This blog was written by Archill Niña F. Capistrano, one of the participants of FMA’s Digital Rights Camp held on May 2019.


The air that pervaded the event denoted deft security: from the application, to the invite, to the venue arrangements, to the modes of communication, to taking pictures and posting in social media. Make no mistake about it, this is one event that seriously took (still does!) the participants’ security to heart. This is the 2019 Digital Rights Camp (DRC) organized by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA).

The participants are DDS in their own right. This is because digital engagement and leadership roles in civil society organizations (CSOs) as human rights defenders (HRD) are what define the unique configuration of participants in the DRC. In other words, we are digital democracy’s sentinels … a species of dissenters whose online habitation is likely targeted for digital demolition and surveillance. Each of us has a story to tell, experiences to share and a cause to fight for, whether anonymously or not, and despite attempts to curtail freedom of expression in a country that is currently led by a President, who during his stint as Davao City Mayor, is closely associated with the DDS.

Euphemistically clarified to stand for the Davao Development System, DDS is more infamously understood to mean the Davao Death Squad that meted extra-judicial deaths during the time of then Mayor Duterte to deter societal “sins” in Davao such as drugs and criminality, a scenario that has metastasized to a national scale and relegates due process and the rule of law to the status of mythical creatures.This is the Philippines in its democratic deficit status.

DDS climate in Pinas heralds Big Brother

From creative open sessions, we collectively realized how our country has become enmeshed in the democratic disinformation system by which language and data are weaponized by political forces of whatever colors and stripes. I can hardly believe how George Orwell’s negative utopia in his novel “1984” could presage this lifeworld of ironies:

1984 slogan: Current Philippine realities in DDS
War is peace: Deaths are a despot’s sustenance
Freedom is slavery: Democracy is dictatorial savvy
Ignorance is strength: Disinformation is digital supremacy

The foregoing realizations are a product of the know what and know-hows in human rights advocacy that participants actively shared via the sharing, deconstruction and reconstruction of relevant knowledge and experiences. Unlike orthodox learning sessions typified by posh conferences, we ourselves set the agenda for the relevant sessions that participant experts and participant-requesters can converge for intimate, and mostly in-depth discussions. Thus, from the high-altitude environs of Punta de Fabian, in Baras, Rizal, we raised the bar of communal learning.

Indeed, the many DRC takeaways that I gathered are like sledgehammers that shatter traditional learning settings of which academics such as myself are more accustomed to experience. Indeed, not all the experts are bespectacled or aged professors in university! In contrast, and far from proselytizing about abstract theories for thought experiments, the youthful experts of DRC undauntedly demonstrated life hacks for human rights advocates to cope with the reality of digital dangers spreading.

These include digital hygiene, digital detox, risk assessment of digital campaigns, “care for the carers”, and yes, the prospects for safer dissent at the dark side of the net, among others … all for networked empowerment that we may, as a fluid collaborative collective, help usher our country and its people towards democratic discernment that is sustained.

Kudos to FMA for such an empowering undertaking!


About the author

This DDSsay is penned by Archill Niña F. Capistrano, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Children’s Legal Bureau.


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