Starweek Magazine

Putting the elections on the map

- Arlene Burgos -

MANILA, Philippines - A couple of weeks before election day, ABS-CBN will be unveiling its latest project to allow citizens to directly report the status of their communities as far as violence and election- or campaign-related irregularities are concerned.

Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM) will be opening its website (bmpm.abs-cbnnews.com) for all registered users to give status reports from their localities through an interactive map. This is the first time a giant broadcasting company in the Philippines is utilizing a purely user-generated content map to allow people to report directly about events in their areas.

Boto Patrollers – citizen journalists who are members of the BMPM community – are encouraged to plot in the map whether they have observed violence or campaign-related irregularities in their areas.

Plotting an entry in the map simply entails identifying and marking the correct place and giving details of the purported incident. This means a Boto Patroller, for instance, can report if he has witnessed an election-related incident of gun ban violation in his area.

The map is another way to empower citizens – who are used by this time to cooperating with media and would even contribute their own reports about incidents in their areas – to voice out. If people can immediately report about an incident, abusive elements of that community would be warned against trampling on citizens’ rights.

The map also gives citizens immediate access to a form of “public record” which serves as reference for authorities.

But this map is only one of several tasks Boto Patrollers have on their plate for the coming elections. On election day, Patrollers, hopefully, would be able to hold up to their pledge to patrol the electoral process and effectively guard democracy. They can do this by carrying on with the same tasks they had in the past year: by giving news tips, articles, pictures or videos of events they themselves had witnessed or taken a record of in their communities.

Much of the “dry run” for the execution of these tasks happened the year before elections when Boto Patrollers contributed their own materials to ABS-CBN’s news coverage of important events like how the Philippines mourned the death of former President Cory Aquino, the “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” disasters, and the Maguindanao massacre.

What Boto Patrollers Do

Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula registrations, since the movement started in May 2009, stand at about 75,000. This excludes the informal community of Patrollers in the BMPM sites in the Internet: 55,000 fans in Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (Official Page) in Facebook, the botomoipatrolmo.multiply.com and the bmpm.abs-cbnnews.com sites.

Registered Patrollers are free to post pictures and videos in all these sites, and these have been rich sources of materials that give news stories color and flavor.

Aside from these sites, Patrollers may also send their materials – whether these are news tips, articles, pictures or videos – through email (ireport@abs-cbn.com) or cell phone.

Patrollers can send text or MMS images to 2366, and they just have to type IREPORT<space>name, address, age, gender.

However they may wish to convey their reports, the most important aspect of Patroller tasks would be the one involving actual immersion in one’s community.

An effective Patroller can report what he has witnessed or experienced because he is in his area. While ABS-CBN and the BMPM team has consistently reminded Patrollers to think of safety first, and never to put themselves in the way of any kind of harm, the best Patroller reports have always been those produced from the field.

Numerous instances attest to this: a Boto Patroller from Maguindanao gave the world the first picture of the massacre site hours after the killings on Nov. 23, 2009; Patrollers trapped in the flood waters of the Pepeng and Ondoy twin disasters contributed the most compelling pictures and videos; Patrollers enduring the long queues during the voter registrations last October and December gave the most vivid description of the long lines.

One of Boto Patrollers’ best moments was when citizen journalists came during the mock elections conducted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to test counting machines last February. Many of these Patrollers reported early on that proceedings were marred by minor confusion and rejected ballots, calling attention to the fact that Comelec systems may not yet be as tight as it had wanted less than 100 days before elections, and that there were glitches in the way the counting machines accepted the paper ballots.

Raymard Gutierrez, a Boto Patroller in New Era Elementary School in Quezon City, reported at 9:03 a.m. of the mock poll day that a ballot was rejected by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine. Meanwhile, Reggie Espiritu, Euvelyn Mastulin and Rouch Dinglasan, Patrollers in Gen. Papa High School in Taguig, separately reported relatively orderly elections.

The expected 50 voters failed to show up on time at Maharlika Elementary School in Taguig, and by 8:22 a.m., Boto Patrollers Patrick Villavicencio, Benjie Rogelio and Jessica Avila were separately reporting instances of voter confusion.

These citizens’ submissions added flavor to the coverage, and enriched storytelling with personal accounts from the communities.

On election day, Boto Patrollers, hopefully, would perform as they have in the past, and contribute to this storytelling.

The author is new media manager of Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula.

Editor’s note: Every Sunday until the Sunday before election day, we will run articles on the different aspects of the May 10 polls, including the automated election system itself and the machine, how to vote, what to do and what not to do, the citizen’s role, and others. This series is an initiative of STARweek in cooperation with non-partisan groups, and does not involve any politician or political party. Readers may send in questions and comments by email to starweek.events@gmail.com.

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