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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 pro-
democracy 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!#