Letters to the Editor

Citizen journalists empowering communities through Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula

- Arlene Burgos -

MANILA, Philippines - For three weeks running now, citizens have been flooding our inboxes with pictures of devastation in their communities. There were numerous pictures of people wading through thigh-deep floodwaters, of houses submerged, of communities practically inundated. There were also videos of water rampaging through streets, wiping out cars and lampposts. Then there were the voice messages that call out for help, saying water is rising fast, there may not be enough time to get to the roof.

 These were what constituted citizens’ submissions to the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula movement of the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. Running for months now, and originally put up to be a citizen journalism campaign to encourage people to make more meaningful participation in our democracy by patrolling the elections and calling attention to wrongdoing, the movement has turned, overnight, into a help desk answering people’s calls during the onslaught of tropical storm Ondoy and super typhoon Pepeng. Calls were forwarded to relief and rescue officials who partly took the cue from the graphic pictures of which areas needed help, as these areas were being described by the citizens who were calling for help.

 It started out with Boto Patrollers — members of the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo movement — telling ABS-CBN what’s happening in their communities during the two calamities: describing what streets have been flooded or were impassable, saying which communities have been wiped out by the floodwaters, pointing which evacuation centers needed relief goods. Many of these were in photos that were aired in ABS-CBN’s news programs, as well as those of the ANC’s. People took the cue, and they started posting similar messages in Boto Mo iPatrol Mo’s accounts in Multiply (botomoipatrolmo.multiply.com) and in Facebook (facebook.com/BotoMo).

 At one point, Boto Mo iPatrol Mo’s Multiply page views surpassed those of the ABS-CBN’s entertainment sites, underlining people’s interest in what is happening in communities outside of their own.

 In a single week, Boto Mo iPatrol Mo’s Facebook fan page went from about 1,200 to 9,100 fans, fueled by the comments and posts of people — mostly young adults — who were exchanging information online about where help is needed, and where to find help.

 E-mails sent to the ireport@abs-cbn.com doubled because more people were sending more pictures. The photos came in steady streams from the time Ondoy hit to the time accusations broke of untimely water release from dams in the North.

 In fact, in the early hours of the flood in Nueva Ecija, Benguet and Pangasinan, Patrollers belonging to the non-professional radio group Regional Emergency Assistance Communications Team (React-Philippines) would alert the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo movement about citizens being trapped in high-risk communities in these provinces.

 These reports were passed on the ABS-CBN News Desk, and were verified. Later, React members would send text messages about which roads have become impassable, and where citizens have been trapped.

 This was not exactly the original idea for Boto Mo iPatrol Mo.

 Started in 2007 and spurred by citizen journalists’ reports of election anomalies in their areas, the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo contributed significantly to the ABS-CBN election coverage. It morphed into the Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, accepting citizens’ complaints against wrongdoing in their areas after the election season.

 The movement was re-launched in May 2009, exactly a year before the next national elections. With the tag “Ako ang Simula” the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo movement was poised to take in more citizen journalism reports, or submissions that non-professional journalists — citizens — can share from their communities: something that has never been done in the Philippines. To date, there are currently 42,063 Boto Patrollers — and still counting. Many of them have yet to master the art of being a citizen journalist. But mostly, Boto Patrollers know that the main task consist of being a vanguard of elections. The mantra, as it is repeatedly emphasized among Patrollers, is to call attention to election anomalies, to tell the public about this, to use the media as their “megaphone” to do this.

 By “patrolling” their communities, citizens have demonstrated that technology could be a very potent resource to empower the people.

 This brings home the point that a movement such as the Boto Mo iPatrol Mo:Ako ang Simula can potentially make the difference in the next elections.

 Armed with the knowledge that they can make a difference and initiate change in their society by calling attention to wrongdoing, Boto Patrollers may just be able to help ensure something the Philippines have always aspired for: clean and honest elections that will install government leaders who enjoy the full support of the people.

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