ABS-CBN steps up 'Ako ang Simula' campaign

By Maria A. Ressa, Head, ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs; Managing Director, ANC

Posted at Jun 12 2009 01:00 AM | Updated as of Jun 12 2009 09:40 AM

You are powerful. You will make a difference. If we all come together now, we will reach the tipping point when change becomes inevitable and irreversible. These are the ideas behind Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo: Ako ang Simula, and there is no better time than now.

When friends and family overseas ask me what it’s like to live in the Philippines today, I tell the story of a famous science experiment that’s been used to describe the Middle East, global warming, and in my book, Indonesia right before the fall of Suharto. It’s about a frog and its survival instincts. If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it immediately jumps out. But if you put the frog in the pot on a burner with cool tap water, it stays there. Then you slowly turn up the heat. The temperature rises. The frog, which can jump out of the pot at any time, gets so used to the water that it doesn’t feel the gradual changes in temperature. Soon, the water is boiling and the frog dies in the pot, its natural instincts for self-preservation lulled into a fatal complacency. That is what is happening today.

When Congress passed House Bill 1109 calling for a Constituent Assembly without the Senate, it changed our society. The heat has been turned up, and despite assurances that we will have elections, yet another line has been crossed in the sand like Proclamation 1017 in 2006, the arrests of journalists at the Peninsula in 2007, the ongoing killings of journalists and activists – and just this weekend, the assassination of Sumilao farmer Rene Penas.

Along with the Constituent Assembly, congressmen also threatened to pass House Bill 3306, the right of reply – which if turned into law would put a sledgehammer in the hands of vested interests for the purpose of killing an ant. By using that hammer, it risks destroying the entire structure the ant is standing on. As it stands now, outdated Marcos-era laws like “obstruction of justice” and “wiretapping” are being revived and given new meaning to intimidate, harass and arrest journalists. But those “laws” pale in comparison to what can be done to stifle dissent and free speech with the right of reply bill.

Journalists, united across news groups, organized last week to protest. We called it unconstitutional, a form of prior restraint. The bill is incomplete, chaotic, impossible to implement and a throwback to an authoritarian past at a time when the rest of the world is embracing new media and technology. (It will affect bloggers and anyone else writing on the internet!) While it wasn’t passed, it continues to hang like a Damocles’ sword over our heads. The heat has been turned up again.

If you look closely, there are many instances like this affecting different groups – which ultimately change our society – and not for the better. The strategy is effective: focus on the details and parse the Truth. I recognize it from my days reporting on Suharto. When you parse the Truth, details – disconnected from a larger whole – lose their meaning, and it becomes difficult to assess exactly when the line has been crossed … or in the case of the frog, when it’s time to jump out. This is a time that requires vigilance and courage.

Last month (one year before elections), ABS-CBN and our partners, Globe, Bayan, STI, the Philippine Star, BusinessWorld, Comelec, PPCRV, Namfrel and YouthVote Philippines launched Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo: Ako ang Simula nationwide – in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. In one day, thousands of people lined up in the hot sun, waiting for hours to register to vote and become boto patrollers – citizens who promise to use new media and their cellphones to patrol the vote and push for clean elections in May 2010. We held the first of our leadership series – with presidential candidates Francis Escudero, Richard Gordon, Ed Panlilio, Mar Roxas and Gilbert Teodoro – and we had to turn people away at the Ateneo auditorium! The enthusiasm and the thirst for new ways of doing things was palpable that night.

It was the unofficial beginning of election season. Comelec credited our aggressive registration drive for helping increase voter registration by 456% from April to May. We weren’t alone. We helped ignite a plurality of efforts – youth groups like First Time Voters, YouthVote Philippines and Ayala Young Leaders, along with politicians like Register and Vote (RV) and Kaya Natin. Even the sometimes controversial Ako Mismo campaign followed and pushed the same idea of individual will and effort.

This month, we take it a step further. On June 5, we held our second leadership forum, this time at the University of the Philippines with Jejomar Binay, Joseph Estrada, Bayani Fernando and Loren Legarda (Ping Lacson announced he would drop out of the race that night). Like the first one, students lined up and were turned away after the house was packed hours before the program was slated to begin. Despite the rains, they refused to go home, instead choosing to sit on the floor outside watching the monitors. Inside, the candidates and audience braved the barely functioning airconditioning for nearly three hours for a spirited, substantive and often funny dialogue. The forum aired on ANC live on June 5, on Studio 23 on June 6 and on ABS-CBN on June 7. You can watch online on abs-cbnNEWS.com.

On June 11, ABS-CBN took the signature drumbeats from 2007’s Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo to form the foundation of our music video launch of Ako ang Simula, spearheaded by singer-songwriter Rico Blanco, Imago lead singer Aia de Leon and Sandwich frontman Raimund Marasigan. They are joined by Barbie, Sinosikat, Rocksteddy, Chicosci, the Ambassador, Salamin, Pochoy, AstroJuan, the reporters, anchors and managers of ABS-CBN News in a musical call for change: “Wag nang mahimbing sa sariling mundo/Wag nang iwaldas ang dekadang bago/Ako ang tutupad sa pangakong ito/Ako ang Simula ng pagbabago.” It was shown live on ABS-CBN, ANC and Studio 23.

June’s cornerstone is Independence Day, our effort to fast-forward its meaning to the twenty-first century. The core of our campaign is how traditional media can combine with new media and mobile phone technology to transform society and clean up our elections. In 2007, we empowered ordinary Filipinos and they rose to the challenge – 500 messages a day in the run-up to elections and more than 2,000 messages on election day! That is only a rehearsal for what we can collectively do in 2010.

On June 12, the full force of ABS-CBN kicks into high gear again nationwide - in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – and, this time, internationally – in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. Comelec works on a holiday so you can register to vote. Become a boto patroller in 19 ABS-CBN stations nationwide and with anchors Pinky Webb in Legazpi City, Julius Babao in Iloilo City and Ces Drilon in General Santos City. All day coverage begins at 5:15 in the morning and ends after midnight the next day.

The times, they are a-changing, and we are keeping pace. Millions of Filipinos are taking part in our efforts through traditional media, but new media gives a chance for immediate feedback and action. That is changing societies globally, and it is happening here. There are so many inspirational moments in the past month and a half – moments of yearning, anger, joy and tremendous patience from thousands of Filipinos waiting hours in lines – to register and vote, to become a boto patroller, to watch the leadership forums – which at one point had nearly 150,000 people chatting and tweeting (using twitter) on new media. On the first night, the number of people who registered using their mobile phones increased by 1,700% after a TV Patrol World story!

Let me end the way I began and come full circle. The heat is rising. What we choose to do is up to each of us. The core of our campaign is simple. You are powerful. You will make a difference. If we all come together now, we will reach the tipping point when change – real, positive change – becomes inevitable and irreversible. If you’ve had enough and want better, join us. Stand up and say AKO ANG SIMULA.