ICT and the Continuing Struggle for Social Reform

By Rep. Teddy A. Casino (Bayan Muna) Keynote Speech for Quo Vadis Pilipinas February 11, 2011 SMX Convention Center, Pasay City

Good morning everyone. As we sit here this morning, the people of Egypt are entering their 18th day of protest against the 30-year dictatorship of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It is a protest like no other, the biggest and longest prodemocracy mass action in Egypt in five decades. Reports say as much as a quarter of a million Egyptians from all walks of life joined the protests the other day. From all indications, it appears Mubarak's days are numbered. A few weeks before that, in Tunisia, the 23-year dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali crumbled after 28 days of widespread protests over high unemployment, high food prices, corruption, the violations of free speech and the generally poor living conditions of the people. I thought it proper to mention these recent experiences in Egypt and Tunisia because these massive upheavals, both movements for democratic governance and social reform, have been called “internet revolutions”, “Twitter revolutions” or “Wikileaks revolutions,” meaning social movements in which the internet and mobile telecommunications, particularly social media and SMS, are said to have played a key, if not leading role. It indeed tickles the mind of techies, geeks, reporters following the info-tech beat, as well as twitter and facebook fanatics and players in the ICT industry, to think that social media could have such a huge impact on events in the real world. But activists in Egypt and Tunisia will be the first to deny that theirs was a twitter or facebook or youtube revolution. It takes blood, sweat and tears, not a few clicks of the mouse, for a revolution to succeed. Such simplifications of the role of mobile communications technology remind me of our own EDSA 2, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last January 20. Did anyone remember that one? I think no one did, not even former Pres. Gloria Arroyo. Anyway, EDSA 2 was known as the Text Revolution because of how mobile phones and SMS played a crucial role in mobilizing people and keeping them informed of the political developments. I remember a foreign TV news crew asking me to demonstrate texting simultaneously using two phones, one on each hand – one for Globe and the other for Smart. Wala pa kasing group text noon.

Indeed, today, the power of communication and information is literally in our hands, in this tiny contraption called the mobile phone. It still amazes me what one can do with such a tiny device. You can call or text anyone anywhere anytime. You can surf the net. You can book a flight, hire a masseuse, check out the next movie showing. You can see what's happening in Egypt, or watch a congressional investigation in real time. Does anybody here remember the good old days when we didn't have mobile phones? When it took forever to get a landline and when you finally got one, you had to share it with a party line? Alam n'yo pa ba yung party line? How about the beeper, where you had to dial 143 to beep someone to call the message server. Tell me, can anyone in this room last a week without a mobile phone and email? Today, we're in the era of Web 2.0. Through the power of ICT, we have the capability to be on-line, logged in to each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's so much interaction, so much information, ikaw na lang ang susuko. But why is it that, despite the leaps and bounds of ICT, our government and our social institutions are in such a mess? With so much information available, why are there still fixers prying on the ignorant in almost all government agencies? We have a government electronic procurement system and yet rigged biddings are as rampant and brazen as ever. We have excellent websites for both houses of Congress and practically all government agencies yet our services remain wanting. Finally, with all the ICT tools available to the public, how can our leaders continue to cheat, lie, steal and get away with it? Well for one thing, access to the hardware and software is severely limited. Cong. Tinga already gave us the lowdown on ICT readiness and internet penetration. Yes there are 80 million mbile phone subscribers. But how many actually use their phones for purposes other than texting "WRU na?" and other jejemons? Unfortunately, ICT itself can be an alienating factor for ordinary citizens. Lack of access is one thing. But other aspects of the technology, like the use of English, or the lack of education and training on using ICT products, serve as a disincentive for greater use of ICT by our people. Furthermore, ICT can be used and manipulated by those in power to maintain the status quo. For many agencies, the full potential of ICT is not used due to fear that the public might have access to information that could be used against these very agencies. Why, for example, are government contracts and bid documents not available on the internet? Why are statements of assets, liabilities

and net worth not posted as well? Why are transcripts of hearings or deliberations in Congress, even just minutes of meetings, all of which are already in digital form, not readily available to the public? The people cannot wait for the government to do these things on their own. We will have to take the initiative. With such powerful instruments at our disposal – the mobile phone, the PC, the iPad, free/open source software, Web 2.0 – I can't see any reason why we should not use ICT in pushing for reforms and genuine social change. In fact, our social movements are taking the lead in applying ICT to their work. But like many others, there is a learning curve that we need to overcome. The easiest and most effective way of using ICT for social movements and advocacies is by creating and disseminating the right information to the right people. By simply texting, tweeting, posting on your Facebook or blog site, or sending emails, one can raise awareness and even influence public opinion on a whole range of issues and concerns – from anomalous projects, abusive officials and erring traffic cops to environmental causes. Facebook in fact has built in applications for advocacies and campaigns. The two biggest TV networks – ABS-CBN and GMA – have incorporated texts, tweets and FB posts in their newscasts. This is important because sometimes, changes can happen by sheer force of public opinion. We should also use the internet for holding online discussions and fora on various issues and advocacies. A higher level of engagement is the use of ICT tools to develop programs, applications or web sites that facilitate people's participation and collaboration in various advocacies. Blogs are especially useful for this, as are interactive sites that make people involved in giving information, monitoring or initiating projects. This is where the value of free/open source software comes in, as it democratizes software use and development. So now we have FOSS for disaster management, human rights monitoring, education, office productivity, SMEs, LGUs, and even automated elections. The internet and mobile networks are as effective tools for education and awareness raising as they are for organizing and mobilizing. It is most crucial to harness the potential of the internet and mobile phones for networking and collaboration towards real, concrete action. We should match our online presence with offline actions. We should be as active in the virtual world as in the real world.

In other words, let us not limit ourselves to being clicktivists in the virtual world but activists in the real world. Lastly, we will have to address the basic problems of lack of access, language and education that makes ICT the domain of highly educated individuals. Unless ICT becomes user friendly in all aspects, it will be difficult to expect ICT-fueled movements. We all know that revolutions take more than tweeting and posting updates on your Facebook account. Like EDSA 1 and 2, the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were the result of social movements spanning several years. Much of the work was done offline, in the nitty gritty of meetings, forums, in organizing various campaigns and mobilizing warm bodies from the classrooms, workplaces, churches and communities to the streets and to every arena of engagement. What is clear is that ICT serves as tools, very effective tools, for the goal of mobilizing hundreds of thousands to unite and overthrow their oppressive and corrupt regimes. After all, you don't oust a tyrant with a click of the mouse. For that you need warm bodies to attend your marches and man your picketlines. What is true of uprisings and revolutions is surely true of our efforts at good governance and social reform. You can't end the cycle of corruption, much as you can't protect labor rights or improve disaster response, by simply clicking away at your computer. That's part of the work, for sure, but somewhere along the way, we will have to stand up, organize, mobilize those warm bodies, fight for our people's rights and squarely face our demons and oppressors, both virtual and real. Thank you very much. Have a good day!#

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