"The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines"
Published in Public Culture, V. 15 #3, 2003.


Vicente Rafael
Professor, Department of History, University of Washington at Seattle



            This essay explores a set of telecommunicative fantasies among the middle classes in the contemporary Philippines within the context of a recent historical occurrence: the civilian backed coup that overthrew President Joseph Estrada in January of 2001. It does so with reference to two distinct media, the cell phone and the crowd. Various accounts of what has come to be known as “People Power II” (as distinguished from the populist coup that unseated Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in 1986) reveal  certain  pervasive beliefs on the part of the middle classes. They believed, for example, in the power of communication technologies to transmit messages at a distance and in their ability to possess that power. In the same vein, they had faith in their ability to master their relationship to the masses of people with whom they regularly shared Manila’s crowded streets, utilizing the power of crowds to speak to the state. They thus conceived of themselves capable of  communicating  beyond the crowd, but also with it, transcending the sheer physical density of the latter by technological means while at the same time ordering its movements and using its energy to transmit middle class demands. At its most utopian, the fetish of communication suggested the possibility of  dissolving, however provisionally, existing class divisions. Communication from this perspective held the messianic promise of refashioning the heterogenous crowd into a  people addressing and addressed by the promise of justice.  But as we shall see, such telecommunicative notions were predicated on the putative “voicelessness” of the masses. For once heard, the masses called attention to the fragility of bourgeois claims to shape the sending and reception of messages about the proper practice of politics in the nation-state. Media politics (understood in both senses of that phrase as the politics of media systems but also politics as the inescapable event of mediation) in this context reveals the unstable workings of Filipino middle class sentiments. Unsettled in its relationship to social hierarchy, such sentiments at times redrew class divisions, at other moments anticipated their abolition, and still at others called for their reinstatement and consolidation. [1]


I. Calling                                                                   

        Telephones were introduced in the Philippines as early as 1885, during the last decade and a half of Spanish colonial rule [2]   Like telegraphy before it, telephony provoked fantasies of direct communication among the colonial bourgeoisie. They imagined that these new technologies would afford them access to those on top, enabling them to hear and be heard directly by the colonial state. We can see this telecommunicative notion, for example, in a satirical piece written by the Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal in 1889. Entitled “Por Telefono”, it situates the narrator as an eavesdropper. He listens intently to the sounds and voices that travel between the Spanish friars in Manila–regarded as the real power in the colony-- and their superiors in Madrid. [3] The nationalist writer wire-taps his way, as it were, into the walls of the clerical residences, exposing their hypocrisy and excesses. In this sense, the telephone shares in the capacity of that other telecommunicative technology, print, to reveal what was once hidden, to repeat what was meant to be  secret, and to pass on messages that were not meant for those outside of a particular circle. [4]            It is this history of tapping into and forwarding messages, often in the form of ironic commentaries,  jokes, and rumors that figured recently in the civilian-led coup in the Philippines  known as “People Power II”.  From the evening of January 16 to January 20th, 2001, over a million people massed  at one of Metro Manila’s major highways, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, commonly called Edsa, site of the first People Power revolt in 1986 that overthrew the Marcos regime. A large cross-section of Philippine society gathered to demand the resignation of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada after his impeachment trial was suddenly aborted by the eleven senators widely believed to be under his influence. These senators had refused to include key evidence that would have shown the wealth Estrada had amassed from illegal numbers game while in office. The impeachment proceedings had been watched avidly on national TV and listened to on radio. Most viewers and listeners were keenly aware of the evidence of theft and corruption on the part of Estrada and his family. [5] Once the pro-Estrada senators put an abrupt end to the hearing, however, hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners were moved to protest in the streets. Television and radio had fixed them in their homes and offices attending to the court proceedings. But at a critical moment, these media  also drew them away from their seats. Giving up their position as spectators, they now became part of a crowd that had formed around a common wish: the resignation of the president. 

            Aside from TV and radio, another communication medium was given credit for spurring the coup: the cell phone. Nearly all accounts of People Power II available to us come from middle class writers or by way of middle class controlled media with strong nationalist sentiments. And nearly all point to the crucial importance of the cell phone in the rapid mobilization of  people.  “The phone is our weapon now,” one unemployed construction worker is quoted in a newspaper article. “The power of our cell phones and computers were among the things that lit the fuse which set off the second uprising, or People Power Revolution II, (“Ang lakas ng aming mga celfon (sic) at computer ay isa sa mga nagsilbing mitsa upang pumutok ang ikalawang pag-aalsa o people power revolution II), according to a college student in Manila. And a newspaper columnist relayed this advice to “would-be foot-soldiers in any future revolution: As long as you[r cell phone] is not low on battery, you are in the groove, in a fighting mood. [6] A technological thing was thus idealized as an agent of change, invested with the power to bring forth new forms of sociality.

            Introduced in the latter half of the 1990s, cell phones in the Philippines had become remarkably popular by around 1999. [7] There are a number of reasons for their ubiquity. To begin with, there is the perennial difficulty and expense of acquiring land line phones in the Philippines along with the erratic service provided by the Philippine Long Distance Company (PLDT) and the more recent, smaller Bayan Tel. Cell phones seemed to promise to fill this pent-up need for connectivity. Additionally, cell phones cost far less than personal computers, of which less than one percent of the population own, though a larger proportion has access through internet cafes. By contrast, there are over eight million cell phone users in a population of about seventy seven million. The great majority of them buy pre-paid phone cards which, combined with the relatively low cost of the phone (as low as $50 in the open market and half this amount in secondary markets) makes this form of wireless communication more accessible and affordable than regular telephones or computers.

            Even more significant, cell phones allow users to reach beyond traffic-clogged streets and serve as a quicker alternative to slow, unreliable and expensive postal services. Like many third world countries recently opened to more liberal trade policies, the Philippines shares in the paradox of being awash in the latest technologies of communication such as the cell phone while mired in deteriorating infrastructures such as roads, postal services, railroads, power generators and land lines. With the cell phone, one seems able to pass beyond these obstacles. And inasmuch as such infrastructures are state run so that their break down and inefficiencies are a direct function of governmental ineptitude, passing beyond them also feels like overcoming the state, which to begin with has long been overcome by corruption. [8]   It is small wonder then that cell phones could prove literally handy in spreading rumors, jokes and information that steadily eroded whatever legitimacy President Estrada still had amid his impeachment hearings, along with those of his congressional supporters. By-passing the complex of broadcasting media, cell phone users themselves became broadcasters, receiving and transmitting both news and gossip and often confounding the two. Indeed, one could imagine each user becoming a broadcasting station unto him or herself, a node in a wider network of communication that the state could not possibly even begin to monitor much less control. [9]   Hence, once the call was made for people to mass at Edsa, cell phone users readily forwarded messages they received even as they  followed what was asked of them.

            Cell phones then were invested not only with the power to surpass crowded conditions and congested surroundings brought about by the  state’s inability to order everyday life. They were also seen to bring a new kind of crowd about, one that was thoroughly conscious of itself as a movement headed towards a common goal. While telecommunication allows one to escape the crowd, it also opens up the possibility of finding oneself moving in concert with it, filled with its desire and consumed by its energy. In the first case, cell phone users define themselves against a mass of anonymous others. In the second, they become those others, assuming anonymity as a condition of possibility for sociality. To understand how the first is transformed into the second, it helps to note the specific form in which the vast majority of cell phone messages are transmitted in the Philippines: as  text messages.


II. Texting.

            Text messages are e-mails sent over mobile phones and transferrable to the internet. Recently, a verb, “texting” has emerged to designate the act of sending such messages indicating its popularity in such places as England, Japan and Finland (where Nokia first began offering it and where it is referred to as “SMS” or Simple Message Service) . In the Philippines, texting became the preferred mode of cell phone use once the two major networks, Globe and Smart introduced free, and then later on, low cost  text messaging as part of their regular service in 1999. Unlike voice messages, text messages take up less band width and require far less time to convert into digitized packets available for transmission. It thus makes economic sense for service providers to encourage the use of text messaging in order to reserve greater band width space for the more expensive-- and profitable-- voice messages. From an economic stand point then, texting offers one of those rare points of convergence between the interests of users and providers. [10] But there is obviously more than costs that makes text messaging popular among Filipino users. In an essay sent over the internet signed “An Anonymous Filipino,” the use of cell phones in Manila is described as a form of “mania”. Using Taglish, the urban lingua franca that combines Tagalog, English and Spanish, this writer, a Filipino “balikbayan” (that is, one who resides or works elsewhere and periodically returns to visit the motherland) remarks:

HI! WNA B MY TXT PAL? (Sic) They’re everywhere! In the malls, the office, school, the MRT (Manila Railroad Transit), what-have-you, the cellphone (sic) mania’s on the loose! Why, even Manang Fishball (i.e., Mrs. Fishball, a reference to older working class women vendors who sell fishballs, a popular roadside snack), is texting! I even asked my sisters how important they think they are that they should have cells? Even my nephew in highschool has a cell phone. My mom in fact told me that even in his sleep, my brother’s got his cell, and even when they have a PLDT (i.e., land line) phone in the house, they still use the cell phone. [11]


            “Mania” according to the Oxford English Dictionary is a kind of madness characterized “by great excitement, extravagant delusions and hallucinations and its acute stage, great violence.”  The insistence of having cell phones near by, the fact that they always seem to be on hand, indicates an attachment to them that surpasses the rational and the utilitarian, as the remarks above indicate.  It lends to its holder a sense of being someone, even if he or she is only a street vendor or a highschool student. Someone, in this case, who can reach and be reached and is thus always in touch. The “manic” relationship to cell phones is thus this ready willingness to identify with it, or more precisely with what the machine is thought capable of doing. One not only has access to it; by virtue of its omnipresence and proximity, one becomes like it. That is to say, one becomes an apparatus for sending and receiving messages at all times of the day and night. An American journalist writing in the New York Times observes as much in an article on Manila society:


“Texting?’ Yes, texting–as in exchanging short typed messages over a cell phone. All over the Phillippines, a verb has been born, and Filipinos use it whether they are speaking English or Tagalog....The difference [between sending e-mail by computers and texting] is that while chat-room denizens sit in contemplative isolation, glued to computer screens, in the Philippines, ‘texters’ are right out in the throng. Malls are infested with shoppers who appear to be navigating by cellular compass. Groups of diners sit ignoring one another, staring down at their phones as if fumbling with rosaries. Commuters, jaywalkers, even mourners--everyone in the Philippines seems to be texting over the phone.. ..  Faye Siytangco, a 23 year-old airline sales representative, was not surprised when at the wake for a friend’s father she saw people bowing their heads and gazing toward folded hands. But when their hands started beeping and their thumbs began to move, she realized to her astonishment that they were not in fact praying. “People were actually sitting there and texting,” Siytangco said. “Filipinos don’t see it as rude anymore.” [12]


            Unlike those on computers, cell phone users are mobile, immersed in the crowd, yet communicating beyond it. Texting provides them a way out of the very surroundings they find themselves in. Thanks to the cell phone, they need not be present to others around them. Even when they are part of a socially defined group--say, commuters or mourners--they are always someone and somewhere else, receiving and transmitting messages from beyond their physical location.  It is in this sense that they become other than their socially delineated identity: not only cell phone users but cell phone “maniacs”. Because it rarely leaves them, the phone becomes part of the hand, the digits an extension of their fingers. In certain cases, the hand takes the place of the mouth, the fingers that of the tongue. Writing about his Filipino relative, one Filipino-American contributor to Plaridel, an on-line discussion group dealing with Philippine politics, referred to the former’s cell phone as “almost a new limb.” [13]   It is not surprising then that the consciousness of users assumes the mobility and alertness of their gadgets. We can see how this process of taking on of the qualities of the cell phone comes across in the practice of sending and receiving messages:


         The craze for sending text message by phone started [in 1999] when Globe introduced prepaid cards that enabled students, soldiers [and others] too poor for a long-term subscription to start using cellular phones.... People quickly figured out how to express themselves on the phone’s alphanumeric keypad.... “Generation Txt,” as the media dubbed it, was born. Sending text messages does not require making a call. People merely type in a message and the recipient’s phone number, hit the phone’s send key and off it goes to the operator’s message center, which forwards it to the recipient. Because messages are exchanged over the frequency  the network uses to identify phones rather than the frequencies their owners talk on, messages can be sent and received the instant a phone is turned on--and can even be received when a phone call is in progress.

        Sending text messages by phone is an irritating skill to master, largely because 26 letters plus punctuation have to be created with only 10 buttons. Typing the letter C, for example, requires pressing the No.2 button three times; an E is the No. 3 button pressed twice; and so on. After the message is composed it can be sent immediately to the phone number of the recipient, who can respond immediately by the same process. People using phones for text messages have developed a shorthand.. “Where are you?” becomes “WRU”. And “See you tonight” becomes “CU 2NYT.” People have different styles of keying in their messages. Some use their index fingers, some one thumb, others both... [Others] tap away with one hand without even looking at [their] phone. [14]   


            As is frequently the case with e-mail, conventions of grammar, spelling and punctuation are evaded and rearticulated with texting. The constraints of an alphanumeric key pad means that one goes through numbers to get to letters. As a result,  counting and writing become closely associated. Digital communication require the use of digits, both one’s own and that of the machine, as one taps away. But it is a tapping that is done not to the rhythm of one’s speech and in tempo with one’s thoughts, but in coordination with the numbers through which one reaches a letter: three taps on 2 to get C, for example, or two taps on 3 to get to E. It is almost as if texting reduces all speech to writing, and all writing to a kind mechanical percussiveness, a drumming that responds to an external constraint rather than one that emerges from and expresses an internal source. In addition, as it were, there are no prescribed styles for texting: one or two fingers will do, or one can use a thumb and look at the screen, while those adept enough can text while looking elsewhere as in the case of skilled typists. Neither standardized body postures are required with texting: one can sit or walk or drive while sending messages. Where hand writing in the conventional sense requires learning proper penmanship and body postures under the supervision of teachers within the confines of desk and classroom, texting frees the body, or so it seems, from these old constraints.

            Mimicking the mobility of their phones, texters move about, unmoored to anything except the technological forms and limits of the medium. The messages they receive and send are condensed versions of whatever language--English or Tagalog and more frequently, Taglish-- they are using and so belong to neither. The  hybrid form of this  language comes from the demands of the medium itself rather than reflecting the idiosyncrasies of their users. The introduction of  a limit on the number of free text messages one can send and the assessment of a  fee per character of  text has meant the further shortening of words and messages.  Instant messaging along with the mechanical storage and recall of prior  messages require only the most drastically abbreviated  narrative constructions with little semantic deferral or delay. Using the cell phone, one begins to incorporate its logic and technics to the extent of becoming identified with what appears to be a novel social category: “Generation Txt” (sic). 

            An obvious pun on Generation X, “Generation Txt” first began as an advertising gimmick among cell phone providers in order to attract young users to their products. Defined by their attachment to and skill with the cell phone, Generation Txt also troubled the older generation uneasy about the rise of texting. An anthropologist from the University of the Philippines , for example, writes about the dangers of texting in terms that have appeared in other countries where the practice has become popular, especially among youth: its propensity to stifle literacy by “[wreaking] havoc” on spelling and grammar, and, “working in tandem with mindless computer games and Internet chat rooms, are eroding young people’s ability to communicate in the real world in real time.” [15] Rather than promote communication, texting in this view actually obstructs it, cultivating instead a kind of stupidity. Such can be seen in young people’s gullibility and willingness to surrender to the marketing ploys of cell phone providers so that they end up spending more, not less, in sending messages of little or no consequence. Furthermore, cell phones actually lead to “anti-social” behavior, as users “retreat to their own cocoons,” while parents who give their children cell phones in effect evade the responsibility of “interacting” with them in any meaningful way [16] . Other writers report the occasional use of texting by students to cheat on exams,  or the use of cell phones to spread rumors and gossip that may ruin someone’s reputation. [17]   As one Filipino on-line writer put it, cell phones are like “loaded weapons” and its avid use needs to be tempered with some caution. Another writes that “if the text [I received] felt like a rumor masquerading as news, I didn’t forward it.” An office worker from Manila writes, “Sometimes whenever you receive serious msgs (sic), sometimes you have to think twice if it is true or if perhaps someone is fooling you since there is so much joking [that goes on] in txt (sic).” [18]

            Part of the anxiety surrounding texting arises from its perceived tendency to disrupt protocols of recognition and accountability. Parents are disconnected from their children while children are able to defy parental authority. Cheating is symptomatic of the inability of teachers to monitor the communication of students via cell phone. And the spread of rumors and gossip, along with irreverent jokes, means that the senders of messages readily give in to the compulsion to forward messages without, as the writers above advice, weighing their consequences or veracity. Indeed, it’s this capacity to forward messages almost instantaneously that proves to be the most dangerous feature of this “weapon”. The urge to forward messages one receives seems difficult to resist. And under certain conditions, this urge becomes irrepressible as the events leading to People Power II proved. We can see this happening, for example,  in a posting by theater actor and writer, Bart Guingona to the Plaridel Listserv. As part of a group that planned to stage demonstrations at Edsa on January 18, he initially expressed doubts about the effectiveness of texting for popular mobilization. “I was certain it would not be taken seriously unless it was backed up by some kind of authority figure to give it some sort of legitimacy. A priest who was with us suggested that [the Church-owned broadcasting station] Radio Veritas should get involved in disseminating the particulars... We [then] formulated a test message...and sent it out that night and I turned off my phone.... By the time I turned it on in the morning, the message had come back to me three times... I am now a firm believer in the power of the text!” [19]

            The writer is initially hesitant to resort to texting, thinking that messages sent in this way would be no different from rumors. They would lack authority by themselves. Anonymously passed on from phone to phone, texts seemed unanchored to any particular author that could be held accountable for their contents. Only when the Church-owned radio station offered to disseminate the same information did he agree to sending a text. Waking up the next day, he sees the effect of this transmission. Not only does his message reach others at a distance; they return to him three-fold. From a doubter, he is converted into a “believer” in the “power of the text.” Such a power has to do with the capacity to elicit numerous replies.

            There are two things worth noting, however, in this notion of  the power of texting: first, that it requires, at least in the eyes of this writer and those he sends messages to, another power to legitimate the text’s meaning; and second, that such a power is felt precisely in the multiple transmissions of the same text. The power of texting here has less to do with the capacity to open interpretation and stir public debate as it does with compelling others to keep the message in circulation. Receiving a message, one responds by repeating it. One forwards it to others who, it is expected, will do the same. Repeatedly forwarding messages, one gets back one’s exact message, mechanically augmented but semantically unaltered. They crowd one’s phone mailbox just as those who read and believe in the truth of the call they’ve received end up crowding the streets of Metro Manila. In this view, the formation of crowds is a direct response to the repeated call of texts now deemed to have legitimacy by virtue of being grounded in an authority outside the text messages themselves: the electronic voice of the Catholic Church. Such a voice in effect domesticates the dangers associated with texting. Users can then forward texts and feel themselves similarly forwarded by the expectations they give rise to. Finding themselves called by the message and its constant repetition, they become “believers,” part of Generation Txt.

            Generation Txt thus does not so much name a new social identity as it designates a desire for seeing in messages a meaning guaranteed by an unimpeachable source residing outside the text. Most of  those who gathered at Edsa and marched towards Mendiola, the road leading the Presidential Palace, were united in their anger at the corrupt regime of President Estrada and their wish to replace him with a more honest leader. Doing so, however, did not mean changing the nature of the state or doing away with class divisions. Indeed, everything I have read about these events is at pains to stress the legality and constitutionality of these transitions, looking towards the Supreme Court and the Catholic church (rather than either the army or left-wing groups) for institutional legitimacy. In the end, Estrada was replaced not by a new leader, but by one who was part of the same old leadership: his vice-president, and daughter of a former Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It would appear then that Generation Txt comes out of what its “believers”claim to be a “technological revolution” that sets the question of social revolution aside.

            Texting is thus “revolutionary” in a reformist sense. If it can be said to have a politics, it includes seeking the cleaning up and consolidation of authority, both that of the state and the source of messages. We can see an instructive instance of this politics in a manifesto that appeared in what was till recently one of Manila’s more widely read tabloids, Pinoy Times. “Voice of Generation Txt” (Tinig ng Generation Txt) by a twenty-something University of the Philippines graduate, Ederic Penaflor Eder, credits the “power”(lakas) of “our cellphones (sic) and computers” for contributing to the “explosion” of People Power II. Texting became the medium with which “we” responded quickly to the “betrayal” (kataksilan) of the pro-Estrada senators who had sought to block the impeachment hearings. Elaborating on this “we” that is Generation Txt, Eder writes in Taglish:


       We are Generation Txt (sic). Free, fun-loving, restless, insistent, hard-working, strong and patriotic.

         We warmly receive and embrace with enthusiasm the revolution in new technology. Isn’t it said that the Philippines rules Cyberspace and that the Philippines is the text messaging capital of the world? Our response was rapid to the betrayal of the eleven running dogs (tuta) of Jose Velarde (a.k.a. Joseph Estrada). The information and calls that reached us by way of text and e-mail was what brought together the organized as well as unorganized protests. From our homes, schools, dormitories, factories, churches, we poured into the streets there to continue the trial–the impeachment trial that had lost its meaning.

...Our wish is for an honest government, and a step towards this is the resignation of Estrada. We are patriotic and strong and with principles, since our coming together is not merely because we want to hang out with our friends, but rather to attain a truly free and clean society brought by our love for the Philippine nation....

          There were those from our generation that have long since before the second uprising chosen to struggle and fight in the hills and take up arms, trekking on the harsh road towards real change. Most of us, before and after the second uprising, can be found in schools, offices, or factories, going about our everyday lives. Dreaming, working hard for a future. Texting, internetting, entertaining ourselves in the present.

             But when the times call, we are ready to respond. Again and again, we will use our youth and our gadgets (gadyet) to insure the freedom of our Motherland.... After the second uprising, we promise to militantly watch over the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo while we happily push Asiong Salonga (a.k.a. Joseph Estrada) into the doors of prison.

                                       We are Generation Txt (sic). [20]


            This statement of identity curiously enough does not identify who this “we” is except as those who “warmly accept and embrace”the “revolution”in new technology. The “we” that is invoked here comes about through its identification with technology and its purported new-ness that situates the country globally as the “text messaging” capital of the world. It is perhaps for this reason that the message reads as if  it was meant to be received then forwarded: it begins and ends with exactly the same lines: “Kami ang Generation Txt” (We are Generation Txt). Rather than develop ideas or put forth an analysis of social relations, Generation Txt has attitudes and affects: “malaya” (free), “masayahin” (fun-loving), “malikot” (restless), “makulit” (insistent), “masipag” (hardworking) and so forth. They pride themselves in having principles and courage, and unlike the rudderless and westernized Generation X, they have direction. They stand for “transparent”government, and a “free” and “clean”society. In this sense, they are really not that different from their elders for they are patriots (makabayan) dedicated to using their “gadgets” for the sake of the motherland (Inang Bayan). Such commitment comes in the form of a “militant” readiness to watch over the workings of the new government in order to insure “justice”(katarungan). Unlike those who have chosen to take up arms and go to the mountains, Generation Txt can be found in schools, offices, and factories, ready to respond to the call of the times. They watch, they wait, and they are always ready to receive and forward messages.

            The interest of Generation Txt  lies not in challenging the structures of authority but in making sure they function to serve the country’s needs. This reformist impetus is spelled out in terms of their demand for accountability and their intention of  holding leaders under scrutiny. Through their gadgets, they hold on to this holding, keeping watch over leaders rather than taking their place or putting forth other notions of leadership. Thus does Generation Txt conceptualize its historical agency: as speedy (mabilis) transmitters of calls (panawagan) that come from elsewhere and which have the effect of calling out those in their “homes, schools, dormitories, factories, churches” to flood the streets in protest. Rather than originate such calls, they are able to trace them to their destination which, in this case, is the nation of middle class citizens as it seeks to renovate and keep watch over the state. Like the first generation of bourgeois nationalists in the nineteenth century I cited earlier, Generation Txt discovers yet again the fetish of technology as that which endows one with the capacity to seek access to and recognition from authority. [21]


III. Crowding.

            From the perspective of Generation Txt, a certain kind of crowd comes about in response to texting. It is one that bears, in both senses of that word, the hegemony of middle class intentions. Texting in its apolitical mode, sought to evade the crowd. But in its reformist mode, it is credited with converting the crowd into the concerted movement of an aggrieved people. In the latter case, the middle class invests the crowd with a power analogous to their cell phones: that of transmitting  their wish for a moral community, whereby the act of transmission itself amounts to the realization of such a community. Such a notion assumes the possibility of endowing the crowd with an identity continuous with that of middle class texters.  However, this assumption had another aspect. Not only did it lead to the fantasy of ordering of the masses under bourgeois direction. As I demonstrate below, the middle class interest in ordering the crowd also tended to give way to a different development. At  certain moments, we also see the materialization of another kind of desire this time for the dissolution of class hierarchy altogether. How so?

            To understand the contradictory nature of  middle class ideas about crowds, it helps to look at the streets of Manila at the turn of the twenty-first century. The city has a population of over ten million, a large number of whom are rural migrants in search of jobs, education, and other opportunities unavailable in the provinces. Congested conditions–packed commuter trains, traffic-clogged roads, crowded sidewalks, teeming shopping malls–characterize everyday life in the city making travel from one place to another slow and tedious throughout the day and late into the night. Such conditions affect all social classes. And because there is no way of definitively escaping them, they constitute the most common and widely shared experience of city life.

            Just as the roads are clogged with vehicles, so the sidewalks seem unable to contain the unending tide of pedestrians who spill out onto the highways, weaving in and out of vehicular traffic.  Indeed, one of the most anomalous sights on Manila sidewalks are signs for wheelchair access. Given the uneven surfaces and packed conditions of sidewalks, such signs can only be the traces of a possibility that has never been realized, a future overlooked and forgotten. It is as if at one point, someone had the thought of organizing urban space along the lines of a liberal notion of accommodation. Instead, that thought itself quickly gave way to what everywhere seems like the inexorable surrender of space to people who use it and use it up.

            Urban space in Manila thus seems haphazardly planned. It is as if no central design had been put in place and no rationalizing authority at work to organize and coordinate the movement of people and things. [22] Instead, such movement occurs seemingly on its own accord. Pedestrians habitually jaywalk and jump over street barriers. Cars and busses belch smoke,  criss-crossing dividing medians, if these exist at all, inching their way to their destinations. Drivers and passengers find it difficult to see beyond a few feet of their vehicles. The windshields and windows of jeepneys, tricycles and cabs are usually filled with decals, curtains, detachable sun shades, and other ornaments that make it difficult to get a view of the road, in effect obstructing one’s vision and further heightening the sensation of congestion. Indeed, given Manila’s topographical flatness, it is impossible to get a panoramic view of the city except on the commuter trains and from on top of  tall buildings. In the West, the “view” is understood as the site for evacuating a sense of internal unease and a resource for relieving oneself of pressure, both social and psychic. Such a notion of a view is not possible in Manila’s streets. Caught in traffic, one looks out to see the view of more stalled traffic so that the inside and the outside of  vehicles seem to mirror one another.

            Adding to the sense of congestion is the presence of garbage. The disposal of garbage has long been a problem in Manila owing to, among other reasons, the difficulty in finding adequate landfills . As a result, trash seems to be everywhere, as if it were dumped indiscriminately on street corners or around telephone poles, some of which have signs that explicitly ask people not to urinate or dump garbage there. What appears are thus scenes of near ruin and rubble. While certainly not exclusive to Manila, such scenes bespeak of a city giving in to the pressures of a swelling population. Rather than regulate contact and channel the efficient movement of people and things, the city’s design, such as it is, seems to be under constant construction from the ground up and from so many different directions. No singular and overarching authority seems to be in charge. To walk or ride around in Manila then is to be impressed by the power of  crowds.  Their hold on urban space appear to elude any attempt at centralizing control. It is perhaps for this reason that the largest private spaces open to the public in Manila, shopping malls, play what to an outsider might seem to be extremely loud background music. A shopping mall manager once told me that turning the volume up was a way of  reminding the crowd in malls that unlike the streets, someone was in charge and therefore watching their actions. [23]  

            The anonymity characteristic of crowds makes it difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate individuals into precise social categories. Clothes are at times clues to the social origins of people, but with the exception of beggars, it is difficult to tell on the basis of looks alone. The sense that one gets from moving in and through crowds is of a relentless and indeterminable mixing of social groups. This pervasive sense of social mixing contrasts sharply with the class and linguistic hierarchies that govern political structures and social relations in middle class homes, schools, churches and other urban spaces. [24] One becomes part of the crowd by becoming other than one’s social self. Estranged, one becomes like everyone else. Social hierarchy certainly does not disappear on the streets. But like the police who are barely visible, appearing mostly to collect pay-offs (tong or lagay) from jeepney drivers and sidewalk vendors, hierarchy feels more arbitrary, its hold loosened by the anonymous sway of the crowd.

            The power of the crowd thus comes across in its capacity to overwhelm the  physical constraints of urban planning and to blur social distinctions by provoking a sense of estrangement. Its authority rests on its ability to promote restlessness and movement, thereby undermining the pressure from state technocrats, church authorities and corporate interests to regulate and contain such movements. In this sense, the crowd is a sort of medium if by that word one means the means for gathering and transforming elements, objects, people and things. As a medium, the crowd is also the site for the generation expectations and the circulation of messages. It is in this sense that we might also think of the crowd not merely as an effect of technological devices, but as a kind of technology itself. It calls incessantly and we find ourselves compelled to respond to it.  The crowd as a kind of  technology refers then not merely to its potential as instruments of  production or as an exploitable surplus for the formation of social order. It also constitutes the context of and the content for a technic of engaging the world. The  insistent and recurring proximity of anonymous others creates a current of expectation, of something that might arrive, of events that might happen. As a site of potential happenings, it is a kind of place for the generation of the unknown and the unexpected. Centralized urban planning and technologies of policing seek to routinize the sense of contingency generated in crowding. But at moments and in areas where such planning chronically fails, routine can at times give way to the epochal. At such moments, the crowd as I hope to show below takes on a kind of telecommunicative power, serving up channels for sending messages at a distance while bringing distances up close. Enmeshed in a crowd, one feels the potential for  reaching out across social space and temporal divides. [25]

            As we saw, middle class discourses on the cell phone tend to set texting in opposition to the crowd precisely as that which overcomes the latter during normal times. But in more politically charged moments such as People Power II, cell phones were credited along with radio, TV and the internet for calling forth the crowd and organizing the flow of its desire, turning it into a resource for the reformation of social order. Other accounts, however, indicate the crowd’s potential for bringing about something else, transmitting messages which at times converged with, but at other times submerged those emanating from cell phones. For at times, the crowd made possible a different kind of experience for the middle class. Such had to do less with representing the masses as becoming one with them.  In so doing, the crowd becomes a media for the recurrence of another fantasy which emanates from the utopic side of bourgeois nationalist wishfulness: the abolition of social hierarchy. [26] We can see the recurrence of this fantasy and the desire to do away with hierarchy in one of the more lucid accounts of the crowd’s power from a posting by “Flor C.” on the internet discussion group, Plaridel. [27]   The text originally in Taglish  is worth following at some length.

            “I just want to share my own way of rallying at the Edsa Shrine,” (Gusto ko lang ibahagi ang sarili kong siste sa pagrali sa Edsa Shrine), Flor C. begins. She invites others do the same, adding, “I am also eager to see the personal stories of the ‘veterans’ of Mendiola.” (Sabik din akong makita ang mga personal na kuwento ng mga beteranong Mendiola). Here, the urge to relate her experiences at the protests comes with the desire to hear others tell their own stories. What she transmits is a text specific to her life, not one that comes from somewhere else and which merely passes through her. Yet, by signing herself as “Flor C.”, it is difficult to tell who this story pertains to outside of that signature. Neither is it possible to tell who authorizes its telling. In this way, she remains anonymous to her readers, the vast majority of whom similarly remain unknown to her. [28]   What is the relationship between anonymity and the eagerness to tell and hear about experiences, one’s own as well as that of others’?

            Flor C. recalls the practice of protest marchers from the 1970s and 1980s of having what is called a “buddy-system” (sic) for guarding against infiltration from fifth columnists and harassment by the military and police. But because “my feet were too itchy so that I could not stay in the place that we agreed to meet,” (masyadong makati ang talampakan ko imbes na tumigil sa puwesto namin), she ends up without a “buddy” at Edsa. Instead, she finds herself swimming in the “undulating river, without let-up from Edsa and Ortigas Avenue that formed the sea at the Shrine,” (ilog na dumadaloy, walang patid, mula sa Edsa sa Ortigas Avenue at bumubuo ng dagat sa Shrine).  She can’t keep still. She feels compelled to keep moving, allowing heerself to be carried away from those who recognize her. At Edsa, she knows no one and no one knows her. Yet the absence of recognition is cause neither for dismay nor longing for some sort of identity. Instead, she relishes the loss of place brought about by her absorption into the movement of the crowd. She finds herself in a community outside of any community.  It fills her with excitement (sabik). But rather than reach for a cell phone, she does something else: she takes out her camera.


And so I was eager to witness (kaya nga sabik akong masaksihan)  everything that was happening and took photographs. Walking, aiming the camera here and there, inserted into the thick waves of people who also kept moving and changing places, walked all day until mid-night the interiors of the Galleria [shopping mall], around the stage and the whole length of the Edsa-Ortigas flyover. Sometimes stopping to listen for a while to the program on stage, shouting ‘Erap resign!,’ and taking close-ups of the angry, cussing placards, T-shirts, and posters and other scenes; ‘Good Samaritans’ giving away mineral water and candy bars, a poor family where the mother and child were laying on a mat while the father watched over, a group of rich folks on their Harley Davidsons, Honda 500's, and Sym scooters that sparkled.... And many other different scenes that were vibrant in their similarities but also in their differences.


            Immersed in the crowd, Flor C. begins to take photographs. The camera replaces the cell phone as the medium for registering experience. In the passage above, she initially refers to herself as “ako,” or “I,” the first person pronoun singular in Tagalog. But once she starts to take photographs, the “I” disappears. The sentences that follow do not contain any pronouns at all. It is as if there is no person performing the acts of walking, moving, listening and looking.  While we can certainly read these sentences to imply a person carrying out these activities, we could just as easily infer the agency of some other thing at work: an “it”rather than an “I.” That “it” of course is the camera that Flor C. takes out and begins to aim (tinutok). Led by her desire to be among the crowd, she begins to act and see like her camera. She stops to listen, then moves on, taking close-ups of “scenes” (eksenas) made up of the juxtaposition of various social classes. She is thus drawn to the appearance of sharp “contrasts” (pagkaiba) that are thrown together, existing side by side without one seeming to dominate the other. The juxtaposition of contrasts, the proximity of social distances, the desire to come up close to all manner of expressions and signs, to bring these within a common visual field, but one whose boundaries and focus keep shifting: such becomes the vocation of Flor C.’s camera. These are also the very features associated with the crowd. The crowd drives Flor C. to take out her camera; and the camera in registering the mixing of differences reiterates the workings of the crowd. Becoming the camera that brings distances up close and holds differences in sharp juxtaposition, Flor C. begins to take on the telecommunicative power of the crowd. Yet, unlike the cell phone whose political usefulness requires the legitimation of messages by an outside authority, the crowd in Flor C.’s account seems to draw its power from itself.  It does not look outside of itself, at least in this instance,  precisely insofar as the crowd tends to erode the border between inside and outside. We can see further this blurring of boundaries in Flor C.’s account of entering the Galleria shopping mall next to the center stage of the Edsa protest:


        Many times I entered the Galleria to line up for the restroom and at the juice store. During one of my trips there, I was shocked and thrilled (kinilabutan ako) when I heard ‘Erap resign!’ resonating from the food center, cresting upwards the escalator, aisles and stores. The mall became black from the ‘advance’ of middle-class rallyists wearing the uniform symbolic of the death of justice. But the whole place was happy (masaya). Even the security guards at the entrance simply smiled since they could not individually inspect the bags that came before them...


            She is thrilled and shocked (kinilabutan ako) by a sonic wave making its way from the bottom up of the shopping mall. Middle class “rallyists” dressed in black surged through the aisles, protesting rather than shopping. Like all modern retail spaces, the shopping mall is designed to manufacture novelty and surprise only to contain them within the limits of surveillance and commodity consumption. But during these days, it is converted into a site for the wholly unexpected and unforseen. Ordinarily, the mall is meant to keep the streets at bay. Now it suddenly merges with them, creating a kind of uncanny enjoyment that even the security guards cannot resist. Formerly anonymous shoppers, middle class protestors now come across en masse. As shoppers, they had consumed the products of others’ labor. But as demonstrators, they now shed what made them distinct. They set aside their identity as consumers. They are instead consumed and transformed by the crowd. While still recognizably middle class, they nonetheless appear otherwise, advancing in their black shirts and chanting their slogans.  To Flor C., their unfamiliar familiarity produces powerful effects. In the mall, Flor C. finds herself to be somewhere else. And as with the scenes in the streets, the intensification of this sense of displacement becomes the basis for the sensation of a fleeting and pleasurable connection with the crowd.

            It is worth noting, however, that  displacement as the source of pleasure can also, at certain moments, become the occasion for anxiety and fear. What is remarkable about Flor C.’s narrative is the way in which she takes on rather than evades this fear. The result, as we will see in the concluding section of her story, is neither the mastery nor overcoming of the crowd’s disorienting pull. Rather, it is the realization of what she conceives to be the saving power of the crowd. Back on the streets, she wanders onto a flyover, or an on-ramp at the Edsa highway.


          When I first went to the flyover, I was caught in the thick waves of people far from the center of the rally. I could barely breath from the weight of the bodies pressing on my back and sides. I started to regret going to this place that was [so packed] that not even a needle could have gone through the spaces between the bodies. After what seemed like an eternity of extremely small  movements, slowly, slowly, there appeared a clearing before me (lumuwag bigla sa harap ko). I was grateful not because I survived but because I experienced the discipline and respect of one for the other of the people–there was no pushing, no insulting, everyone even helped each other, and a collective patience and  giving way ruled (kolektibong pasensiya at pagbibigayan ang umiral).

            The night deepened. Hungry again. Legs and feet hurting. I bought squid balls and sat on the edge of the sidewalk.... While resting on the sidewalk, I felt such immense pleasure, safe from danger, free, happy in the middle of thousands and thousands of anonymous buddies.


            Finding herself in the midst of a particularly dense gathering of bodies, Flor C. momentarily fears for her life. She can barely breathe, overwhelmed by the weight of bodies pressed up against her. Rather than a medium for movement, the crowd in this instance becomes a kind of trap, fixing her in place. But ever so slowly, the crowd moves as if on its own accord. No one says anything, no directives are issued, no leader appears to reposition bodies. Instead a kind of “collective patience and giving way ruled” (kolektibong pasyensya at pagbibgayan ang umiral). The crowd gives and takes, taking while giving, giving while taking and so suffers the presence of all those that comprise it. It is for this reason “patient,” which is to say, forbearing and forgiving while forgetting the identities of those it holds and who hold on to it.  Forbearance, forgiveness and forgetting are always slow, so slow  in coming. They thus  share in, if not constitute, the rhythm of the  work of mourning which in turn always entails the sharing of work.

            After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and very little moving, Flor C. suddenly arrives at a clearing. “Lumuwag bigla sa harap ko,” “ it suddenly cleared in front of me”  she says,  which can also be glossed as “the clearing came before me.” Who or what came before whom or what remains tantalizingly uncertain.  Earlier, she had started to regret being trapped in the crowd. But thrown into a sudden clearing by a force which came from within that which was radically outside of her yet which she had become an ineluctable part of, Flor C. is grateful. She survives, but that is not the most important thing for her. Rather, what matters is that she was given  the chance to experience the “discipline and respect”of the crowd where no one was pushed or pushing, no one was insulted or insulting, and everyone seemed to help one another, a condition that in Tagalog is referred to as damayan, or cooperation, the very same word used to connote the work of mourning. [29] Flor C.’s account also brings to mind the experience of crowding in certain religious gatherings, notably the all male procession of the image of Black Nazarene that marks the high point of the fiesta of Quiapo, a district of Manila on the ninth of January. For a description of the 1995 procession that conveys some sense of the dangers and pleasures experienced by both on-lookers and practitioners alike in the experience of crowding, see Jaime C. Laya, “The Black Nazarene of Quiapo,” in Letras y Figuras: Business in Culture, Culture in Business, Manila: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2001, 86-90.   It is a strange sort of discipline that she undergoes. It is one that does not form subjects through systematic subjugation en route to establishing hierarchies of recognition. Instead, it is a kind of discipline borne of mutual restraint and deference which, inasmuch as it does not consolidate identity, sets aside  social distinctions.

            Crowding gives rise to an experience of forbearance and a general economy of deference. At the same time it does not result in the conservation of social identity. Rather, it gives way to a kind of saving which Flor C. refers to as the experience of  “freedom” (kalayaan). Far from being a mob, the crowd here is a principle of freedom and incalculable pleasure. It is where a different sense of collectivity resides, one that does away momentarily with hierarchy and the need for recognition. Constraint gives way to an unexpected clearing, to a giving way that opens the way for the other to be free, the other which now includes the self caught in the crowd. And because it is unexpected, this freeing cannot last just as it cannot be the last experience of freedom. Emancipation, however brief--and perhaps because it is felt to be so-- depends here not on submission to a higher authority that guarantees the veracity of messages. Rather, it relies on the dense gathering of bodies held in patient anticipation of a clearing and release.

            Accounts of People Power II indicate that over a  million people gathered in the course of  four days at Edsa. These included not only the middle classes.  As Flor C.’s earlier remarks show, many from the ranks of the working classes as well as the urban and rural poor who opposed Estrada  were also there. A heterogenous crowd formed not simply in response to texting, for obviously not everyone had cell phones. It emerged primarily, we might imagine, in response to a call for and the call of  justice. Put another way, the crowd at Edsa was held together by the promise of justice’s arrival. Here,  justice is understood not simply in terms of a re-distributive force acting to avenge past wrongs, one that in its use of violence is productive of more injustice. The non-violent nature of People Power II suggests instead that the crowd formed not to exact revenge but to await  justice. To do so is to dwell in a promise which, qua promise, is always yet to be realized. Like freedom and no doubt inseparable from it, justice is thus always poised to arrive from the future. And it is the unceasing uncertainty of its arrival that constitutes the present waiting of the crowd.  The crowd in this case is a gathering which greets that whose arrival is never fully completed,  forbearing this coming that is always deferred. Yet, it is precisely because justice comes by not fully coming, and coming in ways unexpected that it comes across as that which is free from any particular socio-technical determination. It is this promise of justice that is conveyed by Flor C.’s experience of the crowd. The promissary nature of justice means that it is an event whose eventfulness occurs in advance of and beyond any given political and social order. Evading reification and exceeding institutional consolidation, such an event entails a telecommunication of sorts. It is what Jacques Derrida might call the messianic without a messiah. It would be “the opening up to the future or to the coming of the other as the advent of justice.... It follows no determinable revelation.... This messianicity stripped of everything, this faith without dogma....” [30]   In the midst of  messianic transmissions,  Flor C. along with others around her imagine the  dissolution of  class differences and feel, at least momentarily,  as if  it were possible to overcome social inequities. She sees in crowding therefore a power that levels the power of the social as such. Past midnight, Flor C. finds herself no longer simply herself. Her body hurting, bearing the traces of the crowd’s saving power, she sits on the sidewalk, eating squid balls, happy and safe, free in the midst of countless and anonymous “buddies.”


IV. Postscript.

            Utopias of course do not last even if their occasional and unexpected happenings are never the last.    

            Some three months after People Power II,  the recently installed government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made good on its promise to arrest former President Estrada on charges of graft and corruption. On April 25, 2001, he was taken from his residence, fingerprinted and photographed, his mug shot displayed for all to see in the media. The sight of Estrada treated as a common criminal infuriated his numerous supporters, many of whom came from the ranks of the urban poor and who had given him the largest majority in any  presidential election in the country. Spurred by the middle class leaders of Estrada’s party, Puwersa ng Masa (Force of the Masses) and swelled by the ranks of the pro-Estrada Protestant sect,  Iglesia ni Cristo and the populist Catholic group, El Shaddai, a crowd of up to one hundred thousand formed at Edsa raucously demanding Estarada’s release and reinstatement. Unlike those who gathered there during People Power II, the crowd in what came to be billed as the “Poor People Power” were brought in by the truck loads by Estrada’s political operatives from the slums and near by provinces, provided with money, food and on at least certain occasions, alcohol. Rather than cell phones, many were reportedly armed with sling shots, home made guns, knives and steel pipes.  English-language news reports described this crowd as unruly and uncivilized and castigated them for strewing garbage on the Edsa Shrine, cussing at reporters and urinating on the walls by the giant statue of the Virgin Mary of Edsa. [31]

            Other accounts qualified these depictions by pointing out that many of those in the crowd were not merely hired thugs or demented loyalists but poor people who had legitimate complaints. They had been largely ignored by the elite politicians, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the middle-class dominated left-wing groups and the NGOs. They saw in Estrada a kind of patron who had given them hope by way of occasional hand-outs and who spoke to them in their vernacular even as he  manipulated them. And unenlightened as they presently were, they deserved  “compassion” from “us,”  the nationalist middle class whose duty it was to uplift them to the latter’s level of political and moral consciousness. The great majority of middle class opinion thus shared in the view that the pro-Estrada crowd was profoundly different from that which gathered in January during People Power II. Where the latter was technologically savvy and politically sophisticated, the former was retrograde and reactionary. In the earlier case, Generation Txt spoke of democratization, accountability and civil society; in the other, the “tsinelas crowd”, so-called because of the cheap rubber slippers many of them wore, were fixated on their “idol.” In their mystified state, they  seemed to the middle class  barely articulate, incapable of formulating their sentiments except in terms of seeking vengeance on those they deemed responsible for victimizing their leader. If  those in People Power II responded to the circulation of messages sanctioned by a higher authority, as well as to the  prospect of justice as the promise of freedom, the “masa” in  People Power III were merely playing out its tragically mistaken identification with Estrada. They sought, or so it was assumed, a kind of crude payback characteristic of many of the former president’s movie plots. [32]  

            Middle class accounts of this other crowd regularly made mention of the “voicelessness”of the urban poor. At the same time, such accounts showed a  relative lack of interest in actually hearing much less recording any distinctive voices. By remarking on the masses’ lack of voice, the middle class in effect redoubled the former’s  seeming inarticulateness.  It is almost as if the masses, without anything intelligible to say, could only say the same thing. “Voiceless,” the masses could only riot in the streets. Indeed, in the early morning of May 1, they marched from the Edsa shrine to the Presidential Palace, destroying millions of pesos of property, resulting in several deaths and scores of wounded until they were dispersed by the police and Palace guards. It is important to note though that while marching to the Palace, the masses chanted slogans. Newspaper reports quote these slogans and in so doing give us a rare chance to actually hear the crowd. On the move, it addresses us with such things as “Nandito na kami, malapit na ang tagumpay,” (We’re here, our victory is close at hand!) and “Patalsikin si Gloria! Ibalik si Erap! Nandyan na kami! Maghanda na kayo!” (Get rid of Gloria! Return Erap! We are coming! Get ready!). [33]  

            Here, the crowd is fueled by the desire to give back to Gloria what they think she’s given to them. In exchange for unseating Estrada, they want to unseat her. She took his place, and  now they want him to take hers. Through their slogans,  the crowd expresses this giving back of a prior taking away. It says: “We are here, our victory is close at hand;” “We are coming, you better be ready!” The crowd thereby takes for itself an apocalyptic power. “We” here has already arrived even as it continues to come. Certain of its arrival, it asks those who hear to be ready.  Having arrived, they will settle their debts, collect what is owed to them and thereby put an end to their--the crowd’s and the listeners’-- waiting. Where the crowd in People Power II clung to the sense of the messianic without a messiah, this other crowd comes as a messianic specter delivered by resentments whose satisfaction could no longer be deferred. It is perhaps for this reason that middle class observers repeatedly referred to it in English  as a “mob,” a “rabble” made up of “hordes”. These words imply not only “savagery” and disordered appearance and speech. As the word “horde” indicates, the masses were also seen to be irreducibly alien: foreign invaders stealing upon a place they had no place in. [34]  

            Eschewing a stance of forbearance, this crowd demanded recognition without delay. “Here we are,” it shouted. “Be prepared.” For many among the middle class, to hear this crowd was to realize that they were not quite ready to hear them, and that they will always have been unprepared to do so. The masses became suddenly visible in a country where the poor are often seen by the middle class to be unsightly, spoken about and down to because deemed incapable of speaking up for themselves. They are thus acknowledged in order to be dismissed. Marching to the Palace, however, and chanting their slogans, they assumed an apocalyptic agency. They threatened to bring about a day of reckoning that was simultaneously desired and dreaded by those who saw them. In their uncanny visibility, the masses did not so much gain a “voice” that corresponded to a new social identity. Instead, they communicated an excess of communication that could neither be summed up nor fully accounted for by those who heard them. Unprepared to hear the crowd’s demand that they be prepared, the middle class could only regard it as monstrous. Hence the bourgeois calls for the conversion of the masses and their containment by means of  “pity,”  “compassion” and some combination of social programs and educational reform.  But such calls also demanded that those who made up this crowd, one that was now totally other, be put back in their place, removed like garbage from the Edsa shrine and from the periphery of the presidential palace. [35]   By the late morning of labor day, the military, spooked earlier by the specter of  “poor people power,” had dispersed the marchers. Their violent outbursts like their abandoned rubber slippers were relegated to the memory of injustices left unanswered, fueling the promise of revenge and feeding the anticipation of more uprisings into the future.





[My thanks to Pete Lacaba and the contributors to Plaridel, to RayVi Sunico, Tina Cuyugan, Lita Puyat,  Karina Bolasco,  Jose and David Rafael, Carol Dahl, Chandra Mukerji,  Matt Ratto, Paula Chakrabarty, Teresa Caldeira, James Holston, Jean-Paul Dumont,  Adi Hastings, and Michael Silverstein for providing me with a variety of sources and insights that proved invaluable for this essay. I am especially  grateful to Rosalind Morris and  Michael Meeker for offering thoughtful comments  on  earlier drafts of this essay].


[1] The link between telecommunication technologies and the politics of belief that I pursue here is indebted partly to the work of Jacques Derrida, especially in such writings as “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” translated by Sam Weber in Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, ed. by Gil Anidjar, New York: Routledge, 2002, 42-101; “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, translated by Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, 307-330; and The Politics of Friendship, translated by George Collins, London: Verso, 1977.


[2] See the bundle entitled “Telefonos, 1885-1891" at the Philippine National Archives, Manila for sketches of a plan to install a telephone system in the city as early as November, 1885. By December 1885, an office of Telephone Communication had been established (Communicacion Telefonica) and the first telephone station set up on the same date at Santa Lucia, Manila.


[3] Jose Rizal, “Por Telefono”, Barcelona, 1889. Reprinted in Manila: R. Martinez and Sons, 1959 and in various other anthologies of Rizal’s writings. For a more extended discussion of telegraphy and the formation of a wish for a lingua franca among the first generation of nationalists, see Vicente L. Rafael, “Translation and Revenge: Castilian and the Origins of Nationalism in the Philippines,” in Doris Sommer, ed., The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America, Durham: Duke University Press, 1999, 214-35.



[4] For an elaboration of other modalities of these telecommunicative fantasies and their role in shaping nationalist consciousness, see Vicente L. Rafael, White Love and Other Events in Philippines History, Durham: Duke University Press, 2000, especially chapters 4 and 8 on rumor and gossip as populist modes of communication in Philippine history.


[5] For a useful collection of documents and newspaper articles relating to the corruption case against Estrada, see Sheila Coronel, ed., Investigating Estrada: Millions, Mansions and Mistresses, Quezon City: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 2000.


[6] The quotations above come respectively from Uli Schmetzer, “Cell Phones Spurred Filipinos,” Chicago Tribune, 24 January 2001; Ederic Penaflor Eder, “Tinig Ng Genertion Txt”, Pinoy Times 8 February 2001; Malou Mangahas, “Text Messaging Comes of Age in the Philippines,” Reuters Technology News, 28 January 2001.


[7] Wayne Arnold, “Manila’s Talk of the Town is Text Messaging,” New York Times, 5 July 2000. 


[8] For a succinct historical analysis of the Philippine state, see Benedict Anderson, “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines in his book The Specter of Comparisons, London: Verso 1998, 192-226. See also John Sidel, Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999; and Paul D. Hutchcroft, Booty Capitalism: The Politics of Banking in the Philippines, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.


[9] The technology for monitoring cell phone use does exist and there is some indication that the Philippine government is beginning to acquire these. It is doubtful, however, that such technology had been available under Estrada. It is also not clear whether the current regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has begun monitoring or intends to monitor cell phone transmissions.


[10] See Arnold, “Manila’s Talk of the Town is Text Messaging,”; Mangahas, “Text Messaging Comes of Age in the Philippines,”; Schmetzer, “Cell Phones Spurred Filipinos’ Coup.” See also Leah Salterio, “Text Power in Edsa 2001,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 January 2001, (hereafter indicated as PDI); Conrad de Quiros, “Undiscovered Country,” PDI, 6 February 2001; Michael L. Lim, “Taming the Cell Phone,” PDI, 6 February 2001. There are certain limits to this economic advantage, however. For example, it is expensive to call across networks, so that calling or texting from a Globe phone to a Smart phone is rarely ever done. Indeed, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) at one point had to intervene in late 1999 to get the two companies to improve inter-connectivity and service as well as lower their costs.


[11] This article was being circulated around the listserves of various NGOs in the Philippines and bore the title “Pinoy Lifestyle.”.   I have no knowledge as to the original source of this piece and so it exists in some ways like a forwarded text message. Thanks to  Tina Cuyugan (tinacuyugan@mindanao.org) for forwarding this essay to me. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.


[12] Wayne Arnold, “Manila’s Talk of the Town is Text Messaging.”

[13] rnrsarreal@aol.com, In Plaridel, (plaridel_papers@egroups.com), 25 January 2001.


[14] Arnold, “Manila’s Talk of the Town is Text Messaging”; See also Richard Lloyd Parr, untitled article on People Power II and cell phone use in The Independent, London, 23 January 2001.


[15] Michael Tan, “Taming the Cell Phone,” PDI, 6 February 2001.

[16] Tan, Ibid.; De Quiros, “Undiscovered Country,” PDI, 6 February 2001.

[17] Arnold, “Manila’s Talk of the Town is Text Messaging.”

[18] These messages were forwarded by rnrsarreal@aol.com, to the Plaridel discussion group (plaridel_papers@yahoogroups.com) 25 January 2001.


[19] Bart Guingona, Plaridel, (plaridel_papers@yahoogroups.com)  26 January 2001. Texting is widely credited with bringing about the rapid convergence of crowds at the EDSA shrine within approximately seventy five minutes of the abrupt halt of the Estrada impeachment trial on the evening of January 16. Even prior to Cardinal Sin and former president Cory Aquino’s appeal for people to converge at this hollowed site, it has been estimated that over twenty thousand people had already arrived there, perhaps lured by text messages they received. As Danny A. Gozo, an employee at Ayala Corporation, points out in his posting on Plaridel, of 23 January 2001 (plaridel_papers@yahoogroups.com)   Globe Telecom reported an average of forty two million outgoing messages and around an equal number of incoming ones as well, while Smart Telecom reported over seventy million outgoing and incoming messages texted through their system per day during the days of People Power II. He observes enthusiastically that “the interconnectedness of people, both within the country and outside is a phenomenon unheard of before. It is changing the way that we live!”


[20] Ederic Penaflor Eder, Pinoy Times, 8 February 2001. The translation of this text is mine.


[21] I owe this term to James T. Siegel, Fetish Recognition Revolution, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.


[22] My remarks on Manila’s streets were gleaned from the notes and observations I made in the 1990s. On Manila’s urban forms, see the excellent essay by Neferti X. Tadiar, “Manila’s New Metropolitan Forms,” in Vicente L. Rafael, ed., Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995, 285-313. For a lucid portrait of Manila’s fantastic street life, see the novel by James Hamilton-Paterson, The Ghosts of Manila, New York: Vintage, 1995. Contemporary Philippine cinema which often traverse the divide between rich and poor and acutely explore the spaces of their habitation are excellent primary source materials for the study of Manila’s urban forms. For a recent collection of essays on Philippine cinema, see Roland Tolentino, ed., Geopolitics of the Visible: Essays on Philippine Film Cultures, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.


[23] I owe this information to Mr. David Rafael, former manager of the Glorietta shopping mall in the Ayala Center in Makati.


[24] For a discussion of the historical link between linguistic and social hierarchies, see Vicente L. Rafael, “Taglish, or the Phantom Power of the Lingua Franca,”in the book White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, Durham: Duke University Press, 2000, 162-189.


[25] Here, I draw from Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in his book The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, New York: Harper and Row, 1977, 3-35. See also the illuminating commentary by Samuel Weber, “Upsetting the Setup: Remarks on Heidegger’s ‘Questing After Technics,” in Mass Mediauras: Form Technics Media, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996, 55-75. My remarks on the crowd are indebted to Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, London: Verso, 1977.


[26] For a discussion of the history of this nationalist fantasy, see the Introduction to Vicente L. Rafael, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, 1-18. For a comparative approach to the radical potential of nationalist ideas, see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, London:Verso, rev. ed., 1991.

[27] Flor C., Plaridel listserve (plaridel_papers@yahoogroups.com, January 24, 2001.


[28] 27. “Flor C.” I have subsequently learned, is Flor Caagusan. She was formerly editor of the editorial page of the Manila Times and at one point served as the managing editor of Diliman Review. I owe this information from the journalist Pete Lacaba. While she would be known to a small group of journalists who are part of the Plaridel discussion group, she would presumably be unknown to the majority of participants in this group. The matter of her anonymity thus remains crucial.


[29] 28. For an elaboration of the notion of damayan, see Reynaldo Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Uprisings in the Philippines, 1840-1910, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979. See also the important work of Fenella Cannell on Bikol province, south of Manila, Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.


[30] 29. Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” in Acts of Religion, 56-57.


[31] 30. See for example the news reports and opinion columns of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from April 26 to May 5, 2001 for coverage of the “Poor People Power”, or as others have referred to it, “People Power III”. In particular, see the following, “Estrada Loyalists Overwhelm Cops on Way to Malacanang,” May 2, 2001; Amando Doronilla, “The State Defends Itself,” and “Now the Fight Over Semantics,” May 2, 2001 and May 3, 2001 respectively; “Exchanges on Edsa 3," May 3, 2001; “Edsa reclaimed by Edsa II Forces,” May 2, 2001; Blanche Gallardo, “Tears of Joy for Tears of Sadness,” May 6, 2001. See also Jarius Bondoc, “Gotcha,” in Philippine Star, May 5, 2001; Howie G. Severino, “The Hand that Rocks the Masa,” Filipinas Magazine, June 2001, 70-72; Pete Lacaba, “Edsa Puwersa,” Pinoy Times, April 29, 2001.



[32] 31.  See for example Conrado de Quiros, “Lessons,” in Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 4, 2001; Walden Bello, “The May 1st Riot: Birth of Peronism RP Style?” Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 7, 2001; La Liga Policy Institute (Quezon City), “Poor People Power: Preludes and Prospects,” as it appears in filipino-studies@yahoogroups.com , May 6, 2001; Ferdinand Llanes “Edsa at Mendiola ng Masa,” filipino-studies@yahoogroups.com, May 3, 2001.


[33] ”Estrada Loyalists Overwhelm Cops on Way to Malacanang,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 2, 2001.


[34] “Horde” comes from the Turkish ordi, ordu, camp, and referred to “troops of Tartar or other nomads dwelling in tents or wagons and moving from place to place for pasturage or for war and plunder,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.


[35] See “Edsa Reclaimed by Edsa II Forces,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 2, 2001 which reports, among other things, how people involved in People Power II  “brought their own towels, sponge and scrubs,” to clean the garbage that had been left behind by the pro-Estrada crowd, hosing down “the filth from the ground,” and “disinfecting,” the Shrine with chlorine. “They heaped mounds of garbage, sang and danced lustfully over the Edsa shrine marker, rammed a truck int the landscape and directed huge loudspeakers to the shrine door,” fulminated the Shrine rector, Monsignor Soc Villegas.