Letters to the Editor

BMPM: Getting the conversation going in and out of cyberspace

- Arlene Burgos -

MANILA, Philippines - Seven in 10 Filipino voters are influenced by the media, according to a recent survey by the Pulse Asia. By the pollster’s own admission, this makes traditional media the most powerful among the social institutions when it comes to voter influence.

Pulse Asia chairman Felipe Miranda noted survey results showed that the most influential is television, with radio being a far second. And this is despite data showing more Filipino families (about 83 percent) own radio sets compared to television sets (owned by about 71 percent of households). This can only mean an electorate that watches closely what television churns out, possibly recalling and picking up from what it had watched come election time.

In the same token, Filipinos — whether voters or not — are known to be the most social in cyberspace. The Philippines is the “social networking capital of the world,” with 83 percent of respondents in a Universal McCann survey declaring their membership to a social network. Oddly, the Philippines has yet to achieve a significant level of Internet penetration.

The Central Intelligence Agency Factbook says the Philippines has only 5.61 million Internet users in 2008. That makes the country only 42nd among countries in the world where Internet has been heard of, according to the Factbook. But it is also worth noting that according to data from internetworldstats.com, the Philippines possibly is among the world’s top 20 Internet-using countries, with as many as 24 million of its people in cyberspace in 2009. It should be pointed out that either way — whether the Philippines is the 42nd or 19th in the ranking of countries using Internet — existing data is not indicative of actual computer ownership and Internet connection in the households; both data simply mean Filipinos are into the Internet — they both fail to mention that poverty has prevented many Filipinos from actually owning a computer, much less having an access to the Internet in their homes.

This — powerful television and rising Internet popularity — is the milieu within which the Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM) movement is born. BMPM is ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs’ election-focused citizen journalism advocacy. First coming into action in 2005 as Citizen Patrol, the project has evolved from being a “help desk” of sorts for downtrodden citizens in need of a fix for their uncollected garbage or dirt roads to being a “megaphone” for election irregularities, such as the school/precinct razing incident that caused a teacher/election inspector’s death reported via the Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo coverage of the 2007 elections.

Re-born into the BMPM: Ako ang Simula in May 2009, exactly a year before the next national elections, the movement now boasts of nearly 50,000 members, many of them within the 18 to 24 age bracket — which makes the Boto Patroller membership a bunch of active cell phone and social network users.

Five months after the Ako ang Simula launching, Boto Patrollers have made their presence most felt, apparently owing to their age group’s natural tendency towards cyberspace, in the movement’s social network sites Multiply and Facebook.

Boto Patrollers relate to each other, comment on each other’s posts, advise each other — in short, talk to each other in these sites. These were highly visible in the big news coverages of ABS-CBN: the death of former President Cory Aquino, the storm Ondoy and the typhoon Pepeng, the commemoration of the declaration of Martial Law, the end of voter registration Oct. 31, 2009, the forum of ANC featuring US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and very recently, the declaration of the pairs running for president and vice president of the republic.

Close to 200,000 pictures, videos, comments, blog posts were logged in by Patrollers and citizens about the Aquino death. The twin disasters that flooded Manila, the eastern Manila suburbs and the Northern Luzon provinces saw thousands of e-mails, text messages and posts from Patrollers and citizens who sent photos, videos and reports to call attention to the water-submerged communities — prodding relief officials and workers and directing them to the worst-hit areas.

Another thousand, at the very least, of emails and text messages were sent by Patrollers and citizens in the runup to the Oct. 31 2009 voter registration.

As candidacies are being firmed up, BMPM’s Facebook page fans would post comments on which pairs they like or dislike, fueling more comments and prompting discussions. Many of these Internet activities, after verification by ABS-CBN journalists, see air and get broadcasted, and in that sense, make for a very dynamic partnership between TV and the Internet, with each validating and exponentially multiplying the other’s reach. This is a complementarity that has allowed conversations between citizens in the Internet, and has paved the way as well for these conversations to be mirrored in television.

And from how it looks, there is no stopping those conversations.

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