Although digital modes of communication are increasingly becoming ubiquitous, some information channels and discussion spaces within the community remain highly important especially in the grassroots level. In the ‘barangay’ or village, local leaders hold face-to-face activities to disseminate information, as in the case of public consultations, health seminars, among others. As the ‘basic unit of governance’, the barangay ‘serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community’, as per the 1991 Local Government Code of the Philippines. Although insufficient funding hinders ‘any significant infrastructure development or institution building in the barangay’ level, it is still found to be effective in ‘resolving people disputes’ and attending to ‘civic and civil matters’ (Punongbayan, 2018). For this reason, barangay leaders are tapped by higher officials in introducing programs to constituents and soliciting support during electoral campaigns.
Barangay officials are also starting to use digital tools in increasing community participation especially for its assemblies. For instance, in some villages, barangay councils use Facebook and even Twitter for information dissemination and event documentation. The ‘Events’ feature of Facebook is even used by a number of barangay councils as far as the northern Mindanao region (in the southern Philippines) (Gepuela, 2017). The Philippine Communications Operations Office, tasked with disseminating information about the executive branch of the government, declared in 2018 that it will provide satellite receivers with internet access to the over 42,000 barangays in the country (Musico, 2018).
For barangay workers and volunteers, the SMS was also described as a ‘convenient’ way to instruct or to inform stakeholders (Sumaylo, 2013, p. 106). For example, in Sumaylo’s (2013) study, barangay health workers (BHWs) in a village in Mindanao reported that text messaging is the most commonly used medium in their work. Interestingly, SMS is still perceived as an ‘informal’ channel in the community, so BHWs feel the need to ‘reinforce’ this with ‘face-to-face interaction’ (p.106). In most rural areas where 3G and 4G signal are either absent or inconsistent, it is not surprising that text messaging appears to be the most commonly used medium by those working in the grassroots level, reinforced by face-to-face interaction and vice versa.
Religious leaders in the community are also a force to be reckoned with, as church activities and gatherings become venues for networking, information dissemination, or simply connecting with groups of the same interest. An overwhelming 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, thus the label ‘only Christian nation in Asia’ (Miller, 2019), an outcome of over 300 years of Spanish colonisation. About six percent belong to other nationalized Catholic denominations, while some two percent belong to over 100 Protestant denominations.
The country also has a four percent Muslim minority, most of which are in the southern part of the archipelago (according to the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2017, 93 percent of Muslims in the country reside in Mindanao), and a two percent minority following ‘non-Western’, indigenous beliefs (Miller, 2019). In Mindanao, several areas have suffered under decades of conflict between the Philippine military and Muslim armed groups, such as the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF and its splinter group Moro Islamic Liberation Front of MILF (it should be noted, however, that these groups also have Lumad members, or members from indigenous groups). However, as Özerdem and Podder (2012) noted, recruitments into such groups ‘is not simply about religion or ideology’, such is a ‘simplification of its underlying support base’ (p.521). Deeply entrenched poverty, geographical location, and ‘disparity in governance delivery’ are also decisive factors (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities, 2012; p.8; Özerdem and Podder, 2012, p.521). The insurgency is rooted on the struggle for self-determination – the autonomy of the Moro people in a reclaimed ancestral domain. The 40-year conflict has left at least 120,000 dead in affected areas (Ishii, 2013).
Filipinos in general have ‘conservative’ views on issues, owing largely to their adherence to Catholic teachings (Lipka, 2015). For instance, 67 percent of Filipinos find divorce ‘morally unacceptable’, which is three times number of Americans who share the same view. In fact, apart from Vatican, Philippines is the only country in the world that does not allow divorce (except for Muslims). Ninety-three percent also view abortion as immoral, which makes the country the most ‘universally opposed to abortion on moral grounds’ among the 40 nations surveyed (Lipka, 2015).
Like other countries, the cultural diversity in the archipelago generated a diversity in art forms and forms of expression. However, although there is an attempt to include traditional and folk art as topics of learning in Philippine schools, ‘the efforts have not been sustained long enough to create substantial impact’ and are also ‘largely undocumented and isolated’ (Loza, de Guzman, and Jose, 2008, p 125). Worse, there is little educational emphasis on rediscovering the ‘use of indigenous art materials which should be well considered for their cultural, environmental and economic values’ (p 125), a reality that continues despite the declared intention of the Philippine Commission on Higher Education to ‘advance learning, research and the enrichment of the country’s historical and cultural heritage.’
In some of the conflict-torn areas in the country, traditional forms of communication, such as theatre, can provide people with the means to cope with or to heal from trauma, as well as regain their sense of community and promote the advocacy of peace. For example, in Bau’s (2017) study on the UNICEF ‘Art for Development’ programme in a displaced people’s camp in Zamboanga, she observed that by collaborating in art forms, in this case puppetry and photography, adolescents ‘begin to build a broader sense of peace and understanding’ and ‘helped them to recognise the importance of their role in identifying problems and solutions together with others (p.10). In a study published 11 years ago, Schank and Schirch (2008) already noted that a group of theatre artists was travelling in various parts of Mindanao to promote ‘peaceful co-existence’ among Muslim, Christian, and indigenous communities. ‘Arts-based interactions’ were also found to be helpful in healing and coping with stress following natural disasters, noted Zerrudo (2016), who discussed examples from the Philippines and Nepal. In these examples, people revisited community folklore on which their performances (story-telling, creative play, music, among others) are anchored. Zerrudo wrote that ‘as community rituals sprung from creative engagement with catastrophe become central to our ‘everyday,’ we have the potential to protect land and sea through nuanced environmental conservation while recording and perpetuating our rich cultural narratives’ (p.169).
In much of the countryside where mobile technologies and internet access are largely unreliable, face-to-face interaction and traditional forms of communication should play an important role in the campaigns waged by belligerent groups operating in these areas. In the case of the New People’s Army, for example, members sometimes hold ‘cultural nights’ in which the community is invited to performances promoting the ideology and praxis of the Communist Party of the Philippines, as reported by a source who refuses to be named due to security concerns.
When it comes to music, there appears to be a strong preference for music produced by foreign artists among the younger population. Although many of these artists are US-based or Western, Korean artists are also becoming wildly popular. Filipino artists, particularly the independent or ‘indie’ artists, took advantage of the disruptive digital technologies in the form of streaming services like Youtube and Spotify (Beltran, 2018). However, making a living out of music in the country is full of practical struggles. According to Schoop (2018, cited by Beltran, 2018), the number of artists who can make a living out of music in the country is ‘so small that, in all her time spent doing fieldwork in the Philippines, [she] mostly encountered musicians who…had to have day jobs to make ends meet.’ Schoop is a post-doctoral researcher in musicology who spent most of the decade doing fieldwork in the Philippines.
Nevertheless, the country still has artists producing music in local languages or dialects, mostly aired in the local or regional radio stations. However, there is no empirical data on the reach and following of (or appreciation for) these ‘hyperlocal’ songs, as well as the life narratives of these artists.