MANILA, Philippines — When droves of people showed up in white at Luneta Park for what was dubbed as the “Million People March” against a corruption-ridden pork barrel system, many were conscious of the fact about how the call for the August 26 march started.
Largely driven by a single Facebook post and a subsequent event invite that found thousands of social media users clicking “Going” on the page, the Million People March as conceptualized and pushed by civilian Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña grew big and breathed a life of its own within just a few days after the pork-barrel scandals broke out.
It will be remembered that just a few weeks before the protest, news broke that a certain Janet Lim-Napoles had been setting up bogus NGOs to funnel the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), commonly known as the pork barrel, of certain congressmen and senators amounting to as much as P10 billion into their own pockets.
With over 30 million Filipinos on Facebook, it was only a matter of time before the event invite snowballed and reached thousands of Internet users.
“[That] is the nature of social media,” said Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (@momblogger), one of the more prominent social media activists and part of the organizing team of Monday’s protest. “This is Generation C, the connected Citizen . We are not only connected but greatly informed and empowered.”
Dado said she wasn’t able to see Bretaña’s original post, but was informed of the march only by a friend who shared the event page. Dado’s case was the same as many of those who went to the march only by the coaxing of friends, or by the gentle nudge of their parents or colleagues.
Social media protests
In the past, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become ingenious and effective means of protest against a number of issues, including key controversial legislation such as the Reproductive Health Law and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
In the case of the cybercrime law, netizens organized themselves around various online campaigns that encouraged them to replace their profile pictures with a black box and post messages with parts redacted, indicating the potential effects of the law on free speech online.
Offline, many trooped to the streets and in front of the Supreme Court, where many groups and individuals filed petitions to scrap contentious provisions of the law. The protest was so widespread the high court was forced to issue an indefinite temporary restraining order against the implementation of the law.
But though the cybercrime protests of 2012 were widely successful, no other march or protest driven by social media gathered that much people in a single venue as much as the Million People March did since the uprisings in EDSA that deposed two sitting presidents.
“One (the original poster) shared a compelling wall post that connects with people and connects those people with other people. The message was passed on and it resonated with our respective communities,” explained Dado.
But for Tonyo Cruz (@tonyocruz), a blogger and Internet activist, social media did its part in disseminating information and gathering groups together but there were other factors that influenced the willingness of people to march and make their anger known to corrupt politicians.
The medium and the message
“Social media acted as an organizing, communication, publicity, awareness-raising and mobilizing tool for citizens,” Cruz said in a postscript of the march posted on his blog. “[But] the key difference is the message. Pitted against each other, the message of the marchers, a call for the abolition of the pork barrel, proved superior to the apologies and deceitful statements of President Aquino and his intellectually-impoverished defenders.”
Unlike during the 2013 Senatorial elections where netizens were divided across a number of candidates to support, Cruz pointed out that the single, unifying message encouraged people from all walks of life — from upper class socialites, to celebrities, to militant groups, and even to ordinary tax-paying citizens — to rally and march under a common cause.
“[All of President Aquino's maneuvers] proved not enough to thwart or stop [Monday's] protests in Manila and elsewhere. Mainly because, the marching and protesting citizens carried a superior message that they amplified via the mass actions and using social media,” Cruz said.
“As they say, content is King,” he added.
According to Dado, the purpose of the march was clear to everyone who went and who understood the three key messages of the protest: to scrap the pork barrel, the account for all the money spent using the pork barrel, and to probe and punish those who abused their pork allocations.
As tens of thousands marched to Luneta despite the muddy ground and the onus of rain, the faces, the histories, and the affiliations of people on the ground were drowned by the backdrop painted by a singular group of people wearing white and bearing a single message: “enough is enough.”