Nearing showtime for Boto Patrollers
- Arlene Burgos, New Media Manager Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula ABS-CBN News and Current Af () - April 22, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Tell me, how many times do we have to do this before we finally get it right?

This was a question I posted on my personal blog several years ago. I am a journalist exhausted from my country undergoing, every couple of years, a “revolution” of sorts, or always seeming to be on the verge of one. I wondered how many more times we had to have ‘Edsa’ - to gather by the thousands on a famous intersection, to wait for a critical mass of our population and of our and the world’s leaders — to get the result we desired. What we wanted, as a people, seemed simple enough: an efficient government that delivers social services to a functioning democracy. The universally accepted statute of limitation for thinking this goal takes sometime to achieve would be anywhere between a couple of generations to a couple of centuries. The Philippines has been grappling with this issue since we came to call ourselves Filipinos. Does it even surprise anyone if someone like me and many others from my generation would think we are facing the prospect of annihilation as a people if we don’t get this right in the next elections?

Those next elections happen May 10, 2010, less than three weeks from today. My news organization, ABS-CBN, has been up and about, had gone north to south, left to right of this archipelago, has employed all platforms within our arsenal preaching about the importance of this day and what’s riding the result of our collective power to install our next set of leaders. We are electing a whole bundle of executive and legislative officials who will have to deal with global economy paradigms gone berserk, a decaying planet, a ballooning national debt, worsening labor problems, a population time bomb. The next president need not be Superman. But the job sure requires super powers.

Against this background Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM) was born. It is the reincarnation of the 2007 BMPM of ABS-CBN, a citizen journalism project no one has thought would reach this magnitude. Consider this: the 2007 BMPM broke the story on a precinct burning in Taysan, Batangas that caused the death of a teacher; months after BMPM was launched on May 2009, a Boto Patroller (those pesky citizen journalists officialdom is beginning to recognize to be equally irritating as their professional counterparts) gave the world the very first picture to emerge from the carnage site of the November 2009 Maguindanao Massacre.

Others: Boto Patrollers from Maguindanao untiringly, and many times at great risk to their personal safety, gave tips about where the Ampatuan clan - some of whose members were linked to the massacre — supposedly hid their money, their arms, who their minions were, how the bureaucracy there operated under what seemed to be a perfect system of fiefdom that feeds on patronage politics and emboldened by perceived support from an imperial executive branch in Manila.

Equally astonishing was how these Boto Patrollers participated in ABS-CBN’s news coverage: the mourning for former President Cory Aquino, the Ondoy and Pepeng disasters, the chaos that was the voter registration, the illegal campaign tacks by national and local candidates. Unfazed by the great digital divide in the Philippines that halved the population into the Blackberry-bearing, mobile-web-using upper and middle classes, and the barely-affording-pre-paid-cell-phone masses, Boto Patrollers - most of whom belong to the latter — were trying to do more than what their cell phones without cameras or 3G could not do for them. They were trying their best to answer BMPM calls for texts, tips, pictures and even video. And just how much people are we talking about? There are 75,000 registered Boto Patrollers around the Philippines. In the online community, there is an informal group of about 60,000 scattered in Facebook, Multiply, the, Twitter and YouTube. Not everyone will send reports. But having all of these people silenced is impossible.  

I try, but there is no un-emotional way to describe what has been happening about this BMPM movement. How can you when these Boto Patrollers have operated almost solely on the beautiful notion that if we speak loud enough about what’s happening in our communities, our hollers will be loud enough to reach authorities and leaders, and the cries will go louder until it is impossible to ignore them? I have been a journalist for more than a decade now. I have covered riots, revolutions and rave parties. I have never seen this kind of passion before from a people who have nothing in common but the belief that they can start real change using their cell phones.

This passion fuels everyone behind BMPM for the final push for elections. The stage is set, preparations that took months have been made. It’s your show. It’s your time. It’s show time. Tell your story, Boto Patroller!  

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