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In Philippines, IT powers the people

The Internet and cell phone mobilizes protesters in the Philippines.
The Internet and cell phone mobilize protesters in the Philippines  

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Massive crowds of people removed a head of state in the Philippines last weekend in an encore to the 1986 "people power" movement.

But this time the events that led to the removal of President Joseph Estrada were compressed into a far shorter period.

Public opinion and news traveled quickly because live television, the Net and mobile phones have become the new weapons of revolution.

The impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada was televised nationwide five days a week. Filipinos watched the trial live, and had opinions about the issues at hand.

Renato de Villa, incoming executive secretary, says: "The people who are watching the proceedings at this time have already made up their minds that the President lied. He is guilty on many counts -- and there, he is guilty."

Phone-in demonstration

The daily demonstrations leading to the trial were orchestrated by cellular phones, a social phenomenon not present in 1986 when people power toppled Ferdinand Marcos and swept a little-known housewife into power.

"We're living in a democracy," says former Philippine president Corazon Aquino. "Then with high-tech, with texting, I think the Philippines is the country with the most people texting away. "So this contributed to the fast dissemination of information."

An average of 50 million messages are sent in the Philippines every day. In two hours, one message can reach more than half a million people.

Web sites like PLDT.com hosted "virtual protests" where online demonstrators could choose the placard they wanted to wave in cyberspace.

Evidence suppressed

Web-based protests also gave overseas Filipinos a chance to get involved.

The online and offline exchanges came to a head on January 16 when a majority of senator-judges voted to suppress evidence that the prosecution claimed was crucial to convict Estrada.

The Philippine's wired citizens were then told to gather at the Edsa shrine, and within hours, thousands of people began to gather.

A little over three days later, after round-the-clock protests at times with hundreds of thousands of people, Estrada was forced out and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in.

"This is a warning," says former Philippine president Fidel Ramos.

"Not only to future governments but also to other governments around the world that the principles of democracy spread so rapidly through the revolution in information and telecommunications."



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