2010 highlighted the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a powerful tool for activism and social change – especially in the Philippines. Here is a look back into the highlights we Filipinos bore witness to both locally and globally. Let it be a portent of greater developments in advancing ICT for the People to all of us.
1. 2010 Elections and the Automated Election System (AES)
It was the first time in world history that a full computerized electoral practice was ever implemented on a national scale. Compared to referendums and state elections where AES technology is usually implemented, the many permutations in a national election (especially one with a party list system full of bogus candidacies) is bound to have a complex coding leading to complex problems. As CPU, the ICT community and various poll watchdogs monitored flaw after flaw in the COMELEC’s hasty preparations leading to the elections, the implementation of AES technology was compromised into a technical failure.
Despite this, the May 2010 election results was considered to be a success. The president-elect Noynoy Aquino, however, has yet to come up with any concrete resolution, 100 days after taking office and beyond, to the questions left unanswered in the probability of large-scale disefranchisement and fraud due to the technology and the general management of the elections.
2. Citizen Electoral Monitoring
The May 2010 elections was not without positive highlights. The Filipino ICT community came out in droves to empower the voting population, and CPU tried to harness these efforts into an organized coordination by organizing the citizens’ electoral monitoring conference alongside CENPEG and other partners of the EU-funded Project 30-30. Various digital tools and poll monitoring efforts were showcased and pooled together, such as the Ushahidi-based Vote Report Philippines project by CPU and the Google Maps-based Election Exchange by 98 Labs being coordinated with the monitoring efforts of poll watchdog Kontra Daya.
It was also in this conference that the beginnings of the #Juanvote citizen reporting network was formulated alongside new media reporting stalwarts Blogwatch and 100 Araw. These outfits became the first citizen reporters officially accredited by COMELEC to cover the elections. An assessment of these ICT monitoring efforts, aside from general assessments of the electoral practice, was presented in CPU’s post-election ICT conference.
3. Software Freedom Day (SFD) Philippines 2010
Inspired by the droves of information technologists and computer scientists going out to volunteer their technical know-how in support of the 2010 elections, the CPU alongside the Software Freedom Day network decided to slate this year’s main celebration of SFD, the annual commemoration of free/open sources software (FOSS), under the theme “Change is FOSSible!”, highlighting the role of FOSS in social change and nation-building. SFD was the peak of the FOSS Week celebration sponsored by Bayan Muna that also served as the launch of their FOSS on the GO campaign to promote HB 1011 – the FOSS Act of 2010.
Suffice to say that SFD Philippines 2010 was the largest and most socially-oriented celebration in the entire Philippine history, generating a total of 2,000 participants in the entire week-long celebration, with about 700 of those composing the main celebration day. Its plenary sessions focused on the benefits of FOSS to society, and its breakout sessions icluded FOSS for education and advocacies. CPU came out with a comprehensive report on the celebration. And with lessons from the good and bad practices this year, we can look forward to a bigger, better and more relevant SFD Philippines 2011.
It was a global hit when Julian Assange’s website WikiLeaks announced that it would release thousands of US embassy documents acquired from an anonymous source. Using digital privacy technologies, WikiLeaks has been exposing US controversies on various issues such as the US-Iraq wars since 2006, but has come out in its most explosive releases this year, prompting the illegal arrest of Assange and the continuous Denial of Service attacks on the site.
The patriotic scientists’ organization Agham recently came out with an article analyzing the cables that came from US’ embassy to the Philippines. It should serve as a reminder to us that US imperialism’s interference in our economy, society and politics still remains, and the challenge for the local ICT community to produce more Assanges and WikiLeaks types of actions continues to be of utmost importance to us technologists.
5. Philippines top in Business Processing and Outsourcing
While seen by many as a positive indicator of development, Philippines’ overtake of India into the top BPO position is differently significant to the critical eye. The $7-billion BPO industry legacy of the Arroyo regime continues under Aquino’s pursuit of public-private partnerships (PPPs), indicating the state’s stronger hand in bringing such BPO multinationals into the country.
The BPO industry has long been criticized as a diversion from the reality that there exists no genuine ICT industry in the Philippines: 70 percent of the electronics manufacturing industry is foreign-owned, while only 7.4 percent of those employed in BPOs are actually involved in software engineering. The unabated expansion of BPOs in the Philippines is telling of the government’s subscription to the otherwise.
Yet we must face the reality that BPOs are here to stay for a while. Despite the boom in contact center operations, professionals in this industry continue to have little or no welfare and protection. While there exists a semblance of legislative support in Kabataan Partylist’s HB 2592 (the BPO Workers’ Welfare and Protection Act) filed this year, no organized grassroots effort exists to represent and uphold the interests of these technology users.
6. Kapirasong Kritika a Finalist in the Philippine Blog Awards
Considered by many to be the poster boy of progressive politics in the blogosphere, the breakthrough of Teo Marasigan’s Kapirasong Kritika into the people’s choice award and the best Filipiniana blog award finalists of the Philippine Blog Awards speaks of the patriotic politics into the online mainstream. Losing by a small margin to a blog running on Lasallean school pride, it almost took the title of People’s Choice — but in the hearts of the many fellow bloggers and readers who campaigned for Kapirasong Kritika, his was the rightful attribution of this award.
Marasigan uncompromisingly wrote his blogs in Filipino — and has developed a cult following in the niche of internet-savvy activists, students, academicians and writers to name a few. Considered in 2009 by online media publication Pinoy Weekly as the year’s most distinguished progressive blog, Kapirasong Kritika was demonstrative of how new media could serve as a tool for change: alternative and critical views and opinions on politics and culture popularized through interactive and networked means.
There is much we can do and, indeed, much we need to be doing to struggle for a genuine ICT industry and a truly democratic society in the Philippines. Before the year ends, for instance, TXTPower has already launched a campaign for #betterinternet with an online petition calling for better broadband services. 2011 is now upon us — there is no better time to join us in advancing ICT for the People.