Letters to the Editor

Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Moving towards the tipping point

- Arlene Burgos -

MANILA, Philippines - IT feels just like yesterday when we were at a convention center in General Santos City before at least a thousand students, telling the audience about Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM), ABS-CBN’s election-focused citizen journalism project.

It was during that workshop when I first heard Maria Ressa, ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Senior Vice President explain fully the ‘tipping point.’ Using the theory of the tipping point — the point at which change becomes inevitable, unstoppable, irreversible — Ressa explained to the crowd of mostly college students and young professionals how taking a more active role in the 2010 elections is vital to changing this country’s history. The theory is to be her trademark speech, and the centerpiece of all her succeeding appearances when she would talk about BMPM.

Ressa’s point: the Philippines will benefit from participatory democracy; change would happen if each one takes on a more active role in that democracy’s processes, such as elections. Thus, people should not only vote, they should also patrol their votes. And by “patrolling,” we mean hollering for all the world to hear when you notice an irregularity or questionable act in your polling place. You do that by calling attention to an issue, alerting the news media, and highlighting it in a way that would make people react, if not act.

By using the media as our ‘megaphone,’ we start changing the way we have been doing elections in this country. We start that by “Patrol-ling.”

Between that workshop for would-be citizen journalists at GenSan in July and now, we have seen an enormous change among the Boto Patrollers — people who become part of the BMPM community either by registration or by submission of a news tip or report. These Patrollers were the real heroes of the Ondoy and Pepeng disasters, helping ABS-CBN chart a map of where the flooding and inundation were taking place. Because of these reports, ABS-CBN was able to alert relief officials and authorities where help is immediately and most needed. Thousands sent pictures, videos, text messages to help ABS-CBN do that.

Hours after the Maguindanao Massacre broke, one very brave Boto Patroller sent to BMPM text messages and the very first photograph from the site of the carnage. The text messages and the photo would help validate accounts that, in the first 24 hours after the massacre, made up for a hazy picture of what really happened in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009 when 57 people were shot, mutilated to their deaths, backhoed to waiting graves.

Days after, Boto Patrollers — naturally afraid for their lives and with their voices trembling when BMPM staff and ABS-CBN journalists would call them to validate their stories — never ceased giving bits and pieces of useful information that has so far helped prove the following: civilians who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time were massacred along with the Mangudadatu kin and supporters, armed groups had prepared to attack or ambush the Mangudadatu convoy days before the massacre, private armies have unbelievable arms cache and ammo deposits all over Maguindanao, the Ampatuans — central suspects in the massacre — have wielded extraordinary power and dominion over the region.

That last bit was, for better or for worse, a major argument for placing Maguindanao under martial law, the declaration of which formally came Dec. 5, 2009. By the time this happened, the BMPM community — now numbering to at least 65,000 registrants, Faceboook fans and Multiply group members — have their full attention to the fact that the Maguindanao Massacre is the worst election-related violence of its kind in the Philippines. They were sending out opinions, texting messages pro- and anti- the declaration.

By the time this piece hits the newsstands, it is unclear how that martial law declaration will pan out. Will it last the entire 60 days as it was originally intended for? Will the President be able to justify it fully and win congressional imprimatur? Will public opinion be on martial law’s side?

No one knows the answers. But Patrollers have been ensuring they would get to say their piece. And that is the idea.

The big march towards the tipping point will begin not just in grand rallies condemning massacres and wrongdoing. In the end, the giant step could happen in places where conversations are happening — where the clamor for change is being seeded and taking root. In the end, the big wave of change will happen because we have all decided we will collectively push towards it by speaking about it, by demanding it, by seeing through it — until we hit that point when change becomes inevitable, unstoppable, irreversible.

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