.”

Of course the dangers of distraction and delusion are already very much with us: ours is the age of information overload. And while information can be empowering , it is not always so—mere possession of information does not guarantee action or transformation: an issue that was recognized long before our time. Cultural critic Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, his famous book on—or rather, against—television, locates a watershed in history with the invention of telegraphy, saying that the from this point forward, the information-action ratio of people began to become problematic : “For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.”  For instance, we are bombarded daily, offline and online, by tidbits of data such as what X celebrity was wearing an outfit by Y designer at Z event, but are these things we have to know? Should we care?  Can this information be acted upon in a meaningful way? The Internet has served to increase by leaps and bounds the amount of information we are exposed to, but so much of it is simply distracting—however one understands the Internet to be, it is also, by design, a gigantic distraction machine that, in forcing us to respond—and quickly—to multiple stimuli every time we use it, makes us feel busy and productive even if we’re not actually accomplishing anything.

Henry David Thoreau made a relevant point in Walden when he said, “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”

As I said earlier, this part of presentation is derived from an ongoing process of research into and reflection upon digital media. This process was, in many respects, prompted by my experience with The Pro Pinoy Project, which I will now turn to and talk about.

Pro Pinoy began in late 2009 as a volunteer-run web site that was intended to achieve the goal of increasing public awareness of the national and local elections that took place in May 2010, with a particular focus on the hotly contested race for the presidency. It was propelled by the idea that the ballot is the most powerful tool with which the future of the country could be secured.

The site served as an online database of news articles and blog posts on issues of national significance, as well on the track records and promises of the presidential candidates. Over the course of compiling content for publication, we sought to curate the data that they had gathered, occasionally selecting reports that were important but had not received much attention in either the mainstream or new media arenas. Of course, the veritable flood of election-related information was too much for us to keep up with, and therefore updates were made irregularly.

Following the relatively successful conduct of the elections, we decided that the site could serve as more than just a vehicle for voter education. As crucial as this task was, elections occur only once every three years, and, in any case, voting is only one aspect of citizenship. Good citizens must also be sufficiently informed and involved in everyday politics so that they are ready to hold all public servants to their duties, responsibilities, and promises, participate in the contentious process of nation-building themselves, and inspire others to do the same.

We re-launched the site in July 2010, this time offering original, syndicated, or partner-provided content, still mostly on news and current affairs. In February 2011, we decided to go the official route, establishing Pro Pinoy as a non-stock, non-profit corporation.

Pro Pinoy is a very young organization—we turned a year old just a few days ago—but I’m happy to say we’ve managed to rack up a few accomplishments in the short time that we’ve been operating. We have a great team—I’m not saying that just because I’m part of it—producing excellent posts and have been able to form strategic partnerships with other groups. Some of the content that we’ve published, such as the position paper on the broadband capping issue I mentioned earlier, has been cited by mainstream media outfits, and we were recognized in 2010 by the Philippine Blog Awards as the winner in the Society, History, and Politics category. We’ve also managed to maintain a good level of site traffic, even on slow days, and have a fairly active, if not always pleasant, comments section.

Some of our future plans include: redesigning the site, which is ongoing; increasing our lifestyle content; exploring multimedia content options; participating in and facilitating seminars and workshops; and focusing on community news, and it is in that last area that I think all of us here will be able to collaborate: we would be more than happy to help you tell your stories about what is taking place in your neighborhood and your organization.

What exactly does Pro Pinoy do? We’re engaged in what has been called “participatory journalism”. In point of fact, there are several terms for this practice, such as “citizen journalism”, “guerrilla journalism”, “networked journalism”, “open source journalism”, and “street journalism”, and one question that might immediately spring to mind is, “Is it even journalism?” My answer: “At its best, yes, it is journalism.”

Participatory journalism is defined by media consultants Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis in their paper We Media as follows: “[It is] the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” This runs the gamut from taking part in a text poll to undertaking investigations of an issue, and marks a departure from the relatively linear news model, which involves a media organization, influenced to some degree by advertisers, filtering and packaging information first before delivering it via a platform, such as a newspaper or a television show, to a mass audience.

In theory, members of the audience have always been able to speak back. If I want to react to a story, I can write a letter to the editor or express my response with my remote control or my wallet. What makes participatory journalism interesting and exciting, however, are all the conversations that take place simultaneously throughout the discursive environment, allowing the community to make itself felt in shaping news agendas.

I want to make it clear that participatory journalism is not a second-rate, trying hard copycat of traditional journalism, but a very different model altogether—one that is more about complementing, rather than competing with, how the business of news is being carried out by mainstream outfits. (Most of you probably don’t recognize this because you’re too young—it’s a screen capture of the legendary scene in Bituing Walang Ningning, where Cherie Gil throws a glass of water into Sharon Cuneta’s face.)

What, then, is participatory journalism for? Why do it? It allows for a more collaborative and more transparent process of information-gathering, admits a wider range of views, and facilitates the creation of richer, more intimate stories and conversations—the information we receive takes on tones and textures that it might not otherwise have, and therefore the quality and relevance of such is potentially higher. It also fosters in us a stronger sense of responsibility and control over our world, which is critical to a vibrant democracy.

2010 was actually an important turning point for participatory journalism, because for the first time in Philippine history, the Commission on Elections issued accreditation IDs to bloggers and online media organizations covering the elections—a development paralleled by the candidates’ incorporation of a wide array of digital tools, including social media, into their respective campaigns.

The Internet, as I’ve already shown, is a highly limited platform, and thus little that was done there could be said to have had dramatic impact on the outcome of the polls, but as Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist John Nery observed, “[…] what online does very well, even in the Philippine setting, is to create buzz. It […] can certainly be used to create word of mouth, to pique public curiosity and interest, to drive old media coverage.”

The CMFR also weighed in, saying, “[The coverage of online sites] provided a deeper look into issues overlooked by the mainstream media [and] provided a holistic approach to understanding the 2010 elections by balancing the sensational reports with critical stories.”

The Internet, of course, has a long way to go before becoming a true game-changer: while a 2010 Pulse Asia survey conducted from February 21 to 25 showed that media was the most influential source of information in choosing a president (64%), the most influential medium was TV (56%).

It might be helpful at this juncture to go over some of the findings in a study conducted by communication consultancy firm EON, Inc. from May to June 2011. Called the “Philippine Trust Index”, it sought to measure the level of public trust in key institutions: the church, the government, private industries, non-government organizations, and the media.

Among the 500 respondents, 64% said that they trusted the media “Very Much” and “Somewhat Much”. Asked to express their trust in an array of media channels, the results (“Very Much” and “Somewhat Much”) were as follows: 74% for television; 68% for online news sites; 66% each for newspapers and radio; 47% for social networking sites; and 37% for blogs. The latter two figures present an obvious challenge for participatory journalism, which, after all, relies on and is generated by social networking sites and blogs.

What, according to the same study, are the key drivers of trust in media? Fifty-eight percent said truthfulness; 35% said adherence to fairness; 3% said balanced reporting of good and bad news; and 2% each said delivery of news with social relevance and other reasons. It does not seem unreasonable to infer, then, that barriers to trust for participatory journalism include lack of editorial oversight, unethical practices, and the refusal to take responsibility—barriers that are not unrelated to the problematic behaviors of mobbing and uncritical thinking that I discussed previously.

If you’ve been following the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Renato Corona online, you may be familiar with what befell Raissa Robles, a professional journalist and a blogger. The Manila correspondent for the South China Morning Post, Robles has been assiduously working to bring out into the open, via her blog, issues and materials that are related to the charges that have been filed against Corona, and her laudable efforts have earned her no small amount of controversy. Recently, accusations surfaced that Robles was the “small lady” who had given Rep. Reynaldo Umali, a member of the prosecution panel, photocopies of documents pertaining to Corona’s deposit accounts in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank). The information spread very quickly in the Internet community, in the manner of many a sensational story, but what facilitated the rapid dissemination of this particular rumor was a popular citizen media site that reported it without bothering to verify with Robles herself, who had issued categorical denials through Twitter and, later, in her blog. Mulling over the incident, Robles criticized the site and said, “This first-hand experience has given me a ringside view of how gossip turns viral and mutates in the process. And how people feel they can say anything on the Internet without any consequences or care.”

What happened was appalling for us at Pro Pinoy, of course, not only because it was downright irresponsible, but also because it would have a detrimental effect on how the public perceives participatory journalism. That said, we are more than willing to face the challenges that lie ahead of us, and look forward to overcoming them as a team.

By now, I’m sure I’ve brought up more issues and questions than we have ready, final answers for. My purpose, however, is not to befuddle unto paralysis—as I said at the beginning of my talk, I think it important to be keenly conscious of our context. As would-be change-makers, it behooves us to be aware that the task of social transformation, particularly using digital means, is freighted not only with promise—which the succeeding speakers will doubtless be able to show in their respective presentations—but also with peril, and we cannot realize the one without dealing thoughtfully and carefully with the other.

Thank you very much.

Pseudo-trial

What happens when social media takesover the justice system?

As per the Julian Assange case in Britain where the WikiLeaks founder may find out about his fate through the social networking site, could the same thing be envisaged here? Could the use of social media be the same as serving notice to the parties to a trial?

Imagine what would have happened in the case involving Gloria Arroyo’s hold departure order if that had happened? The government’s excuse that it had not received a copy of the decision would not have been available if the decision had been uploaded immediately and tweeted to the court’s “followers” within minutes.

The trial of Chief Justice Corona too could be determined by the media (including Facebook and Twitter). Once cannot discount the possibility of an Arab Spring-like uprising taking place in the aftermath of the trial. Since the prosecution seems to be facing strong headwinds, the conduct of a separate trial by citizen’s groups and netizens in the public arena including the blogosphere seems to be suffering no setbacks.

Forget about establishing the “facts” of the case in the formal court, this is all about shaping the minds of the jurors in the court of public opinion. Call it forum shopping if you like, but parties to this impeachment trial do not feel compelled to abide by the “rules of the game”… so much for strengthening the “rule of law” and “institution-building”.

All this wouldn’t sit too well with senator-judges who are hoping to make an impartial decision based on evidence. What we are witnessing is the mirroring of the justice system in the trial by the senate, where poor evidence gathering, poor homework lays a poor foundation for the prosecution, which inevitably leads to a poor conviction rate.

Except that in this case it is a trial by jury, and the jurors, unlike a proper court, are not restricted from reading (and discussing) the news related to their case. As such, their decision will ultimately reflect the biases formed in the gallery. In a proper court, this would be grounds for a mistrial, but in this pseudo version of Law and Order, the rabble run the show.

The New Bards

In 2011 we saw Old and New Media interacting, and the players in both spheres mixing. While New Media— the sum of media online— now appropriately called, Social Media, is becoming just one Media— how is it in reality? In 2012, we will see it consolidate in media properties, with social networking as the primary places where ‘ordinary people’ get to be ‘discovered’. Read more

NCCA Exec. Director replaced while abroad on official business

Multi-awarded playwright, veteran cultural worker, and former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.
Multi-awarded playwright, veteran cultural worker, and former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.

Former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob was officially representing the country at the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Melbourne, Australia, when she learned that the NCCA Commissioners, at a special meeting, had resolved that she be removed from her post immediately. She was told of the decision via e-mail on October 4, the same date that she delivered a paper on Philippine cultural policy before an international audience.

The agency designated Adelina Suemith, head of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division, as Officer-in-Charge, and advised Jacob to hand over all pending matters to Suemith at once, although Jacob would be away until October 8. She was also asked to take away her personal belongings and return all government property in her custody as soon as possible.

The replacement of Jacob, a multi-awarded writer and director, as well as a veteran administrator, occurred about a month after the Civil Service Commission (CSC) informed the NCCA that it was disapproving the renewal of her temporary appointment. The CSC pointed out that her lack of civil service eligibility disqualified her from holding the position of Executive Director.

Taken aback

The reason that Jacob was given such short notice to clear out, and while she was abroad at that, is not presently apparent. “Why was the Board’s decision immediate? I have no idea,” she said.

Questions on the matter sent to the Public Affairs and Information Office of the NCCA have so far gone unanswered.

The Commission had appointed Jacob to Executive Director on March 12, 2010 for the period of one year, and had initially approved the renewal of her term for another year in spite of her ineligibility. Jacob succeeded controversial theater stalwart Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, one of four individuals upon whom President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in an unprecedented exercise of presidential prerogative, conferred membership into the Order of National Artists in 2009, setting off a furor that raged all the way to the Supreme Court, where it smolders to this day, awaiting resolution.

While she assured the Commission that she would respect the move, Jacob acknowledged that she was taken aback at its “submission” to the CSC ruling, which was issued in September.

Reacting to the ruling in a letter to the Board that she later disseminated online, including her Facebook account, Jacob said she believed that she was Executive Director because of her vast experience as an artist and as an administrator.  She urged the Commission “to enlighten the CSC” and propose a set of equivalency criteria for the post of Executive Director, asserting that the qualifications for Executive Director should not be based on civil service eligibility, but rather on whether one was a seasoned artist and cultural worker respected by one’s peers and rooted in the artistic community.

In a statement addressed to her fellow artists and cultural workers, which she circulated together with her letter, Jacob said, “This is not about me. This is about the right of the artist to lead the highest culture and arts office of the land.”

[Click through to read Jacob’s statement to her fellow artists and her letter to the NCCA.]

Jacob has been widely recognized for her work, and has numerous honors to her name, including the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining in 2008 and the S.E.A. Write (South East Asian Writers) Award in 2005. Her play Juan Tamban, which was staged in 1978 by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Kalinangan Ensemble, and won several awards in the years after, was hailed by critic Doreen Fernandez as a “landmark in Philippine modern theater“.

Prior to joining the NCCA as Deputy Executive Director in 2008, Jacob had served in government with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for nine years, starting in 1987, as the head of its Visual, Literary, and Media Arts Department.

Jacob at a protest rally staged on behalf of artist Ericson Acosta, who was arrested without a warrant and has been detained since February this year. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.
Jacob at a protest rally staged on behalf of artist Ericson Acosta, who was arrested without a warrant and has been detained since February this year. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.

Legal issue

Barring the formulation of equivalency criteria by the NCCA and the acceptance of such criteria by the CSC, the case of Jacob points up a legal issue that may have to be resolved in court.

According to Section 38 of the latest Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 7356, the law that established the NCCA, “The qualification of the Executive Director shall be set by the Commission in conjunction with existing Civil Service Rules and Regulations”. This would seem to classify the position of Executive Director as a career service position, as well as explain the involvement of the CSC in approving or disapproving appointees.

Section 36 of the same IRR, however, authorizes the Commissioners to appoint the Executive Director, who then becomes part of the Board, by virtue of the provisions of Republic Act No. 7356. The Executive Director, being a non-ex-officio member of the Commission, has a three-year term of office, and may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

Per Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of 1987, a career service position is characterized by the following: “(1) entrance based on merit and fitness to be determined as far as practicable by competitive examination, or based on highly technical qualifications; (2) opportunity for advancement to higher career positions; and (3) security of tenure.”

A non-career service position, on the other hand, is described in this manner: “(1) entrance on bases other than those of the usual tests of merit and fitness utilized for the career service; and (2) tenure which is limited to a period specified by law, or which is coterminous with that of the appointing authority or subject to his pleasure, or which is limited to the duration of a particular project for which purpose employment was made.”

Given the power of the Commission to appoint the Executive Director, the intimacy of the Executive Director to the Commission—the Executive Director, in fact, is himself or herself a Commissioner—and the fixed term of office that the Executive Director has, the nature of the position could allow for the so-called proximity rule to be invoked.

Proximity rule

Derived and developed from De los Santos v. Mallare, the proximity rule is used to determine if a position may be classified as primarily confidential. Because a primarily confidential position is a non-career service position, passing the civil service exam or similar tests need not be required for a person to assume that position.

A recent case that applied of the rule is Civil Service Commission v. Nita P. Javier, which was decided by the Supreme Court en banc on February 22, 2008. In the decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, a position is considered primarily confidential when “there is a primarily close intimacy between the appointing authority and the appointee”, and when said position is not separated from the appointing authority “by an intervening public officer, or series of public officers, in the bureaucratic hierarchy”.

Meanwhile, the NCCA is still in need of an Executive Director. Interested applicants may visit the NCCA web site for details.

Playwright Jacob on the NCCA, the CSC, and arts and culture in the Philippines

Multi-awarded playwright and veteran cultural worker Malou Jacob was the Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) until October 4, 2011, when the Commission decided to remove her from her post while she was officially representing the country at an international summit. Following below are texts that she published via her Facebook account, among other online venues. Slight editing has been undertaken for the sake of clarity.

See the related story on The Pro Pinoy Project, “NCCA Exec. Director replaced while abroad on official business” for more information.

Partial screen shot of Malou Jacob's public statements on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and arts and culture in the Philippines.
Partial screen shot of Malou Jacob's public statements on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and arts and culture in the Philippines.

I did not take the Civil Service Exams in the 1970s and will not take it now in the 21st Century. I refuse to join the league of civil servants that have made my country the most corrupt, the most politically and economically challenged in the world.

After 9 years in CCP and 3 years in the [National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)], I make the following observations and recommendations:

1. Leave the management of Culture and Arts free of politics.

Let it be managed by the artists and cultural workers themselves. HOW? The Chair and [Executive Director] should always come from their ranks (spirit of the [Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts]/NCCA Law).

2. There is always a squabble, a tug of war every 6 years when there is a change of political leadership. Culture and Arts should stay far away from political power. Artists get tainted by them. Politicians should not be allowed to aggrandise themselves thru Arts and Culture. Artists should not kowtow to politicians. Politicians think quid pro quo. Artists are spontaneous, open, and intuitive. Unfortunately, there are artists who have become politicians and have ceased to be artists.

3. There should be an Academy of Peers/seasoned artists/cultural workers that chooses the National Artists; not the politically appointed members of the NCCA and CCP Boards; and certainly not the Honors Committee that comes in after the process of selection.

4.The Culture and Arts Industry is the next industry. The country is rich because of multiculturalism. Allow the traditional and contemporary artists to uplift themselves economically by eliminating the loan sharks; and by training marketing people who are sensitive; and will not take advantage of the artists.

5. Demonstrate the important historical role of the artists and cultural workers in times of natural and [man-made] crises. Art Therapy is at its best in the country.

6. Discover and hone the gifted from among the marginalised majority.

***

My Fellow Artists and Cultural Workers:

[Please see below.] This is not about me. This is about the right of the artist to lead the highest culture and arts office of the land. The CCP has been under an equivalency criteria arrangement with the CSC since the late 198O’s. When NCCA was PCCA, the Executive Director had a fixed term which means one cannot be ED for 10 or 20 years until retirement. Inform your [sub-commission] head if you want to pursue this.

FOR THE NCCA BOARD:

I believe that I am Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts because I am a seasoned artist and an experienced administrator. I submitted to the CSC my books of plays, my plaques and medals which include the CCP Gawad para sa Sining and the Seawrite Award; a CV that lists my plays produced by the Philippine Educational Theater Association and Tanghalang Pilipino which include Juan Tamban, Macli-ing Dulag and Anatomiya ng Korupsyon.My CV mentions my almost 9 years in CCP, which included the setting up of the Broadcast Arts Department; the running of the entire Visual, Literary, Film and Broadcast Arts Department; the making of modules for outreach workshops in Radio and Television; and the organizing of the nationwide Gawad CCP para sa Telebisyon at Radyo.

The [Civil Service Commission (CSC)] disapproved my temporary appointment by the NCCA Board because I did not take the civil service exam. I did not take the civil service in 1987 when I joined the CCP; and I did not take it now for me to be Executive Director of NCCA.

On behalf of all the seasoned artists and cultural workers, I urge the NCCA Board to enlighten the CSC and submit now a proposal for an Equivalency Qualification Criteria for the position of the Executive Director.

Meanwhile a method/procedure in NCCA must be put in place by Admin. It should begin by informing the entire arts and cultural community through the committees that the position of the Executive Director is open. The seasoned artists/cultural workers should be encouraged to participate in the search of their Executive Director.

I am 63 years old. I will neither gain nor lose from this move. But the next and the next and the next Executive Director and the entire Arts and Cultural community will.

The position of the Executive Director should not be based on Civil Service Eligibility or the [Career Executive Service Eligibility]. It should be a position for the seasoned artist and cultural worker, who is respected by his/her peers and rooted in the artistic/cultural community.

If a Facebook profile is private, is it for public consumption?

I ask this question because PAWS is after a Facebook user who posted pics of a dog on a clothesline.  A man is also on trial over Twitter ‘affair’.  Not to say that the Facebook user is right, or that PAWS is wrong, I ask this question in general.  I think we need to redefine what is public, and what is private on the Internet. I think it could mean a difference between defamation or crime someday.

If a profile on Facebook or on twitter, set to private, and only N people are allowed to see that profile, and not the public, does it translate to the same way as we hold privacy in our home?  Or is it then equivalent to a conversation between two friends or a group of people?  Is there a difference if we say this thread is private?  Does it elevate the correspondence and communication to a certain degree of confidentiality?

If a profile is locked private does it have bearing on Information published without the consent of the person who first said so?  Should that then be inadmissible as evidence?

What say you Internet?

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Image credit: Courtesy, Facebook

Facebook pays for anti-Google campaign

Dan Lyons of the Daily Beast reports that social networking giant Facebook had clandestinely hired top public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to launch a smear campaign against Google on the grounds that the search engine company is invading the privacy of Facebook users.

The Beast uncovered the scheme shortly after influential technology blogger Chris Soghoian posted online an e-mail exchange with John Mercurio, an employee of Burson. Mercurio had proposed that Soghoian write an anti-Google piece to be pitched to media outlets like the Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call, and the Huffington Post, and had even offered to help with the draft. Soghoian published their messages to each other after Mercurio refused to reveal who their client was.

The main bone of contention is a Google tool called Social Circle, which Mercurio, in one of his missives to Soghoian, alleged is designed “to scrape and mine social sites from around the web to make connections between people that wouldn’t otherwise exists and share that information with people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.  All of this happens without the knowledge, consent or control of the people whose information is being shared.”

According to Lyons:

The mess, seemingly worthy of a Nixon reelection campaign, is embarrassing for Facebook, which has struggled at times to brand itself as trustworthy. But even more so for Burson-Marsteller, a huge PR firm that has represented lots of blue-chip corporate clients in its 58-year history. Mark Penn, Burson’s CEO, has been a political consultant for Bill Clinton, and is best known as the chief strategist in HIllary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Yet here were two guys from one of the biggest and best-known PR agencies in the world, blustering around Silicon Valley like a pair of Keystone Kops. Even yesterday, when I asked flat out whether Facebook had been the client behind the campaign, a Burson spokesman refused to confirm it. Then, later, learning that Facebook had come clean, the Burson spokesman wrote back and confirmed it.

A Facebook spokesperson told Lyons that Google, via Social Circle, was violating Facebook’s terms of service, and that they were concerned at how Google was using their member data. For his part, Soghoian said that the social networking firm was “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

Radio Station RJ UR 105.9 will cease broadcasting, goes Facebook

RJ UR 105.9 will cease broadcasting on Philippine airwaves and, go entirely on the Internet. Specifically, on Facebook, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

The station had been leasing its frequency since 2007, and hopes to capture 22 million Filipinos now on Facebook. On Facebook, the station is now conducting test broadcast as UR Faceradio.

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Photo credit: Image is in the public domain.