With the new Century over a year old, technology has now played critical yet very
different roles in bringing two of the world’s leaders to power. Among others things,
Florida will remembered for technological hitches that plagued the ballot counting and
possibly pushed the outcome of the U.S. election in favor of George W. Bush.
On the other hand, a new information and communications technology (ICT) – the mobile
phone – was the symbol of the People Power II revolution in the Philippines. Arguably,
the most lasting image of Ms Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s new Presidency was when, on
being asked in a news conference whether a Lt. Gen. Espinosa was planning a coup, she
called him up on her mobile phone. In moment of high drama she asked him directly if
this was the case and after a brief conversation reported it wasn’t.
But it was the use of cellphones for “texting” rather than calls that was the most
intriguing part of People Power II and was also the key to its success. The lack of
attention to the role of technology is surprising. People Power II was arguably the
world’s first “E-revolution” – a change of government brought about by new forms of
“Texting” allowed information on former President Estrada’s corruption to be shared
widely. It helped facilitate the protests at the EDSA shrine at a speed that was startling – it
took only 88 hours after the collapse of impeachment to remove Estrada. The use of
mobile phones was why the mobilization (or perhaps “mobile-ization”) was so large and
so rapid and thus so decisive. Estrada himself blamed his ouster on the “text messaging
Mobile phone technology was not just critical in the days preceding People Power II; it
had been important over a number of months. In Spring last year, Estrada ordered key
government agencies to do something about alleged text-messages abusing him. The
same week, texters started passing around messages using an exclamation mark as a
symbol to call for an end to the Estrada government’s corruption, cronyism and
This exact form of revolution could probably only have happened in the Philippines.
Manila is the texting capital of the world. Philippines, a relatively poor country, has 4.5
million mobile phones. Texting is much cheaper than making phone calls, making it so
popular in a country like the Philippines. Filipinos can often text with either – and
sometimes even both – hands. They also text while driving – no mean feat on Manila’s
Normally used for brief and frivolous communications, the public outrage at the
breakdown of the impeachment, the degree of ownership of mobile phones and the
networking potential of text messages. […]
Julius Court is a Programme Officer at the United Nations University and co-director of the World Governance Survey project. These are his personal views.