Blogs: the new protest tool in the Philippines?

In 1986, the radio played an important part in assembling throngs of people along the streets for EDSA I. In 2001, the mobile phone was responsible for assembling people for EDSA II. Will EDSA III or EDSA IV see the advent of a new protest tool?

Blogging, as the new protest tool, was the heart of UP Law Internet and Society Program’s (ISP) iblog mini: Blogging Gloriagate conference, where the message conveyed was that as technology develops over the years, the way people get involved in social issues also changes.

Alecks Pabico, online manager at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), made the “blogging as protest tool” prediction long before Gloriagate broke out. “I consider myself some sort of a prophet because I said before that blogging may yet become the next protest tool of Filipinos.

And that’s what happened with Gloriagate,” declared Pabico.

When Gloriagate erupted, the controversial three-hour tape and transcript were first exposed in the blog of PCIJ ( Pabico said the PCIJ blog was only running for two months when the tapes were made public. “For us, it’s just about being at the right place at the right time. It’s there already, so what can we do?”

Pabico, along with PCIJ’s executive director Sheila Coronel, was surprised at how much attention the blog got. “At one point, we were registering 356,000 visitors, 8 million hits, 3 million page views, and 822 gigabytes of data transfer!” exclaimed Pabico.

The data transfer of audio files caused the organization’s blog to crash. “We had to ask help from our fellow bloggers on where to make the tapes available. It is amazing how people are ready to help you disseminate information. It makes me feel good that we are all working together for a common cause which is to bring about reform,” Pabico explained. “Blogging has indeed demonstrated the power of the Internet to bring about social change.”

Historian, speechwriter, and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Manuel Quezon III even expressed that blogging gives journalists more freedom because it is not bound by the rules of traditional media. “When you write for print, it still has to go through an editorial cycle, so there’s a chance that the article will go through some changes. When you blog, you’re only accountable for yourself. You are your own censor.” Quezon further explained that blogging provides journalists a forum that liberates them from people who pay their salary.

The freedom that a blog provides is what actually makes its readers support it. “Based from the comments that we got in our blog, we found out that people want unfiltered information. They want to make the verdict themselves,” Pabico said. This certainly is different from the style of mainstream media, which is to spoon-feed information to the public.

A blog is certainly a valuable addition to a journalist’s toolkit because blogging breaks the monotony of presenting information. With blogs, information can be delivered in a variety of multimedia formats such as transcripts, recordings, and in the case of PCIJ, even ring tones. Also, bloggers have the capability to run information that escapes the attention of traditional media. Blogging may just yet become the next medium for journalists.

But according to Atty. JJ Disini of the UP Law Internet and Society Program (ISP), bloggers cannot do away with traditional media because no one would pay attention to the blogs. “Blogs have a very limited audience. What’s happening is that sometimes, a blogger would pick up a certain piece of information. Then, members of the traditional media would pick up on it and air it,” Disini explained. This mutual relationship between blogs and the mainstream media, according to Pabico, is what is happening right now. “The relationship is complementing, supplementing, and sometimes supplanting.”

An example of this relationship is PCIJ’s experience with the Chavit X-tapes and with Gloriagate. “When we blog about our expos?s, sometimes, the mainstream media run our stories. We actually lose money because of this since we don’t get much profit out of our reports, but we figured that it’s more important to bring the information to the people,” explained Yvonne Chua, PCIJ’s training director.

With the success of the PCIJ blog comes the question of what lies ahead in the future. Is there life after Gloriagate? “We don’t know. We don’t know if we’re going to sustain blog-type expos?s. Blogging Gloriagate was a really hard experience for us because we were hacked almost three times,” shared Pabico. What the organization is sure of, however, is that they will still continue to deliver quality news and information to the people.

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