Text power and People Power

In commemoration of People Power 2, I am posting here a copy of my contribution to a still-unpublished youth compendium of articles on the event.

I wrote this piece way back in 2002 (or 2003?). It deals with the use of technology in Edsa 2 and succeeding events.

I hope to see you tomorrow, Jan. 19, as Bloggers Kapihan marks Edsa 2 with BK 3.0 at Kape Tasyo.

Forward the message, answer the call for change
TEXTING AND OTHER TOOLS OF A PEOPLE IN REVOLT

By Anthony Ian “Tonyo” M. Cruz

Much has been said about the role of texting and the People Power 2 uprising. Some quarters have even gone to the extent of calling it a “texters’ revolt.” They cast aside People Power 2 as nothing but “mob rule” that was helped in a big way by texting and a flowering of websites and mailing lists which were all directed against one common enemy called Erap.

However, they are right only on one point: That the most vocal, most determined and most organized participants in the uprising were armed with cellphones and sent out a heretofore unimaginable number of text messages for about three days.

These critics of People Power 2 were wrong everywhere else.

For in the case of People Power 2, the message was crystal-clear, with solid basis and with urgency that challenged most Filipinos. It was either we stay put wherever we were or stand up in the forcible removal of a President who has violated the public’s trust and laws big time.

Unfortunately for Estrada, the purveyors of this message were not only backed up by the truth.

They were also tech-savvy.  They used technological tools beyond printing presses, mimeograph machines, telephones and fax machines. Instead, the People Power 2 forces – organized or not – had more potent tools in their hands: cellphones and the Internet.

The cellphones did wonders in propagating the correct and valid call for Estrada’s ouster in ways that our revolutionary forebears would not be able to imagine.

The more important thing was not the medium, but the message. For even if Estrada unleashed millions more of text messages or churned out more websites bearing the message “Erap remain!” no one would have heeded the call or forwarded them to others. His message would have been gross.

For People Power 2 was also a battle of conflicting messages: between pro- and anti-Estrada, between pro- and anti-change. And as we later discovered, even among those who fought Estrada, there was a conflict between a message of radical and meaningful change and those who would only like to take power to themselves and keep the rotten system in place.

Texting and the web: the protest movement goes hi-tech

As everyone now knows, Estrada coasted to victory on account of his pro-poor demagoguery that concealed from voters his immorality and debauchery, his own elitist gang of plunderers and criminal elements, his Marcosian heritage and his loyalty to his US imperialist master.

True to form, even before he assumed the presidency in 1998, Estrada rocked the political landscape by promising a hero’s burial for his late idol, Ferdinand Marcos. By doing so, he managed to summon a strong, broad alliance that succeeded in burying the insensitive plan six feet under.

Scandal upon scandal would rock the Estrada presidency. And accompanying every scandal were the choicest “Erap jokes” laughed at by the people.

The first Erap jokes were passed on through texting. They became so many and so enticing to publishers that several books were put out composed of nothing else but Erap jokes. Columnists put them in their pieces and others came out with websites devoted just to those humorous pieces.

When Estrada ran for president in 1998, his public-relations pointperson Reli German boasted that the “Erap jokes” heaping scorn and spreading fun at the cost of his principal were helping, not hindering his campaign.

Estrada and his ilk may not have known it but texting and the Erap jokes would later figure in his removal from office.

For one, leaders of people’s organizations like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) would have hotlines to its allies in groups such as the Council on Philippine Affairs and the Estrada Resign Movement (ERM). The same could also be said of other coalitions such as Kompil 2.

Fr. Joe Dizon was able to quickly confer through texting with co-convenors in the ERM regarding sudden shifts in politics and the need to speak out on behalf of the alliance. Some meetings could be set exclusively through texting.

In the months leading to Edsa 2, Bayan’s Teddy Casiño always racked up cellphone bills running to more than two thousand pesos every month due to incessant phone calls and text messages to Bayan’s allies and leaders of its member-organizations regarding meetings, press conferences and changes in slogans or strategies.

Armed with cellphones, organizers would be able to gather people in communities, schools, churches and other places of worship and workplaces and keep contact with them for various mass actions.

In many instances, texting and calls on cellphones practically replaced two-way radios among rally marshals and organizers.

The deafening boom of speakers in mass actions along Ayala and at Mendiola could not have erased or muffled the clear commands relayed among marshals through texting.

Youth leaders belonging to the Estrada Resign Youth Movement (ERYM) would do the same. They would find text buddies among elder allies in the ERM and in the broad mass actions.

Apo Alvarez, then secretary-general of Anakbayan and convenor of ERYM would share with alliance partners text messages he swapped with the likes of Roilo Golez, the former congressman who always wore purple in order to stand out in rallies and who would now always see red in the unending war of terror as National Security Adviser.

Texting also gave erstwhile warring groups a convenient way of communicating among themselves. In one instance, I happened to walk beside a local League of Filipino Students chapter leader in a march to Mendiola when suddenly his phone rang to the tune of “The Internationale.” He quickly answered the phone and a minute or two later, he smiled and told me it was one of the University of Sto. Tomas administrators asking for precise directions on the Mendiola rally.

In one episode of the impeachment trial at the Senate, whistle-blower Luis “Chavit” Singson revealed that the pro-Estrada Yolanda Ricaforte texted him about the jueteng money her principal expects from his former friend. The senators-judges even went as far as to summon the telecommunications companies to help reveal the true identity of the owner of the cellphone which placed the calls and text messages to Singson.

It was also reported that hours before the three major rallies in Ayala Avenue, Makati City, employees holed up in the financial district’s skyscrapers would swap text messages on precisely when they should go down and join the demonstrators.

Media liaison work and sending out press releases about the oust-Estrada movement were made easier through text messaging and websites.

In the case of Bayan, the Estrada Resign Movement and other coalitions, media liaison officers would be quick not just to call or fax. Texting would become a quicker and surer way to reach reporters, photographers and editors.

Actually, photographers (who roam around the city for photo-opportunities) appreciated “text advisories” because it was quicker to get hold of.

Estrada’s vaunted media machinery also sustained heavy losses from emails. Various groups maximized the use of email in reaching media outlets here and abroad, thereby quickly and almost effortlessly pushing the publication of anti-Estrada materials, whether as news or commentary.

The more sophisticated email warriors would later start electronic mailing lists (mostly on e-groups or Yahoo! Groups) that spread details of upcoming mobilizations, the latest exposes on Estrada scandals, Erap jokes and other matters. No less than 30 anti-Estrada mailing lists were formed.

One highlight of the email campaign against Estrada was the eLagda drive. Through its website (http://www.eLagda.com) and through email, the organizers sought to recruit eMandirigmas who would bombard senators’ offices with emails demanding the president’s ouster. They did not fail. The results were remarkable: eLagda was able to get 101,000 electronic signatures in just 34 days for the online petition seeking Estrada’s resignation and the senators’ emailboxes were filled to capacity. Later, eLagda members formed chapters here and abroad.

Erap got caught in the Web

While Estrada’s minions maintained http://www.erap.com (which exists to this day), out of the bosom of the broad oust-Estrada front came a horde of websites that addressed the very vocal petit bourgeoisie or middle class.

The websites ranged from funny (http://www.erapjokes.com) to serious (http://www.impeacheraperapnow.com). The list included the following: http://www.iskandalo.com (Iskandalo Café) which listed Estrada’s 101 scams; http://www.blaccircle.com/anti-erap (Blac Circle: Anti-Erap) which had a message board, pictures and downloadable posters; (http://www.erap-resign.net) that published prayers, songs and poetry pieces from the protest movement; and http://www.pldt.com (which continues to be a thorn at the sides of the PLDT, the Marcoses and Erap).

Here is a partial list of the other anti-Estrada websites linked to http://www.pldt.com:

http://go.to/syerap (Syerap)
http://www.adobo.com/news/pinoy-times/ (Pinoy Times)
http://www.geocities.com/erapatemyballs/kalbo.htm (erap ate my) http://www.nenepimentel.org/trial/index.htm (READ IT and WEEP Transcripts from the Hearing) http://www.geocities.com/subukansa558 subukansa558
http://www.manindigantayo.org.ph Manindigan Tayo
http://members.tripod.com/eraphic/ Erap Humor
http://www.lingaw.com/ lingaw.com
http://marikina.tripod.com/eraplinks.html Marikina site
http://www.bobongpinoy.com (bobongpinoy)
http://erapparin.sphosting.com (Erap pa rin loyalist) http://www.musicmanila.com/apo/politically/index.html (etonAPOsila)
http://sick-of-the-times.iwarp.com (Sick of the Times
http://www.geocities.com/baylans/erap_resign.html (Erap Resign)
http://www.geocities.com/juetenggate (Juetenggate)
http://eraption.iwarp.com (Eraption)
http://www.eraptimetogo.itgo.com (Erap Time to Go)
http://www.impeacherap.com (Impeach Erap)
http://labskosierap.tripod.com/ (labskosierap)
http://erap.blogspot.com (Erap blog page)
http://www.angelcities.com/members/erap/
http://www.geocities.com/erapsucks/main.htm (Erap sucks!)
http://server2040.virtualave.net/jueteng/
http://www.virtue.nu/erap/index.htm
http://www.jueteng.com (Jueteng.com)
http://www.geocities.com/juetenggate (Juetenggate)
http://www.hotmanila.ph (HotManila)
http://www.universecafe.com/i-Naku/index.asp (i-Naku)
http://mightyerap.iscool.net/ (mightyerap.iscool)
http://erapalis.net.ph/ (Erapalis.net)
http://skyboom.com/impeach_erap_now (Impeach Erap Now)
http://server2040.virtualave.net/jueteng/ (jueteng)

Maverick alternative media sites such as the http://www.cyberdyaryo.com, http://www.erapresign.com, http://www.gin.ph (Guerilla Information Network) and http://www.channelone.tv provided coverage especially directed at the burgeoning oust-Estrada movement. The latter site would spin-off a special compact-disc compilation of their choicest editions which included those involving leaders of the mass movement such as Bayan’s Teddy Casiño and Kadamay’s Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida who was always widely applauded for her bombastic rally speeches.

Established websites like http://www.pcij.com (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism) and http://www.inquirer.net later to be renamed http://www.inq7.net (Philippine Daily Inquirer) would score astounding numbers of hits for their anti-Estrada coverage, whether on mass actions or Estrada scandals.

In the days leading to and during the three-day uprising, the Cable News Network’s website (http://www.cnn.com) put the Bayan website among the three links for browsers to visit if they want more news and information. The two other links were government (pro-Estrada) sites.

The powerful message of the protest movement – that Estrada must either resign or be ousted due to his many crimes of the people – was amplified by gazillion times through texting, email and websites.

Estrada also inspired the first online/electronic rally or demonstration by Filipino netizens in October 2000. On that day, these netizens went to an http://www.pldt.com chatroom, bringing ”cyberplacards” and raged against the president over the Internet.

This hi-tech warfare went hand-in-hand with grassroots organizing and mass education done by the mass movement of non-government and people’s organizations, the churches and faith-based groups, the anti-Estrada sections of the media and the broader and national alliances and coalitions which organized gigantic mass actions and demonstrations across the country.

By the time Estrada’s minions at the Senate manage to break the camel’s back by voting to stop the opening of the second envelope, the majority of the people had gone through a long process of education, mobilization and organization.

The propaganda movement that used a variety of media, old and new, would later make organizing People Power 2 look like it was a mere party, a cinch to organize.

People Power 2 – a nationwide mobile revolution

Go 2 Edsa. Wer blk.

On the fateful night of Jan. 16, 2001, this message passed from one cellphone to another. T’was moments after pro-administrations solons stopped the opening of the second envelope in the then-ongoing impeachment trial of Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

Go 2 Edsa. Wer ol hir.

Hours later, perhaps 50,000 people had jammed the intersection of Edsa and Ortigas Avenue, shouting “Erap resign!,” bringing with them all sorts of colors and banners.

Unknown to many, leaders of the oust-Estrada movement have been meeting at a place near the Edsa Shrine. Among them were representatives of Kangkong Brigade, Lakas-NUCD, Kompil 2 and Bayan. This meeting, brought together by text messages and phone calls, established a unity among the various forces that we would have an uprising right there and then.

Bayan was tasked to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of its members in Metro Manila and nationwide and thereby ensure a steady flow of warm bodies onto Edsa.

At around the same time, hundreds of text messages and thousands of email messages came out of the Bayan office with this simple text:  PEOPLE POWER 2 HAS BEGUN.

The text messages from Manila were warmly received across the nation. One by one, city centers were overrun by oust-Estrada forces led by chapters of the Estrada Resign Movement and Bayan. Davao City park, Baguio’s Session Road, Cebu’s and Fuente Osmeña were just among the other centers of the people’s uprising that was People Power 2. Thousands went and stayed there to rally, to pray, to listen to good protest music and to hold their local editions of what was happening at Edsa.

The lack of telephones at the Edsa Shrine did not stop the Estrada Resign Movement, Bayan and other organizations from coordinating nationwide protest actions, reaching the media and even those abroad. Their leaders and secretariat and staff were all armed with cellphones for easy communications.

A day or two later, busloads of Tagalogs from Regions 3 and 4 would fortify the People Power 2 ranks at Edsa. Their leaders had been in constant touch with Bayan’s central command at Edsa since Jan. 16.

Unknown to many, Bayan, Kompil 2 and Kangkong Brigade had to coordinate the maintenance of order at the Shrine which became the national center of the uprising. When face-to-face meetings were impossible, their leaders would call each other or send a text message regarding arrangements for the rally programs each afternoon and evening.

Texting and calls made through cellphones also helped in the success of the mammoth march to Mendiola which ensured Estrada would actually leave the presidential palace. On GMA Channel 7, professor-broadcaster Winnie Monsod asked Bayan Muna president Satur Ocampo who was at the head of the march if there would be violence when they reach Mendiola and face the Estrada loyalists there. Ka Satur assured Monsod and the nation glued on television that violence was not in anybody’s mind.

Police officials who have sided with the uprising used cellphones to coordinate with march leaders on the general situation in the historic Mendiola Bridge.

The dramatic recapture of Mendiola Bridge by no less than 50,000 protesters drove the final nail on the Estrada presidency. An Estrada adviser who would stay close with his principal up to the last minute would later wrote that the march to Mendiola speeded up Estrada’s departure from the palace and vanquished any plan to hold on to power longer.

Crowd estimates during the three-day People Power 2 vary. But most agree that the number of people would have reached no less than 300,000 at the Edsa-Ortigas area at peak hours and perhaps far bigger during late afternoons and evenings when workers and office employees would have been more available.

Students – kids, teens and college students – who would otherwise be stopped from rallies got not just permission slips from rallies through text; they were able to invite their parents, barkadas and classmates, thus putting a predominantly “youth” mark on the second edition of People Power.

They carried their school colors, naughty placards and cellphones as main protest accessory.

This was no surprise because students were in the forefront of the oust-Estrada movement from the start, with the calls for the president’s resignation trickling in as early as 1999 from national youth organizations such as Anakbayan, LFS, Students Christian Movement of the Philippines, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, National Union of Students of the Philippines and the Estrada Resign Youth Movement. Their efforts to repoliticize a sector numbed by mixed colonial-feudal media and education paid off.

The big number of people who converged at the vicinity of Edsa Shrine made texting especially difficult. One had to walk way past Meralco Theatre or Greenhills or near Cubao in order to get through the network gridlock.

Proof? Well, telecommunications companies Globe Telecom and Smart Communications set up mobile cellsites – cellsites borne by ten-wheeler trucks — near the Edsa Shrine to accommodate the increased demand at the area.

People Power 2 cemented the Philippines’ reputation as the home of people’s uprisings strong enough to remove the worst presidents but also as the world’s texting capital. Insiders from Globe and Smart revealed that Filipinos sent and received around 120-150 million messages every day during the three-day uprising, up from the usual 100 million.

Text and web warriors meet

In a post-People Power 2 assembly organized by the Foundation for Media Alternatives, the various webmasters, mailing list moderators and avid texters met and assessed the impact of hi-tech gadgets on the protest movement’s success.

In netizen parlance, it was one grand “eyeball” that gathered a mixture of internet and communications technology (ICT) experts and enthusiasts and members of the mass movement. The militants were represented by Kalovski Itim (then the Bayan webmaster) and this writer (in my capacity as Bayan public information officer and moderator of several mailing lists for Bayan and the Estrada Resign Movement).

The meeting participants took the cue from the mass movement, vowing to take on the issue of corruption and pledging to put hi-tech gadgets and tools in the service of the people’s the anti-corruption crusade.

TXTPower

Taking inspiration with the Filipino people’s use of texting in People Power 2, this writer and a handful of others organized TXTPower in 2001 as a consumer advocacy group to confront telecommunications oligopoly of Globe and Smart.

These companies’ plans to drastically cut down “free text” allocations for their subscribers were delayed by protests from TXTPower and its allied groups such as the Philippine League for Democratic Telecommunications Inc. and the http://www.pldt.com website.

A loose organization, TXTPower was able to mobilize thousands of cellphone users and even several organizations in Mindanao in a first “National Day of Protest” which featured a day-long boycott of the two companies and TXTPower would later foil government plans to register SIM (subscriber identity module) cards and to impose new taxes on text messaging which was suggested by no less the country-representative of the World Bank as a way of providing fresh funds to Philippine treasury that bleeds due to continued corruption under the administration of Estrada’s successor.

Web and the US war

In the United States and several other countries, websites became a powerful and effective organizing tool for the protests against the US war of aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq. Through websites such as http://www.internationalanswer.org (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), http://www.notinourname.net (Not In Our Name) and http://www.stopwar.org.uk (Stop the War Coalition-UK), people all over the world mounted demonstrations that surpassed those against the Vietnam War in terms of size and scope.

In the Philippines, the broad Justice Not War Coalition put up its own website (http://www.justicenotwarcoalition.ph) in the run-up to the biggest anti-war rally in Manila on Feb. 28, 2003 which the coalition co-sponsored together with Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Bp. Teodoro Bacani and several hundred people’s organizations. An estimated 50,000 joined the rally.

This anti-war movement and its websites easily linked up with the anti-globalization movement and its own websites like http://www.indymedia.org (Independent Media Center). This potent combination have put the Bush administration on the defensive on the twin issues of imperialist war and plunder, especially on the continuing failure of the US imperialist troops to find and present weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which they claimed the country kept and which they provided as main reason for colonizing the country.

Forward to the future

Today, the Philippines remains the texting capital of the world, with Filipinos sending two of every ten text messages being sent worldwide.

Challenges to the continued use of texting as a tool for protest movements include price and rates offered by telecommunications companies. Costs of sending a message or placing cellphone calls continue to be high compared with the current income levels of the majority. Steps should be done to pressure the telecommunications oligopoly to lower prices and rates commensurate to fast-developing technology.

Cellsites today may now handle more text messages and calls; prices should now be drastically lower than the P5.50-P6.50 flat rates offered by the two firms and their smaller clones. But perhaps more importantly, consumer groups should demand that the oligopoly be dismantled so information and communications technologies would be put in the service of the Filipino people, not primarily for profit.
Shameless corruption scandals abound while the electoral circus is starting to unfold again and no major party carries the banner of New Politics or forwards the message of change. Some candidates, parties or coalitions may use texting – whether the ordinary kind or the new multimedia messaging system (MMS) that enables phones to capture and forward pictures and sound – but their message of politics-as-usual would, hopefully, fall on deaf ears.

Texting and other hi-tech gadgets may be used to junk certain candidates, parties and coalitions until the people would be able to establish and maintain strong national parties capable of fielding alternatives to the moribund parties of today. This may sound wishful thinking but a close look at the elite and how they have mismanaged, plundered and sold the country to foreign interests would likewise give us the certainty that there is hope beyond them and their kind.

Webmasters and mailing-list moderators of erstwhile anti-Estrada websites should continue with their noble work. With the endless string of scandals hitting the post-Estrada administration like the Jose Pidal scam, the P1-billion pesos allotted to the five-kilometer President Diosdado Macapagal Blvd. and others, websites and mailing lists have much material to present and scandals to lay bare.

Sites like the http://www.bulatlat.com (Bulatlat.com) and http://qc.indymedia.org (Independent Media Center-Quezon City) are leading the way with their respective brands of alternative coverage.

The youth movement could use websites to link hundreds of thousands of student and youth groups in schools and communities. Young people comprise the estimated five million Filipinos who have access to the Internet. Big things could be accomplished with some creativity and a little help from websites offering free text messages, free websites and free mailing lists.

Young people have the militant tradition and patriotic duty to continue the struggle against the ineptitude and incapability of the ruling elite to lead us out of the quagmire of foreign exploitation, unbridled corruption and feudal domination in the countryside.

We must forward the message and answer the call for change. As in texting or in browing the worldwide web, the future of a new Philippines lies in our hands.

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