GOING TO LUNETA ON THAT DAY
We went to Luneta early that day to get a good place to park the car and observe the people as they came in. The week before a typhoon and monsoon had flooded a number of areas in Luzon, including towns and cities in Metro Manila, the Lagusnilad-under pass near Luneta was filled up with water: making it impossible to pass for man and beast. As we approached Luneta there were groups of people going there also – friends, families and different communities – Religious and Non-Religious. Most were dressed in white.
The ground was muddy and the hawkers were there as well selling their wares – umbrellas, picnic mats, water and food. One of the hawkers, a woman, was selling pork rinds or chicharon, marketing it as the good pork and not the pdaf kind. The different groups were already converging on one corner the Roman Catholics were celebrating mass, while on another part, nearer the stage The Free Thinkers were also converging. In the past few months one had seen these groups at opposite camps because of the Reproductive Health Bill. Now they seem to share a common purpose.
It really was a diverse group and you could see it as you went around. There was a group walking around with different flags of the world accompanied by trumpets. Artists doing an indigenous dance number with the participation of the crowd that gathered. Then there were delegations from the different schools, one with a band, and others with their streamers of protest against pork. And then there were people who brought in effegies, mascots and masks – pig, Guy Fawkes and Skeleton Masks.
Each had their message to say. Some sang, Some shouted to the heavens, some danced, some brought signs, nearly all signed the petition, and some were there. Their presence seemed enough to send a message. What was the message? It was a message of anger against the pork barrel scam. It was also a message for change: abolishing the pork barrel. And it was a message for justice: prosecution and conviction of all those guilty.
It was a familiar feeling. It was nearly the same thing when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. The anger then was great. Murder and assassination has that effect on people. But what about corruption? The PDAF scandal was bad but was it as bad as the Aquino Assassination? Perhaps not so but close enough, given that several billion of tax payers money was robbed and this anger enflamed by the increase efforts to tax the citizens and daay by day account of the sheer arrogance in the pilfering of the tax payers’ money. It would lead any citizen: any tax payer of this country mad.
WAS IT ALL SOCIAL MEDIA ?
The Internet in particular social media became the pressure cooker through which the issue was cooked. But it was not the only medium. It was picked up and amplified as well in the newspapers, television stations and radio stations. It became the talk of Philippine Society. Napoles was christened the Pork Barrel Queen. PDAF and Pork Barrel became a pejorative and synonymous with corruption in all talk. Several memes were made about Napoles and Pork Barrel. One telling meme was photograph of a payslip with Napoles as a deduction. Soon enough there was a call for a million people March This was amplified within and outside social media – both in media (print and broadcast) and at the community level ( social and family circles). People, groups and communities were getting organized – social media and off-line meetings.
To say it was Social Media alone would be like describing an Elephant by its tusks and head. What was evident though was what Sandor Vegh describes as the different categories of Internet Activism – (i) Awareness/Advocacy; (ii) Organization and Mobilization; and Action/Reaction. There was a growing awareness of pork barrel corruption; then there were moves to mobilize; and action – the Million People March.
THE DIFFERENT AUDIENCES AND THEIR REACTIONS
As Napoles and the Pork Barrel scam cooked within social media. There were different audiences viewing and reacting to it.
The First Audience – The Netizens. As the days progressed and as the news and discussions of the pork barrel heated up. The anger of the netizens seem to increase, memes and comments became daily fodder. The usual balkanization did not readily happen. Perhaps this was because of the breadth and width of the crime.
The Second Audience – TV, Newspaper and Radio. Became the source and amplifier of the pork barrel scandal. Local media featured news and reactions to news about Napoles and the Pork Barrel. A cursory search online seem to indicate the intensity about the story limited to local media alone.
The Third Audience – Political, Civil Society and the Religious Groups. Most of these groups were gravitated and were galvanized against the Pork Barrel Scam. Aligning with the call to abolish pork barrel, put in aafeguards and prosecution of all those involved. Political Groups, specially those identified with the scam tried to distance or do some damage control.
The Fourth Audience – Outsiders. Foreigners: media, netizens and Governments did not weigh in on the issue. This might be because there were more compelling issues – for example the Chemicsl Attacks in Syria and/or the Vietnam’s Internet Law. Netizens with strong ties to the Philippines, did figure greatly in this issue and joined the Million People March by holding parallel events im their countries.
The Fifth Audience – The Government. In any country today, the Government is one of the big monitors of cyberspace. The Internet: Social Media in particular is the pressure cooker through which political issues are cooked. It is also the window of the Philippines to the rest of the World. In terms of elections, given the Internet Penetration Rate of the Philippines is at 35%, social media would not be effective. In a situation though like the Pork Barrel Scam: a political scandal, where there is no significant splintering or balkaniztion within the Netizens it can be effective. Then add to this the reporting and amplification by TV, Newspaper and Radio finding a solution that will appease the public is important. In fact the brogdinagian width and breadth of the scandal should have alerted the Government to take pre-emptive measures. And it seemed this was the case since the Government days before the Million People March said it would abolish pork. Avoiding for the moment the full brunt of anger caused by the Pork Barrel Scandal.
WAS IT SUCCESSFUL ?
Even if less than a million people attended the gathering at Luneta. I would say it was a success. The fact that people went beyond cyberspace means it was a success. What happened was awareness, mobilization and action. Two things were at play here for social media. First, Its strength to multiply and relay information. The so- called strength of weak ties – story of the pork barrel scandal: gross corruption at a brogdignagian scale was better than a soap opera that it went viral. And then Second, there is value of socisl currency, who would you trust to go with you there? A friend, a family member, or an mentor/leader? Strong links – Robin Dunbar’s strong ties theory.
But it is not social media alone. Whatever success the gathering was is also a product of other media. If it was not for other media then it would not have amplified across Philippine Society and attracted other people and groups to Luneta. Also it would not have been a success if there were no people nor groups on the ground to organize.
WHAT IS NEXT ?
It has been shown that Internet: cyberspace: social media is a effective to raise awareness, mobilize and do action on an issue provided it is amplified through out Philippine Society, by the older media. Its strength is that it is a window through which the World views the Country and it is a window through which the Government looks at a segment of Philippine Society – its Netizens. The Government is thus reactive to it if not at least observant. This despite balkanization at times.
So what now?
On the issue of the Pork Barrel Scandal the burden of all is to see that Justice is carried out and changes be made.
In effect it can become an effective channel to guard the nation. The Poet Juvenal asked: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Or as printed in the comic book Watchmen, “Who Watches the Watchmen?”
The answer is us.