What is all this ado about bloggers at #ASEAN2017?

I am compelled to write this piece, if only to document our ongoing struggle to make citizen engagement in the Philippines a NORMAL part of participatory governance. It is a constant uphill battle that is often tiring, makes me question why I even want to go on with a thankless job (oh, I do not even draw any salary so it is not a job!), and just go on with my peaceful apolitical life as it used to be before 2009.

I am one of the “14 bloggers” the Palace accredited to cover the 50th anniversary of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The better phrase to describe us actually is “citizen advocates”. With me were Noemi Dado and Sonnie Santos from Blogwatch and an independent blogger-advocate, Tess Termulo, who is a practicing doctor in a government hospital. I cannot speak for the other bloggers who are not part of my usual circle of bloggers.

A Rappler article by Pia Ranada dated August 7, 2017, “ASEAN accreditation granted to 14 bloggers – Andanar”, contained statements which, in the absence of any qualification, makes me assume they were directed at all 14 of us who covered the recent ASEAN events from August 2-8. I will respond to each of Ms. Ranada’s statements below but first, I would like to say that not all bloggers are citizen advocates like me; conversely, not all citizen advocates are bloggers. I just happen to be all this rolled into one, including being a social media practitioner.

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A sea full of memories worth preserving

Growing up, I always had a connection to the sea in many different ways.

We lived in Mindanao for many years because my Dad was assigned there. During summers, my parents would take us to Manila and back — not by plane but by boat. At that time, boats were unlike the speedy ones that get you from Mindanao to Luzon in just a little over a day. Back then, it took days. So much so that before every trip, Mom would buy stacks of comics, puzzles and books and stash them away somewhere. And she’d take these out a little at a time over the duration of the boat trip so we wouldn’t get bored.

But we did not spend a lot of time on those. Instead, I remember that we enjoyed hanging out on the sides of the ship, watching island after island pass by. We’d call out in delight when we’d see swordfishes jump out of the water like flying spears. At certain ports in Mindanao, we’d look in awe as children with their parents would approach our ship in their tiny bancas, motioning to the ship passengers to drop coins off the sides so they could dive for them. I remember being amazed to see a mother with a tiny toddler on her back cling tightly to her neck as mother and child dove into the sea for a coin that hit the water near her.

Living in Davao City then, we always had the chance to go to beaches. And our own home (at least the last of many homes there because we transferred quite a number of times within the city) was beside the sea.

I think it’s no wonder then that I love traveling by boat and as my own kids were growing up and we’d travel to my inlaws’ province in the Visayas, many times I’d choose to travel by boat. We had traveled by sea so many times that I knew the layout of most of the Super Ferry and Negros Navigation ships plying the route, knew the best cabins in each ship, and what children’s entertainment centers could be found in each.

Very early on, one of my girls had dreams of becoming a marine biologist. When she finally entered college, that dream had changed and she ended up taking a graphic design course. But her love for sea creatures has remained. She specifically loves dolphins and is attracted to many things from the sea. And she’s not the only one.

My whole family loves the sea. I want my children and their children and the children of their children to experience the wonders not only above the waters but below them for years to come. While I have never gone diving, I have heard the stories from blogger friends who have and who say that the world below is beautiful beyond description. One friend said that the fishes he saw on his dives were exactly like the entire cast of Finding Nemo. If you’ve seen that animation movie, you can understand how beautiful it must be underwater.

The recent shocking discoveries of shipping containers full of contraband corals, shells, turtles and other marine life upset me so much. I cannot believe how we have allowed foreigners to destroy our coral reefs and continue the pillaging of our marine life. This has been going on for decades in exchange for some money (because that, sadly, was the motivation) and it is unimaginable how these all went on allegedly without the knowledge of local government units or national environmental agencies. It just boggles the mind that we have people supposedly tasked with jobs to oversee, monitor and protect our natural resources but now say they never knew these were going on.

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My Most Bloggable 2010 Event

Okay, here I am typing this while sick and in bed. I missed Christmas celebrations with the family and will most likely miss New Year’s too. But that is not what makes a bloggable event, right? A bloggable event is something that isn’t run-of-the-mill (although I wouldn’t call my cough and colds run-of-the-mill). It has to have some outstanding (or really deranged) essence in it for it to qualify as bloggable. Something that stands out, oftentimes not repeatable. Must have some meaning in one’s life. In that case, I do have one and nothing beats it hands down –and that is my being part of Blog Watch (a blogger group that was formed without any prior intentions or political intent but became one of the most visible social media groups during the May 2010 elections). One day in September last year, my good blogger friend Noemi (who everyone online knows as momblogger) just asked me out of the blue. “Jane, do you want to join me & some other bloggers to possibly write about the coming May 10 elections?” In my younger years, I saw a lot of action during elections. I was part of the Systems Committee of NAMFREL’s Operation Quick Count (OQC) during the 1984 presidential elections (when Imelda ran for President) and during the 1986 presidential snap elections. But motherhood dampened tempered my civic enthusiasm somewhat and I felt that my days of citizen activism were over and it was time to settle down to something quiet, boring and unbloggable. But here was Noemi, a mom like me, with no political inclinations, wanting to do her share for the country. How could I refuse? Fast forward to October 2009. A handful of us bloggers met to talk about what we wanted to do as a group, what to write about, and what to call ourselves. I think we all agreed we would write on voter education and spread awareness of candidates’ platforms. We actually spent more time thinking what to call ourselves. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided it would be a 2-word, 1 syllable name so it would be catchy and short. Noemi contributed the word BLOG and I contributed WATCH. For ever and ever, Noemi and I will be in the annals of Blog Watch history for that. Hahahahaha….. Our first exciting adventure event was a demo of the PCOS Machine by COMELEC. Then we began reading up on speeches by the candidates to see how we could put their platforms into a format easily understood by the public.This was followed by a PCIJ training on how to cover the elections plus some election-related fora like those at AIM with some candidates in attendance. But Blog Watch was meant for a bigger role in the scheme of things because before we knew it, Noemi was able to arrange our first interview with a presidential candidate – Manny Villar! To cut the long story short, that first interview led to interview after interview until we eventually covered 7 of the 9 presidential candidates, some vice-presidential candidates, senatoriables and local government candidates as well. This foray into the unknown world of politics and media coverage was really a trial and error thing for bloggers like us who were comfortable behind a laptop but were suddenly thrust into the limelight. We suddenly became interesting news – this small group of bloggers who were interviewing candidates & broadcasting the interviews raw and live via livestream. Blog Watch was invited a few times to ABS-CBN as well as a segment on radio.

Blog Watch on Strictly Politics with Pia Hontiveros

 

Ron Cruz interviewed Blog Watch on ANC's social media segment with the glitzy, high-tech "war room" behind us

Mornings @ ANC with TJ Manotoc

 

Guesting on DZRH

And, for the first time ever, we were reluctantly placed IN FRONT OF a real, live, TV camera when Global Destiny Cable asked us to cover the elections live! (Blog Watch had tied up with 100Araw.com and we called ourselves #juanvote). What an experience that one was. You had to think on your toes. Ok, who says what next? Where do I look? Which camera is on? Let me just say I was relieved when THAT was over!

 

#juanvote monitors the elections at GNN

What makes this a truly bloggable event is the fact that bloggers have made inroads  in areas where we are considered newbies and where bloggers have never gone before. We have never interviewed politicians. We have never appeared in front of TV cameras nationwide for such a big event. All we had were our usual blogging equipment (laptops, mobile phones, digicams, videocams) and yet we were able to produce interview podcasts, well-written published articles and beautiful photos chronicling the months in the run-up to the May 2010 elections.

When President Noynoy Aquino was declared the winner in the presidential race, Blog Watch was given the rare privilege of covering at least 4 post-election events.

With Cheryl Cosim of TV5 at Luneta Grandstand

At Malacanang Inaugural

If you’re wondering how Noemi and I got from Luneta to Malacanang on the same day going from casuals to Filipiniana, let me tell you that it is no joke to look for a clean restaurant so you can do an instant costume change while trying to find Malacanang via Google Maps (as we did not know how the heck to get to the Palace, hahaha). Thank goodness we passed a Starbucks branch on the way to Malacanang (you should have seen the raised eyebrows we got from Starbucks customers when we came out in full Filipiniana attire)! This must be how Superman feels every time he has to go “on call”…

Covering the SONA at the Batasan

Covering PNoy's 100 Days Report

Now that I think of it, 2010 was truly FULL in terms of bloggables. I believe that Blog Watch was able to help manifest the growing power of social media and citizen journalism. Citizen journalism and vigilance was highlighted to the hilt and the present Administration is now trying to see how social media can play a role in helping government keep watch.

Here’s what someone on the PNoy team told me.

At the beginning of the campaigns in late 2009, they placed social media influence at only 2%. By end of the elections, the influence of social media (and I believe a great chunk of this was contributed by Blog Watch) was estimated by them to be at a whopping 16%.

So, watch out 2013/2016 elections. Blog Watch will be there!

And oh, by the way, we just turned ONE! Yippppeeee!

 

Thanks to Winston and Jehzeel Laurente. Only a contest like yours would make me blog from my sickbed. LOL

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The Other Side of My Blogging Life

I have not really had time to blog about what I had been doing these past months. It’s been a whirlwind time doing my usual mommy activities while participating in a new advocacy. Since October of 2009, I became part of a group of concerned citizen bloggers who wanted to do something other than our normal blogging. We wanted to push voter education and thought we could do something as there was quite a large online community if we put our readership together.

With my mommy blogger friend Noemi starting the whole effort, Blog Watch was put together. Starting with 16 bloggers, we grew to 31 by the time the May 10, 2010 elections came. By then, we had interviewed 7 of the 9 presidential aspirants (see pics below. I missed out on Bro. Eddie’s interview), some running for VP and senators, and a few local government candidates.

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BlogWatch.ph Officially Launches

A diverse group of bloggers have come together to write articles on election-related issues to foster voter’s education, commentaries, features on the candidates running for national positions, and any other topics that would broaden the voters’ ability to vote wisely in the coming 2010 Philippine elections. Vibal Foundation’s Philippine Online Chronicles (http://thepoc.net) is hosting BlogWatch.ph online.

BlogWatch.ph aims to cover underplayed stories in various formats normally used by bloggers such as podcasts, articles, and videos. Another thing that will distinguish itself is its use of social networking media to spread information and connect with its readers. Already, the site has Plurk, Twitter, Ustream, Facebook, YouTube, and Qik accounts set up so that BlogWatch.ph can be made accessible to almost everyone who is online.

At the official launch last November 24 at Max’s Restaurant in Bel-Air, Makati City, traditional media and other bloggers were in attendance. Gus Vibal, publisher of Philippine Online Chronicles likewise graced the occasion.

The program proper went as follows:

The Philippine Online Chronicles and Blog Watch – Kristine Mandigma (Program Director)

The Role of Bloggers as New Media – Ed Lingao (Phil. Center for Investigative Journalism)

Blogging / Journalism – Marck Rimorin (Blog Watch writer)

The Blog Watch Site and Plans – Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (Project Director)

Introduction of the Writers

Open Forum with the Press

Emcee: Vince Golangco (Blog Watch writer)

Below is a teaser video on Blog Watch shown during the launch:

BlogWatch.ph will continue to evolve to include more interactive content. We strongly encourage all of you who have a stake in the 2010 elections to actively participate in the Blog Watch polls and tell us what you think via our comment sections.

We are also accepting bloggers who may want to guest blog on commentaries. If you are interested, send us an email at blogwatch.ph@gmail.com. We still need bloggers from the provinces in Northern and Southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

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Blog Watch Formally Launches on Nov. 24, 2009

I had an earlier post about being part of Blog Watch, hosted by Vibal Foundation’s Philippine Online Chronicles.

On November 24, 2009, Blog Watch will be formally launched in the presence of traditional and new media at Max’s Restaurant on Jupiter St., Makati, from 11am to 2pm.

The blogger-writers for Blog Watch will attempt to “fill in the gaps” as well as complement traditional media’s coverage of the 2010 elections. We have began some features on voter education and are now beginning to provide backgrounders on the candidates for national positions (both on the personal side as well as the political side, including issues they are supporting). In addition, commentaries stemming from the personal insights of the writers will add flavor to this site.

It is our hope that through Blog Watch as well as other blogs and news sites, including those set up by COMELEC, the voting public will be able to make wiser decisions on who to elect into office.

I invite you to visit Blog Watch regularly to become as informed as possible before the 2010 Philippine elections. You may also follow Blog Watch on FacebookTwitterPlurk and subscribe to its YouTube channel.

The bloggers (as of this writing) who form part of Blog Watch are Noemi Dado (A Filipina Mom Blogger), Jane Uymatiao (Here’s to Life!), Sonnie Santos (Sonnie’s Porch), Dine Racoma (The D Spot), Vincent Golangco (When in Manila), Carlo Ople (New Media Philippines), Marck Rimorin (The Marocharim Experiment)Rochelle Sy Chua, Juned Sunido (Baratillo @ Cubao), Fritz Tenatativa (Fritzified)Leslie Bocobo, Brian Ong (The Philippines and Beyond), Victor Villanueva (Bikoy.Net), Dean Jorge Bacobo (Philippine Commentary), Pierre Tito Galla (Jester-in-Exile), Karen Ang (Bury me in this dress), AnnaManila (Ode2Old), Wyatt Belmonte (Wyatt’s Kitchen), and Blogie Robillo (Blogie Blog).

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