Long before any slick ad campaign or Barack Obama, I set out to change my world. My inspiration was Mahatma Gandhi, who simply said: “Be the change you want to see.” My world was the Philippines, journalism and ABS-CBN in particular.
For a long time, I had a love-hate relationship with the Philippines. I love being Filipino but hated the inefficiency, the lack of standards, the acceptance of mediocrity, our situational ethics, our systems of patronage, and our often unjust justice system. Sometimes, when things don’t work, you hate that which you love.
While I was living outside the Philippines, that was ok. But I realized I didn’t have the right to criticize if I didn’t pitch in and help. So I did – ending nearly 18 years with CNN to come home to the Philippines for good in 2005. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I knew I wanted to retire here. I was old enough to have real experience but young enough to still believe idealism and hard work can change our world.
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I’m not the first to say this – that the big change – the revolution – happens after a series, maybe hundreds, thousands of small changes, are pushed by people like you and me. If we each do our part in our areas of interest, then maybe we can reach what Malcolm Gladwell calls the Tipping Point – when the momentum for change becomes unstoppable. It’s the same theory – whether it’s in ABS-CBN’s newsroom or strengthening democracy in the Philippines. It starts with a vision for the future – how things can be better. Then you spread that idea person to person before we reach the critical mass of the tipping point – and change the entire system. I tested this theory in practice – and I can tell you – at least in the newsroom of ABS-CBN, it works.
This idea has powered every move we’ve made, every program we’ve created: that change begins with you. That you need to stop standing by the sidelines complaining and start doing something – anything – to change what you don’t like. It starts with each of us – moving together in the real hard work of nation-building.
We created a newscast called BANDILA, which won the Philippines’ first ever Emmy nomination. In 2005, our year end offering was AKO ANG SIMULA – focusing on people who changed their world for the better. Last year, ABS-CBN’s Foundation gathered artists together in a music video, BAGONG SIMULA. But our most successful project was in the 2007 elections, when we turned our CITIZEN PATROL to a campaign that won top international awards - BOTO MO, I-PATROL MO. We took the immense power of traditional media – print, tv, radio, cable - and combined it with new media – the Internet and mobile phone technology – to create the first instance globally where a news organization called on citizen journalists to come together to patrol their votes and push for clean elections.
The idea for Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo was simple: get the people to care and to take action. It’s people power with new technology! If you see something wrong or something good, tell us about it. If you see someone trying to buy the votes, snap a picture on your cellphone and send it to us. If you see a town mayor using public vehicles for his campaign, shoot video with your cellphone and send it to us. If you see violence, tell us about it, and after a verification process, we will put it to air. Two months into the 4-month campaign, we received reports from the provinces that Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo helped level the playing field where incumbents were running after we ran a story with the cellphone picture of city resources used for campaigns. So cellphones became effective weapons!
The sheer volume of messages we received – about 500 a day leading up to elections and 1 a minute on election day – showed us not only the public’s distrust for our institutions and the electoral process, but also more importantly, it highlighted their hunger for change and their own individual battles for integrity. Their fears – because it’s dangerous to fight the powers that be – were balanced by their own clamor to make things work. And when we gave them venues to do something about it, they did. After elections, the campaign became BAYAN MO, I-PATROL MO. The responses we received give me tremendous hope.
Today, I work in the same historic buildings I entered as a balikbayan in 1986 – excited with the promise of people power. Once the government station under Ferdinand Marcos – a symbol of its repressive rule, it transformed overnight into the people’s voice - People’s Television 4. A year later, the buildings were returned to the Lopez family, the original owners, one of whom was jailed when the buildings were taken over by the government under martial law. I was here during the coup attempts of the late 80’s and during Proclamation 1017 in 2006, when the government stationed an armored personnel carrier outside our gates.
Working here reminds me of the cycles of history, the excesses and failures of power, and the role media plays in nation-building. It is also a symbol to me of the failure of Philippine-style democracy, the unfulfilled promises, our mangled institutions and our collective - trampled but indefatigable - craving for something better. As head of news for ABS-CBN, I see the daily search for meaning and hope when I read through the scripts of our newscasts.
Reality today gives little cause for optimism: our political system is largely bereft of real meaning because our politicians have changed alliances so often, they seem to have lost track of what they stand for. When symbols lose their meanings and when government after government fails to deliver, we become cynical and apathetic. But we can’t stop here!
One year before the 2010 elections, stand up and say ENOUGH.
It’s time to stop complaining, and time to start doing.
It’s time to stop blaming everyone else, and time to accept responsibility for building our future.
It’s time to stop accepting the world as it is – corrupt, inefficient, unfair and unjust – and start visualizing the world as it can – and should – be.
BOTO MO, I-PATROL MO 2010 is about YOU. Join us and major partners Globe, Bayan, STI, the Philippine Star, Comelec as well as other commercial, trade and academic institutions one year before the critical May 10, 2010 elections as we launch BOTO MO, I-PATROL MO: AKO ANG SIMULA nationwide – in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Register to vote and join the movement in Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo sites in Manila, Pampanga, Cebu and Davao. Join all our news programs across all our different platforms in radio, TV, cable, Internet and on your cellphones! Let’s envision a better world. Join the first presidential debate on ANC with Senators Panfilo Lacson, Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas, Richard Gordon, Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro. Watch the Artists’ Revolution concert in partnership with YouthVote Philippines and ABS-CBN at the Music Museum: “365 Days to Change … Todo Na ‘To.”
Don ‘t let this chance for change pass you by. Use your power to vote wisely. We have one year to create the world we want. If you’ve had enough but don’t want to be defeated, stand up and say AKO ANG SIMULA.