Who’s afraid of a national bloggers association?

This blogger speaks at the Visayas Blogging Summit in 2010. Photo by/from callezaragoza.com.

(Post updated. Changes in brackets. Thanks.) I have long wanted to do something: To help form a national bloggers association in the Philippines. The premises are simple: We are a growing community, with more younger Filipinos trying to start their own blogs. We have worked together in many instances. We have organized events. Some of us have made blogging a career or a profession. We have been sought in interviews. Some have been considered experts in their own fields of interests. Blogs have become media too. Government and business have gone blogging and gone digital. Just imagine what we could do together if we have an organization that would take all these forward.

Nothing fancy yet about the character of the organization. Not even a suggested name.  All these would be decided by those who will decide to be part of it.

On Feb. 20, I started emailing friends a draft document titled Manifesto of Filipino Bloggers and Netizens. Being a draft document, I asked them for their feedback and whether they are amenable to signing and endorsing it. I personally signed each email with my name and the URL of my blog, because that was a matter of fact. It was a personal initiative, nothing more, and I was hoping to recruit, through this process, those who could form part of a core group to push this worthwhile project forward.

Until March 2, I have managed to contact more than a hundred bloggers, including those I know as belonging to local or regional bloggers’ groups. The process was slow because no one could possibly know all the bloggers in the country, especially those who are deemed important. The process was discreet because I though  direct contact and, if possible, face time and a phone call, would always be better when introducing a new concept and idea, and when clarifying issues. Most of those who responded to the email welcomed the idea and asked for the next steps. I told them, we will do things together as soon as we get feedback from the other bloggers who were sent or will be sent copies of the manifesto. I was even publicly planning to go to Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Davao City to meet with bloggers personally.

Things were going smoothly until March 3 when a new blog titled “Janitor Al: Dumidigital ng Filipino” started an avalanche of open attacks on the concept and idea of a national bloggers association.

The slow, discreet but deliberate way of contacting bloggers and bloggers’ groups in various parts of the country had to ground to a halt because the very proposal had already been made public. The Janitor Al blog set the stage for a wide-open brawl. The ingredients are all there — sharp accusations like a “secretive process”, “under-representation or misrepresentation” of entire provinces and islands, etc.

I am thankful to those who have blogged about this idea and concept, and offered their advice in a less-combative and open tone. I respect all your views. But there are serious accusations that badly need clarification:

1. On the term “national”

It is a term that describes the character of the future organization’s membership: Prospective members would come from all of the country, without discrimination to whichever town, city, province and region they may come from. This is clear in the manifesto: Members come from all over the country – ergo, national.

It does not mean membership in the future organization would be a mandatory or required. This is clear in the manifesto: Membership is voluntary.

2. About Visayas and Mindanao, and misrepresentation

I am aware of the bloggers organizations that already exist in many places of the Visayas and Mindanao. I am really impressed and amazed by how far they have gone moving forward, holding summits and camps, and training newbies, and all the events that we have heard from them. I have been very public about this admiration for Visayas and Mindanao bloggers. I even went to the Visayas Blogging Summit and the Cebu Blog Camp last year – on my own account – to personal see this dynamism in action.

What role would these bloggers’ groups play in a national bloggers’ organization? I honestly don’t know. It is for them to decide whether to join as organizations or not. There is no effort to make the national bloggers organization — which is still an idea and concept — to be an umbrella organization. There is likewise no effort to supersede these organizations.

Blogger Ria Jose came out with a blog post on March 7, railing against the “absence” of any attempt to contact the Visayas and Mindanao bloggers. Sorry, but I am not in the habit of taking such bullcrap sitting down. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know everyone, I don’t know all bloggers, especially those who claim to represent the entire Visayas and Mindanao. In my case, I could only represent myself. I cannot even represent those who have said yes to the manifesto and they are not few. I leave it to them to speak for themselves.

In preparation for her blog post, Miss Jose, who is [past] president of Davao Bloggers group, undertook something I wanted to do in Mindanao: Call, text, email everyone in her loop to ask whether they’ve received copies of the manifesto. But there was apparently already a presence of malice in the calls. The objective was to prove the absence or lack of consultation — which was easy to prove because not all bloggers groups have been contacted at the time (and until now). If what Miss Jose did proves anything, it is that the process was slow. There was also the sin of omission: She did not state that some bloggers’ groups in Visayas and Mindanao were indeed contacted and received copies of the manifesto.

Miss Jose also failed to make one important call. She did not contact or confront me. It was unfair of Miss Jose to have overlooked that. Had she contacted me, I would have explained matters to her and there would have been no need for her combative post (and tweets) and this rebuttal.

3. More about representation issues

It is important to stress that there is no effort to even ignore these organizations  – the consultative process was cut short by the antics of a certain Janitor Al and those who eagerly tweeted about it in an effort to – ironically – form an organized effort to spew hatred and venom against this future organization. As late as March 2, a day before Janitor Al went around town, I was in touch over the phone with the leader of the CDO Bloggers, and via BBM with a board member of the Cebu Bloggers Society who so kindly furnished me with emails of all their board members. They were promptly emailed copies of the manifesto. As for the group Davao Bloggers, I emailed [Andrew dela Serna] at andrew [at] alleba [dot] com on Feb. 21. I did not receive a reply. So it is unfair to claim publicly that there’s an orchestrated or premeditated effort to exclude anyone. I also emailed some other Visayas and Mindanao bloggers whose public addresses I soon found.

Also, while I respect and admire these organizations in Visayas and Mindanao, it is important to stress too that they do not represent all bloggers in their respective areas. They can only represent their members. Not all bloggers belong to those local and regional groups. It would be a case of double-standard on this issue of (mis-)representation if I do not state this.

The principled way of going forward, especially for leaders of blogging communities across the country, is not to sow division and intrigue. I challenge them to take a second look at the manifesto and ask themselves, “Does this manifesto fairly represent me? What role should we play in this future organization, if any? Should we wait to be contacted or seize the initiative and make that important call?” Because at the end of the day, the question is not whether we are in favor of a national bloggers association or not. It is whether we will join it or not. In the same way that we all uphold the independence and initiative of each blogger, let us leave it to each blogger to decide – regardless of sex, creed, religion, dialect, region or prior organizational affiliation.

4. The future organization, its members and non-members

Again, there is no hidden desire to make this future organization a mandatory organization. It could only represent itself and its members. The term blogger is as generic as they come. Any person who blogs is a blogger — and no organization, national or otherwise, could stop anyone from using that term.

This organization will eventually be born and it will have its own set of leaders and members. They will have the exclusive power to determine the fate of their organization. It is the right of citizens in this country to form any association and nothing could stop them. Those who are against the formation of such an organization are well within their rights to express themselves but that does not mean we do not have any right to continue in the task of forming it, especially if we think it is truly a good idea if we take away all the drama, feelings of self-importance and misconceptions surrounding it.

No organization, local or national, should dictate what bloggers should or should not do. I hope Miss Jose’s post is not in any way dissuading bloggers from Visayas and Mindanao from exercising their individual rights or limiting their prerogatives.

At any rate, I hope this post clears the air and that the leading voices of blogging communities nationwide would pause and rethink their positions. Nothing is impossible. We could agree to agree and agree to disagree. We could still fix things.

5. Other what if’s

Will this future organization attempt to represent all bloggers? No. It could only represent itself and its members, as provided by the processes that members would declare sufficient to formulate decisions and policies.

Will this future organization stop other national initiatives? No. I find no reason why. This effort is not a step towards monopoly or elitism. The effort is about formalizing what we have been doing for the past few years: Cooperation and mutual aid.

6. This is not about Janette Toral, Blogie Robillo or myself

I have always been honest and direct in my dealings with bloggers. I have always tried to be helpful. Whatever personal integrity and credibility I enjoy rests on the fact that I have always tried to be fair.

Janitor Al, or the naughty blogger behind that blog, cannot hide his/her disdain and anger against Janette Toral.  Her only fault perhaps is to have interviewed me. What’s wrong with that?

Blogie Robillo has also been the subject of snide remarks. This is also totally unfortunate.

But blogging, bloggers and this future organization are not about anyone of us.  One may hate Janette Toral, Blogie Robillo or this blogger, but that does not mean the manifesto is trash.

We could all agree to disagree, and nurture our personal enmities, but let us not drag everyone else in our madness.

7. The real question

Personal events have intervened and I had to pause. My mom met an accident last March 4 so I had to take things slowly again to take care of her. I am sorry if all these are not enough for some of you; I am sorry if I did not meet your grand expectations.

Obviously, the process I had in mind appears to be imperfect but I am confident that the manifesto reflects what a fair number of bloggers need and want, and it remains a good starting point for this future organization that some, who are silent for now, want to see in the next few weeks transformed from an idea into reality.

There have been several polls sprouting all over the net and they ask whether they are in favor of a national bloggers association. I disagree.

In my humble opinion, the real question before us now is this: Do you want to become a founding member of the Philippines’ first national bloggers association?

If your answer to this question is yes, then sign your name and together we will move this forward.