Charie Villa: Knocking on doors to use social media for positive change
The journalist empowers Filipinos to demand better service from the government
“TAO PO! May tao po diyan? Sino po tutulong sa amin dito?”
“Tao po” – which may be considered the equivalent of “Anybody there?” – is an expression Filipinos use when calling on someone while knocking on the door. It is a respectful way to call attention, and a polite start to an audience with another person.
In 2011, journalist Charie Villa – together with friends Vangge Giorgetti, Mao Olidan, and Melissa dela Merced – transformed “tao po” from an expression to a movement that empowers Filipinos to demand better service from the government and private companies delivering service.
“It was a long and hard journey,” Villa begins. “I was still working for ABS-CBN when we were building Tao Po as a non-profit, citizens’ group hoping to create good change for the Philippines.”
Villa, who graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communication from the Institute of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines and began as a radio reporter, took on several responsibilities at ABS-CBN. She became head of Regional News, overseeing and developing 19 local newscasts around the Philippines, during which she built www.choosephilippines.com.
“[It was] a ‘love Philippines’ movement, prodding citizens to find, discover, and share the love they see around the Philippines,” she says.
“But I thought not everything is good in the Philippines,” Villa continues. “There must be a citizens’ portal where they can share what needs to be improved or fixed.”
From ‘tao po?’ to ‘TAO PO!’
Villa balanced her day job in ABS-CBN with moving www.taopo.org as a non-profit citizens portal. She and Giorgetti received a lot of help from Globe, STI, Robinsons, and Serious Studio’s Lester Cruz and Deanne Miguel, who eventually became their resident digital creative team.
“First we pitched several names...what could click with Pinoys,” Villa recalls. “We bought several URLs — ikorekyan.com, beepbeep.com.”
One Sunday, during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, Villa was checking the “Balitang Middle East” Facebook page. An overseas Filipino worker based in Egypt caught in that revolution wrote on the page’s wall: “TAO PO! DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), may tao po diyan? Sino po ang tutulong sa amin dito?”
“His surname was Domingo and it was a Sunday,” Villa recalls, smiling. “So I called Vangge and Mao and I said, ‘Guys, how about Tao Po! as our name?’ Both Vangge and Mao who are marketing experts said, ‘Hmm may promise!’”
Villa, Giorgetti, Olidan, and Dela Merced launched Tao Po in July 2011.
Villa, who has been a freelance journalist since December 2014, still has her heart in news and information creation in whatever platform, in whatever form.
“The challenge of news in a digital world moved me to create www.taopo.org because I felt there was a need to empower people to demand better service from the government and private companies delivering service,” she reiterates. “I want to evolve it into any platform for mobile that people could go to and use to call for help and attention.”
Online and on-ground
Tao Po was first to create an Anti-Epal Gallery (“epal” is a Filipino slang that means “attention grabber,” and is used for politicians and public figures who use public funds and programs to promote themselves) long before activist Juana Change (aka Mae Paner) took it on.
Tao Po inspired students to join and submit “issues” in their communities, like poor garbage collection, illegal jeepney terminals, and long queues for NBI clearance. Tao Po helped push the Cordillera Conservation Trust challenge (biking for Cordillera’s reforestation) and Globe Telecom’s volunteerism programs.
“We have called attention to the MRT problem with our campaign #buhayMRT. We have campaigns like #KUNGSANALANG where people can express their ideas on what would make the Philippines a better place,” says Villa.
Tao Po also engaged in on-ground events, teaching citizen journalism and social activism to students. They went around schools and spoke in events organized by the British Council, Globe, STI, and Robinsons Lingkod Pinoy Center.
Tara na po!
Four years on, Villa still has big dreams for Tao Po, and she’s the first to admit they still have a long way to go.
“I want Tao Po to affiliate with bigger organizations – international and local – to evolve it into portal which can be used by citizens to create change,” she says. “But I know we can not change the world overnight. It took years to get to where it is now, good or bad. So it will take years again to bring it to something more humane, more ideal for people, especially those with meager resources, to live a decent life and get good government service they deserve.
“Never has social media nor mobile phone applications been used to push for good governance and social change,” concludes Villa. “We call on people to use the gift of social media not just for vanity or ego, but to push for good change.”
Makeup by Christian Toledo and hair by Jayfren “JJ” Gallego of Creations by Lourd Ramos Salon