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Featured Stories

The Paradox of Freedom: People Power in the Information Age

by David Celdran
When public space migrates to the airwaves and the news pages, politics risks degenerating into a spectator sport.

Lanao’s Dirty Secrets

by Sheila S. Coronel
What really happened in Lanao del Sur in 2004 that prompted the attempts to silence Brig. Gen. Gudani?

10 Reasons to Doubt the 2004 Election Results
by Yvonne T. Chua and Avigail M. Olarte
The numbers don’t alays add up, and that’s just one reason why last year’s elections are so controversial.

Can Comelec Reform?
by Alecks P. Pabico
Despite being hounded by controversy, the elections body is resisting change.

The Officers Who Say No
by Luz Rimban
Military and police officers believe reforming the system begins with reforming the individual.

Reporting under the Gun
by Vinia M. Datinguinoo
Mei Magsino escaped the wrath of the alleged jueteng lord who is also Batangas governor.

Battle of the Billboards
by Charlene Dy
They’re big, bold, and not quite beautiful. They can also be a health and environmental hazard, but so far, no one is policing billboards.

Resilience Amid Ruin
by Tess Bacalla
Many more women than men died in the Aceh tsunami. Today the women survivors wrestle with disaster relief programs that don’t consider special needs.

A Gift of Self
Young people discover life’s meaning by doing volunteer work.

Impersonating Presidents
by Elvira Mata
This is a coutnry where there's always someone spoofing a president — dead or alive — on TV, during cocnerts, and from time to time, at people power marches. Five actors top the list of the country's best impersonators.

La Vida Doble
by Tony Velazquez
Because Philippine politics is so ridiculous, amateur impersonators are having a feast.

Mobile Clowning
by Sheila S. Coronel
The cellphone has only encouraged the Pinoy propensity for jokes.

Where Has All the Laughter Gone?
by Katrina Stuart Santiago
Websites and blogs have provided an outlet for political humor, but not all of them are funny.

Kick Out the Clowns
by Alan C. Robles
The popular view is that politics is a circus and politicians are clowns who entertain the public and make them laugh.


Yet this does not seem to be the most crucial reason why, at a time when society enjoys unprecedented freedom of speech, movement, and expression, there is also a retreat in political activism. Therein in fact lies the paradox of freedom.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. Former rivals get together on the streets, from left, Ping Lacson, Eddie Villanueva, Cory Aquino, and Susan Roces.

Protesters occupy city streets and parks to get their message across to as many people as possible. Citizens are forced to do that when they do not have equal access to the state's information apparatus. Public space then is where the battle for hearts and minds begins and where like-minded citizens come together to swap information, affirm their convictions, and challenge official positions — more so when government control of information is complete. The contested space is usually rich in symbolic meaning, but it may also just be a convenient location to converge. Edsa represents both. And in the 1986 revolt, more than a million considered it to be the most effective way to be heard and counted. Back then, no broadcast network or mainstream broadsheet would have ever given the opposition to Ferdinand Marcos any space, and so a frustrated people took to the streets.

A lot has changed since 1986. Freedoms like that of the press were restored, but these were never absolutely immune from presidential pressure. The relative timidity of the news media prior to and immediately after the Chavit Singson exposé forced anti-Estrada sentiments through new media channels such as SMS and the Internet. But the limited broadcast capabilities of these new technologies made reaching a wider public difficult. The crowds at Edsa provided the link between individual and society. Just as followers of deposed President Estrada would later use their own version of Edsa to communicate with a wider audience they couldn't reach through the TV networks that had largely ignored them.

The media landscape has changed dramatically since 1986 and even since 2001. Today the media have taken their role as public watchdog to new extremes. Conscious that their power to influence political events — even make and break presidents — is only as potent as their ability to generate a vast share of the audience, the news media have been treading the line between crusading journalism and mass entertainment. (It is no accident that both are immensely popular with the market.)

GOODBYE, ERAP! The uprising against Estrada was inspired by moral outrage. Today things are murkier and no one seems to be taking the moral high ground.

The result has been an increasingly hysterical, albeit, massively entertaining politics. Call it the tabloidization of public life. When public space migrates to the airwaves and to the pages of broadsheets, the nation's politics adapts to its new home. It's as if all political behavior is transformed by and for the camera. Everyone, from the president to the street protester, is in on it. Legislation is out. Congressional inquiry is in. Proselytizing-out, agit-prop-definitely in. Political actors learn to master the medium and use the live press conference with skill. Mutineers take questions from the press and whistleblowers are assigned publicists to assist them. Had President Arroyo resigned on that Friday Cory Aquino and the "Hyatt 10"called on her to step down, the Philippines would have enjoyed the distinction of launching the first electronic uprising in history. It would have been dubbed the Presscon Revolution — if only it had succeeded. Clearly, revolutions that happen in the hyperreal world of television cannot replace those of real boots on the ground.

The stagecraft and spin-doctoring politicians try so hard to conceal is laid bare for all to see. Like wrestling matches we know to be scripted but cheer on nevertheless, our politics, after years of sensationalism, is degenerating into little more than a spectator sport. By jeering, or cheering, people feel that they're actually getting involved. Without having to leave their homes, people can have the satisfaction of watching talk-show hosts articulate feelings of disgust and frustration for them. When you listen in to radio commentators beat up politicians on air, you can't help but wonder if expressing your opinion — the least of your civic responsibilities — may actually still matter, when those guys seem to do a better job at it.

But those who predict the end of People Power are wrong. Apathy may be a symptom of the growing disconnection between citizens and their government, but indifference is also a form of protest against politics as usual in the country. Could it be that the steady diet of scandals have numbed the senses and the ability to express outrage? Or is People Power merely evolving, adapting to new forms of public space — physical and virtual?

Today's young, the first generation of kids growing up in a digitally interconnected world will determine how dissent will be defined and expressed in the future, be it through podcasts, audio-video blogs, or new forms of social organization. History, after all, has taught us that people, when pushed hard enough, will eventually organize, fight back, and seek to overthrow the conditions that oppress them.

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