People Power II in the Philippines
Excerpts from this case study were originally published in "Digital Activism Decoded: The New Mechanics of Change" edited by Mary Joyce.
In early 2001, five days of protests coordinated by text message led to the resignation of President Joseph Estrada. How did the president lose his power to protesters? Was it possible that the simple act of sending text messages and responding to calls for action led to his downfall?
Filipinos were closely following the impeachment trial for Estrada, who was brought to trial on charges of corruption and mismanagement. When it was announced on television news broadcasts that 11 senators had voted against unsealing evidence that would have easily convicted Estrada, the public was outraged. Immediately, Filipinos began to send text messages to one another and to coordinate protests against the allegedly corrupt leader.
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
The mobile phone became the key device used in coordinating collective action. Mobile phones are ubiquitous in the Philippines. In early 2002, one year after People Power II, there were an estimated 11 million mobile subscribers out of a population of 78 million. At the time, internet penetration was less than 1 percent. Filipinos were already well-versed in sending text messages.
Quickly following the senators’ decisions, Filipinos began responding to text messages calling them to action. Typical SMS messages included the following examples:
"Wear black to mourn the death of democracy."
"Expect there to be rumbles."
"Military needs to see 1 million at a rally tomorrow, Jan. 19, to make a decision to go against Erap! Please pass on."
All sources indicate that the messages calling for mass demonstrations were not the result of an alert system where Filipinos had signed up to received texts about emergencies or calls to action. Rather, Filipinos primarily received messages from peers within their existing social networks. The origin of the first messages calling for a gathering at the site of the 1986 revolution (People Power I) is unknown. However, it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that multiple individuals had the same idea to organize at the same place as they did 15 years earlier.
Demonstrations and protests took place over a five-day period with an estimated one million Filipinos participating. In reaction to the large protests, cabinet members fled their posts, police and army members sided with the protesters, Estrada resigned, and Gloria Arroyo was sworn in as the new president.
The events of People Power II exemplify how conditions ripe for political activity, coupled with the power of emerging technology, can converge to create a powerful movement with lasting consequences. Smart Communications, Inc., a mobile operator in the Philippines, reported that in one day, over 70 million text messages were sent (the daily average was around 30 to 40 million). On the contrary, an e-petition that was hoping to collect 1 million signatures to call for Estrada’s resignation only received 91,000 signatures.
Looking at the local culture and circumstances, a crowd could have been mobilized via voice messages, e-mails, and word of mouth. However, low internet penetration, combined with the time-consuming nature of calling and speaking to individuals within your social network, would have prevented the demonstrations from occurring quickly. Filipinos were able to utilize a tool they were already familiar with—text messaging–to communicate their ideas and plans rapidly and present a forceful showing against Estrada immediately after the news about the vote was released.blog comments powered by Disqus