Severino, Beleno Urge Social Media and Youth’s Role in Changing Politics

February 13, veteran journalist Howie Severino came to Ateneo de Davao University to speak about social media and citizen journalism in the Makinig, Makialam, Makiisa: a forum on the role of social media in the 2016 elections

In this photo, Atenews writers (I included) pose with Howie Severino.

This article was published at Atenews

Award-winning journalist Howie Severino was at Ateneo de Davao University on Saturday, February 13 for the “Makinig. Maki-alam. Makiisa: The Role of Social Media in the 2016 Elections” which is a forum on social media responsibility in politics and citizen journalism, organized by SINIKOM (Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sining at Komunikasyon).

The event was attended by communication students from Ateneo de Davao University, Jose Maria College, University of the Southeastern Philippines, and University of Mindanao.

The forum was organized in partnership with UCEAC (University Council of something), Blue Vote 2016, Ateneo Task Force 2016, and the Mass Communication Department of Ateneo de Davao University.

UCEAC Director Romeo Cabarde in his opening remarks said that social media can either be a blessing or a curse, and in order to maximize its potential, it should be used to campaign for good governance.

“Good governance begins with vigilant citizenry,” said Cabarde.

Howie Severino has been a journalist for print, television, and online, for more than twenty years now. After five years of heading GMA News Digital Operations, Severino now serves as GMA network’s Vice President for Professional Development.

In his lecture titled, “Cyberspace: A Revolutionary, Perplexing, and Dangerous World”, Severino cites that Philippines ironically tops surveys on internet usage despite it having one of the slowest internet connection speed in the world, and also one of the most expensive.

The implications of this, said Severino, is that social media can have a great impact on Philippines’ political sphere because of the time spent by Filipinos online. This has also paved way for citizen journalism, said Severino, referring to news that ordinary, non-media citizens post on Facebook and Twitter.

For Severino, social media has the power to change the political sphere of the Philippines. He tells the students, “You have all the power and that power is in your hands.”

“A digital device coupled with social media and political freedom creates the most empowered generation in Philippine History,” said Severino.

Social media should be used to criticize, he added. “It is our right, written in our constitution, to criticize our government and our politicians,” he explained.

Ateneo professor and political analyst Ramon Beleno III also gave a lecture in the said event. His presentation titled, “Paano ba Bumoboto si Juan?” tackled on Filipinos’ voting behaviors. According to Beleno, these behaviors such as territorial, personality, patronage, and bandwagoning, indicate the predictability of the outcome of Philippine Elections.

“Philippine elections is very predictable, even the time that weddings of politicians will be held can be predicted,” said Beleno, referring to the weddings of Chiz Escudero with actress Heart Evangelista and Mar Roxas with news anchor Korina Sanchez.

Filipinos also tend to lean towards celebrities, said Beleno, referring to the celebrities who have endorsed politicians both in the past and in the current election season.

Further, Filipinos’ territorial voting behavior, according to Beleno, leads to the formation of political dynasties when local leaders dominate the political sphere.

It can be noted that political dynasties in the Philippines is heavy. The Binays, Aquinos, Dutertes, Ampatuans, are some examples.

The speakers Severino and Beleno reiterated the role of the youth in Philippine politics at the end of the event.

There are many things that we should look out for in social media, says Severino, even hashtags. “Hashtags are meant to trend and change public opinion,” he said.

Mobile data and free Facebook plans can also work to our disadvantage, said Severino.

“When we are on free data and we scroll down news articles that are being shared on Facebook or Twitter, we cannot open it. We just see the headlines which can be manipulated,” he said.

Severino also urged the students to practice verification in reading news articles.

“Always try to verify what you see and read because it [headlines] can possibly have been manipulated”, said Severino.

For Beleno, the youth are the game-changers of Philippine elections.

“If you notice, politicians are targeting the youth kasi kayo yung pinakamarami,” said Beleno to the students.

For the audience, the forum proved to be a timely and knowledgeable event.

“Social media is more than just for selfies, but it’s an avenue for us to spread awareness to our peers, most especially on political issues on election season,” said communication student Frazn Sta. Teresa.

“Let us not limit ourselves to posting, liking, and sharing because being knowledgeable only is not enough. Be engaged. Set a good example for the youth,” she added.



Second Chances

I can recount two experiences that I gave extemporaneous speaking a try. The first was during an English festival (or something related) in my senior year in high school, and the second was in my last semester in college at an event attended by communication majors from Davao City.

On both times, I was apprehensive when I was asked to compete.

In high school, I remember I was persuaded by my English professor to give this competition a try, saying she saw potential in how I wrote my answers in an exam that she gave. I was pressured, honored, scared, and angry all at the same time. I remember saying Yes to my teacher even though I knew I wasn’t ready.

True enough, on stage I wasn’t able to say anything. My voice was stuck in my throat and my mind couldn’t think beyond the eyes of the audience in a gymnasium filled with all students and teachers of my school.

I stared at the audience, said “Thank you,” and left the stage.

I have never been the kind of person to make vows and promises after a devastating experience, because I usually just let these things flow. But that day, I walked alone to the jeepney stop with my head hung low and I vowed to never join speaking competitions again, ever. The shame that I felt was nothing like I have ever felt before.

Fast-forward to four years later and I’m a few months shy from finishing my degree in mass communication. It was late, it was 9 or maybe 10 in the evening. If I remember correctly, I was about to sleep and I was surprised that my phone rang. My classmate was calling. Calls are commonly made in the day time, unless it’s urgent. Apparently, CMAD (Communication Majors Alliance of Davao) is having their Commvergence the next day, which is an interschool competition on many fields. The event was happening the next day, it was going to be held at our school, and Ateneo itself had no one to represent them for the extemporaneous dialogue.

It was Carly who called me, a classmate of mine. She was one of the major organizers of the event and she was asking if I could partner with Kate, another classmate, to compete in extemporaneous dialogue. Everyone else was too busy to participate. I remember Carly had me when she said “Ikaw nalang gyud among pag-asa bai.” (You’re out last hope). I know how hard my classmates work for all events and I know they would be broken-hearted if no one would be able to represent for the school. And I don’t know if it was Carly’s persuasion or some internal force from within who wants to do it, but I said yes.

Backstage I was openly speaking to our competitors about my fear and nervousness (which isn’t advisable by the way, it’s as if you’re belittling yourself) but I was just genuinely honest. Kate and I were the last pair to go out on stage. We were given a minute to understand our topic and 3 minutes to have a dialogue.

Afterwards, I lamented about how bad I thought I did. Our classmates were all cheering us up, saying we were sure to win. I said in my mind, well, they are our classmates. Of course they’d support us.

During the awarding ceremony, names were called one after the other. 3rd place, 2nd place, and still we haven’t heard our names. I squeezed Kate’s hand very hard.

I remember telling myself that it’s okay, I tried my best and conquered my fear and that’s all that matters.

To cut the story short, we bagged the crown.

I remember shooting off my seat like a rocket being launched into space when I heard our names called as champions. It was a teamwork and I couldn’t have done it without Kate, but I know in my heart that, finally, I’ve proven to myself that I can do it. I conquered my fear.


Loving, Leaving, Letting Go in Spoken Poetry

I was a member (and eventually, an officer) of SALEM, a literary club in Ateneo de Davao University. Our club accomplished many firsts in Ateneo, including holding Loving, Leaving, & Letting Goa spoken poetry event. I have never tried spoken poetry until this event was organized, and I planned on converting some written poems to spoken poetry, but I opted to stick to the written format instead. You see, writing for the eyes is different from writing for the ear. This poem is a closing poem from my “Heartbreak Series.”

It’s called Letting Go.

I’m letting go of you
the way the moon stops chasing the sun
at the crack of dawn

I’m letting you go
like how the dew drops roll off the leaves
in the morning after the rain

I’m letting you
leave my thoughts
the way the shoreline pushes away the sea

Until I stop seeing you
in the moon, nor in the sun
in teardrops on leaves
in the swirl of the sea
or in the sky at midnight’s hour

and in the words of my poetry.

-On “Letting Go” from the Heartbreak Series
02-10-2016 at the Loving, Leaving & Letting Go Spoken Poetry Event by The Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors – SALEM

Red Light

I was inside the jeepney, waiting on a red light, when this kid came and sang for money.

“Red light” is inspired by the street children who wait on cars, especially jeepneys, during heavy traffic. They hop up on the entrance and sing songs, begging for money. This scene always strikes a cord in me. When my editor in Atenews asked if I could submit a poem for “Habi” which is a collaborative folio of Jesuit schools, I wrote this one.

Ang kulay ng langit ay pinag-aagawan ng asul at pula
habang si Dodong ay naglalakad na naka-paa
nakadukong binibilang ang hawak na mga barya

The dusk turned the blue sky red
while barefoot, Dodong walked
counting the money in his hands

Kinse lang ang kaniyang kinita
sa buong araw na pagkanta
sa mga dyip na naka-para

A whole day of singing in jeepneys
was only 15 pesos worth

Walang maramdamang init ang makukubal na mga paa
ramdam lang ang umiinit na mukha
sa tuwing kumakalabit siya
sa dyip na sakay ay pamilya

Dodong’s calloused feet didn’t heed the pavement’s heat
but his face always burned in shame
whenever he hops on a jeepney with a family 

Tuwang-tuwa sa isa’t-isa
Tingin lang ang ibibigay sa kaniya

Sharing laughter
but will only spare him a glance, maybe two

Si Dodong ay bababa
Magihihintay na muling umilaw
ang bilog na kulay pula

Dodong will hop off the jeepney
and wait for them to stop again
when the light goes red.

Photowalk: Talking with subjects


I met Carlos Abilla when I first went photowalking. He pointed to my camera and said he wanted to be a photographer, and because money was sparse, he somehow found a way to illegally move out of the country to go work in Malaysia as one. He was caught, jailed, and now he’s residing in Davao City working odd jobs.

I saw him at San Pedro Church selling strings of the fragrant sampaguita.

He pointed to my camera again and said, “I used to do that before, too”.

I nodded.

A few awkward seconds of silence passed.

And then he said, “I still want to be one.”