When the Filipino people came together in solidarity to protest the years of abuse of power and blatant corruption under the dictatorship of Former President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies, the whole world stood in applause. This was a nation that gathered the strength and courage to face the head of the state that had done everything to consolidate power under his name and prevent the opposition from toppling him.
In that era, gathering the sheer number of people that came to EDSA to partake in the bloodless revolution was extremely difficult, to say the least. There was little, if any, instant messaging or communication between the masses. Social media did not exist as a platform for people to spread the word. Even text messaging did not exist back then. To consolidate the number they needed, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin appealed to the people through the only available form of ICT to them at the time: Radio Veritas.
But what if the people of that era has the kind of ICT technology we enjoy now? What would have happened then?
The Censorship of Mainstream Media
One of the biggest traits of the Martial Law was the shutting down of mainstream media following the declaration of Proclamation No. 1081. It was only Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto’s outlets that were allowed to continue operating after the announcement: one newspaper, one radio station, and one TV station. Meanwhile, 93 print media, 7 television stations, and 292 radio stations were shut down.
On the side of the dictatorship, they would most likely use our advanced ICT technology to strengthen two important tactics: Shutdown and Surveillance.
Phase 1: Shutdown
While the laws that govern media nowadays actively prevent censorship unless under certain circumstances, Martial Law was capable of breaking those rights. So even if the people back then had TV stations, radio stations, print media, mobile communications, and even social media, they could effectively be shut down by the government.
It would not be unthinkable to imagine that the Marcos regime would’ve shut down all telecommunications businesses to prevent them from being publicly used. That, or signal jammers would’ve been strategically placed to prevent communications.
Apart from that, TV stations, radio companies, news and opinion websites, and even print media publishers would be locked down. Student publications, whether print or online, would be forbidden and everyone involved would be arrested.
In order to prevent the spread of opposition, the dictatorship would also resort to tight surveillance.
Phase 2: Surveillance using keyword-based and signal tracking programs
Quite possibly, they would have cronies involved in technology to develop a system that can track messages across various platforms – social media, websites, calls, and even SMS, so they can monitor the kind of messages that people send and receive.
Once certain keywords are detected, they can use signal tracking measures such as triangulation or GPS tracking to find the perpetrators and arrest them. This is actually a real tactic used by law enforcement authorities to solve crimes.
But the Filipinos are rebellious people by heart when they know that their rights as free people are being trampled on. It happened with the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese. And even if the one enslaving us is our own countrymen, we still fight.
And we find ways to do so.
Fighting With ICT
During the Martial Law, Radio Veritas was one of the forms of media that continued to operate despite the clear danger of being found out, arrested, and possible disposed of.
And it was in this persistence that they managed to be the only radio station that was able to broadcast live the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. They were also present during the funeral procession, and the happenings of the bloodless revolution at EDSA.
But if the people back then had social media or other forms of communications technologies, many of their efforts would be underground. And it would center on defeating the system.
Phase 1: A System of Masking
People would find ways to exploit the government’s surveillance system by finding loopholes. As an example, Twitter’s search function cannot find a “censored” word, phrase, or name – essentially, putting character symbols in between letters so the algorithm considers them instead as spaces. It goes against the very website’s search’s core structure.
Codes would have to be established in secret, and they had to be virtually untraceable. Distractions would be placed atop these communications so the government would be none the wiser.
Additionally, there would’ve been a massive use of VPN to hide IP addresses and redirect monitoring to other countries to defeat the signal/GPS tracking.
Phase 2: Widespread Information Dissemination
In the type of technological advancement that we had, information that would’ve exposed the corruption of the government would’ve seen more light than it did before. The Filipinos would’ve done everything in their power to export evidence that the dictatorship has abused the nation for far too long and far too severely. And they would’ve reached international media attention.
After all, with the kind of technology that the era had before, they still made international news. How much more when communication with foreign lands was but just a click away?
With the emergence of Augmented Reality, dedicated programmers would’ve probably done everything in their power to use this technology to show the world just how the Philippines looks like under the regime. It would be like stepping into the shoes of someone in the middle of the atrocities, fully documented and visually experienced.
In the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” And that is what happened. We often take information and communications technologies for granted because we’ve been so accustomed to their presence and what we can do with them.
But in times when we need to come together, ICT is there to become the most powerful bridge that can spread the nationalistic ideologies that will preserve the freedom we so enjoy.
And the fight is not yet over.
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