Power of social media

The social media have come of age in our country. The awesome people-gathering power of Facebook and Twitter has been proven beyond doubt by the Million People March (MPM) last Aug. 26.

Different from Edsa PP. Significantly, the span, breadth and depth of MPM have been expanded by traditional media, especially the Inquirer and the major radio-television networks, enabling it to reach the masses who do not have the computers, tablets and smart phones to access social media directly.

At this point, it no longer matters how many exactly attended the rally. Whether it was one million, or 400,000 or only 50,000 does not matter anymore. What matters is that its message has penetrated and outraged all sectors of society via mass media.

Edsa People Power 1 and 2 were ignited by a common major convenor, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. Both events led to the instant ouster of our top leaders, President Ferdinand E. Marcos in PP1 and Joseph E. Estrada in PP2.

True, the Catholic Church (celebrating World Youth Day), Brother Mike Velarde and the Iglesia ni Cristo have convened larger congregations at Luneta but these were well-planned religious liturgies and spiritual awakenings. True also, electoral “miting de avance” and political campaigns have been propelled by bigger crowds.

In contrast, MPM was spontaneously called by an enraged populace to galvanize action against a bedeviling issue of governance, the pork barrel scam. It was not meant to oust a sitting President or to renew religious fervor or to propel candidacies. It had no big-name convenor, no institutional organizer, no platform speakers, no grandstanding orators, no pre-planned program, no busses to ferry in the “hakot,” no financiers to feed them, no celebrity singers to entertain them and no rabble rousers to taunt them.

Yet came the mammoth crowd. That knew what they were there for and vented their rage by simply being there. That sensed their common cause and common fervor. That recognized and promptly shooed away the pretenders and fellow travelers who surfaced with different agenda.

Gradual phaseout. Unlike PP1 and PP2, which ousted two sitting chief executives of the country after four days of continuous rallies at Edsa, MPM gathered only for a day and did not produce any immediate palpable result.

Nonetheless, I believe President Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other leaders heard our people’s cry. In fact, even before the rally began, President Aquino already announced the demise of the hated Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF.

True, the President did not abolish pork barrel completely; in fact, it will remain in the 2014 budget, with the safeguards installed by Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. While pork barrel will not disappear overnight, in time I think it will. Given P-Noy’s reformist streak, I think pork barrel would eventually be abolished within the next three years. The people have spoken and P-Noy is not deaf.

Yes, the abolition will be gradual and will not happen overnight, unlike the ouster of Marcos and Estrada. MPM is destined to transform not just our leaders but the very culture and mores of our political and social life. And that cannot be rushed, lest it disembowels and destroys the very foundations of society that it seeks to strengthen and uphold.

New species of free expression. Social media are the newest species of the freedom of expression and are entitled to the same constitutional protection, thus “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

Free expression originated during the Middle Ages when people began speaking against their kings and emperors. Free speech was naturally followed by the right to peaceful assembly to redress grievances. When the printing press was invented, freedom of expression was expanded to include freedom of the press.

And when the Industrial Age dawned, labor’s right to strike and to picket also became modes of protected speech. Thereafter, radio, television and cinema came up and were likewise given constitutional mantle. During the last two decades, opinion polls and election surveys have become parts of free expression.

Indeed, as mankind pushes the frontiers of science in mass communications, so must the scope of free expression expand. Twitter, Facebook and other social media are the most recent technological expansion of the freedom of expression. Originally used for bonding with friends and relatives, they have become new tools of social transformation and reformation.

Now that our people have found these novel tools to effect change, they will, I am sure, continue to use them and to insist that the milestone begun on Aug. 26, 2013 be celebrated in the years to come. Government may as well adjust to the new vigilance of our citizenry. The earlier our officials recognize this reality the better for everyone.

What better way to demonstrate this recognition and adjustment than to be more transparent and accountable in the performance of public duty. And the best guarantee of transparency and accountability is the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. Let’s abolish pork, let’s investigate and penalize the pork abusers and plunderers—and let’s make sure this mess will never happen again through a new FOI law guaranteeing greater public scrutiny of official responsibility.

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