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REACHING OUT TO THE FILIPINO HOMELAND THROUGH THE INTERNET

By CESAR TORRES
June 26, 2005

The simplest definition of the Internet is possibly this one: “It is a worldwide system of linked computer networks. The World Wide Web is one element of the Internet.” (http://www.jmr.com/support/glossary.html)

In 2004, of the top 20 countries with the highest number of Internet users, the United States ranked first at 67.8%. In contrast, the percentage for the Philippines in the same period was 9.3% or 7.8 million, based on an estimated population of 84 million. In Asia, the countries with the highest Internet users are: Hongkong, 69.9%; South Korea, 63.3%; Singapore, 60.2%; Taiwan, 53.5; Japan, 52.8%; Malaysia, 35.9%. There are more computer users in Thailand at 12.8% than in the Philippines. The behemoth China has 7.3%. We outrank Indonesia, 7.0% and Vietnam, 6.4%. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/)

For those in the know, the uses of the Internet and the computer are mind boggling.

For instance, people from all over the world can exchange letters, documents, “instant messages”, pictures, etc., at the click of a computer “mouse”. They flirt, they fall in love, they get married through the Internet, they fight and kiss and make up. Crimes have been committed also through the Internet. Religious and political forces can fight it out in the Internet. Perhaps, in the Philippines, the guerillas of the New People’s Army and their top decision makers can discuss strategy, tactics, and formation of united fronts and how to outwit their enemies using the Internet; their enemies, can of course, do the same.

What has the Internet and computers got to do with reaching out to the homeland? Plenty!

Last month, in April 2005 to be exact, the Internet figured prominently in a world-wide Filipino collaboration that focused on two major projects that may have never been done before: (1) a fund raising dinner to help the Lumads (the indigenous Filipinos in Mindanao who are neither Christians nor Muslims), the impoverished Christians, and the Muslims in Marbel, Cotabato, (2) a set of interrelated activities designed to (a) raise funds for the disabled in “Tahanan Walang Hagdanan” (TWH) or “Home Without Stairs”, (b) a series of workshops in Cainta, Rizal to highlight the massive and continuing destruction of the Philippine environment by commemorating Earth Day, and (c) a culminating activity, a parade attended by more than 1,000 people brandishing brooms made of coconut midribs known as “Walis Tingting” to “Clean Up the Philippines” (CUP) of the corruption and incompetence in the government.

The funds generated during the steak and salmon dinner was intended for the projects in Mindanao of an Internet group, known as Progressive Times Action Group (PTAG) which was founded by Mr. Ernie Delfin of So. California about three years ago.

Mindanao is the second largest island of the Philippine Archipelago where the members of the bandit and kidnapping Muslim group of the Abu Sayyaf are roaming. It is the area where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim secessionist movement which may have ties to Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant Indonesian group and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, have been waging a war against the Philippine government. To make the situation more confusing, the New People’s Army has guerilla fronts in Mindanao. Not to be outdone, even America has assigned soldiers in Mindanao. The island may have untapped deposits of gold, minerals, gas, and possibly oil. And just below Mindanao are the Islamic countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. And the Straits of Malacca, one of the busiest commercial sealanes of the Seven Seas, is crawling with pirates and bandits.

The Dinner for Mindanao was hatched by a Filipina-American in the Evergreen State of Washington who originally came from Pampanga and Pangasinan in Luzon and Manila, Ms. Anita Sese. She has never been to Mindanao at all. But through constant interaction in the Internet with other Filipinos all over the world, especially with her Internet buddy, Jing Ureta of Cotabato, she decided to have a fund raising dinner where she would prepare steak and salmon for 50 selected guests paying P2,500 or roughly $50 per person. She purchased the steak by using her savings. The salmon was donated by the Soquamish Indians in Washington.

Ms. Sese flew to the Philippines to prepare this dinner assisted by colleagues who were in constant communication with each other through the Internet. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, through San Francisco Consul General Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez, an avid Internet user herself, provided assistance to Ms. Sese when she arrived in Manila. The banquet hall in Makati where the dinner was served was paid for by a colleague in the Filipino Insider, Jose Galang Caedo III, one of the most assiduous and erudite computer and Internet users we have ever known who manipulates his computer system by touch and sound. Jay, as we fondly refer to him, is totally blind.

Two of the guests from Mindanao during the dinner included Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., the most gracious computer and Internet user in the Philippine Senate, and young Muslim Princess from Cotabato, Baibonn “Tayan Kong” Sangid, whose passion for the welfare of her fellow Muslims in the Philippines is beyond compare. You can discern it from her colorful use of e-mails in the Internet. A Filipina from London, Ms. Corrie Leaño, joined Ms. Sese. She performed a sensual belly dance to entertain the guests which she learned through the World Web Web.

In recognition of the trailblazing effort of this motley group of Filipinos who were organizing together in cyberspace, U.P. President Dr. Emerlinda Roman, sent an official representative to attend the dinner, the Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, Dr. Lydia Arcellana. All communications with the U.P. was done through the Internet.

The 1,000 “Walis Tingting” were put together by disabled workers in TWH, the beneficiaries of the proceeds of all the sales. PTAG members and sympathizers sold them all over the World Wide Web for P100 each, about $2.00. E-mail after e mail were transmitted in the Internet enticing the World Wide Web to buy “Walis Tingting”. Filipinos from the Netherlands, London, the US, the Middle East, and of course all over the Philippines, donated money for the CUP ostensibly to buy the “Walis Tingting” when they realized the significance of the event. During the parade itself, which was attended by more than 1,000 people, a contingent of some 200 disabled people from TWH in their wheelchairs accompanied by their children, joined the parade. They assembled at the parade grounds in Cainta, Rizal as early as 4:00 AM.

Part of the estimated 200 disabled parade participants from Tahanan Walang Hagdanan, a center for the disabled in Cainta, Rizal, with their coconut midrib brooms, “Walis Tingting”, pointing skywards, waiting for the "Clean Up Philippines" parade to start last April 22, 2005 in Cainta, Rizal. They had assembled in the parade grounds as early as 4:00 AM.

So how much money was generated by the two events? The final reports have yet to be prepared. But for the Mindanao Dinner, some P125,000 or a little more than $2,315 was estimated to be generated. The “Clean Up Philippines” or “Walis Tingting” event was expected to gross P100,000 or approximately $1,850. Not much when compared with the amount that a dinner-dance of a Filipino organization pays to a five-star hotel during their annual parties in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the camaraderie, the morale, and the enthusiasm of everyone involved in the two events that were organized through the Internet are priceless.

When a massive mobilization of Filipinos all over the world can be undertaken to focus on the Philippines, a mobilization that can include even the physically impaired in Tahanan Walang Hagdanan, the potential benefits for the Philippines are incalculable.

[The author is a regular columnist of “The Filipino Insider”, a monthly supplement of the “San Francisco Chronicle”, one of the major newspapers in America with a circulation of 500,000. This is a revised version of the piece which appears in the May 2005 issue of the magazine. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com.]

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