Recently, we had a roundtable discussion in celebration of the 158th birthday of Gat. Bonifacio. We gathered young people to talk about the current state of the youth sector — a sector Gat. Bonifacio proudly represented and organized during the revolution against Spain.
The group’s composition was quite interesting. We had participants working in the government, a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) official, local youth leaders, someone working for an NGO, students, and young professionals.
We had three main goals: 1) assess the current state of the youth sector and the opportunities afforded to them for involvement; 2) discuss the issues the sector faces; and 3) identify ways on how to better engage the youth and program that could resolve the youth’s issues.
How engaged is the youth?
After introductions, we asked them of their perceived level of engagement in sociopolitical discussions through a 1-10 scale.
Most of them responded with scores above average (5); three participants, however, rated lower. They had varied reasons — lack of platform after college, difficulty adjusting to professional life, and work itself.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind. It postulates that people will focus on fulfilling basic needs (physiological/biological and safety) before moving up and satisfying psychological needs (belongingness and love) which, then, leads to self-actualization. It is innate, regardless of age, for people to exert more effort in assuring that they are fed and secured before engaging in activities that could facilitate development. Work brings food to the table and pays the bills and a permanent job offers social security.
Participation in nation building is not a basic need, in essence. It is a privilege more than a right considering our current economic and sociopolitical landscape. How can we expect a youth, preoccupied with hunger and job insecurity or unemployment, to engage politically?
We will talk about the lack of platform later as it deserves a deep dive.
What issues do the youth face?
The participants shared a number of issues they personally experience and issues that they see other young people suffer from. It ranges from personal to social to political concerns.
Autonomy and self-determination. One participant shared his difficulties transitioning to a vegan lifestyle because of his family. On the surface, this seems to be a very mundane issue – one that can easily be dealt with. But as the discussion furthered and more participants shared related concerns, we started to see what was the root.
Most youth, if not all, lack autonomy and self-determination they wished they had. Going back to the experience on changing diet, the participant expounded that the challenge was beyond making a decision. For one, his family reasoned out that consuming meat-based diet has been their family culture from the start and transitioning will be hard. Culture and traditions are, seemingly, at the core of this dilemma. Perhaps, we can conclude the same for everyone wanting a tattoo or pre-marital sex. Body autonomy is the name of the game. While we see more young people becoming more liberated and trying to normalize discussions on taboo topics, there is still a lot of push needed to actually afford safe spaces for public conversations.
Autonomy and self-determination in sociopolitical choices were also raised. “Masyado ka pang bata.” The youth need to overcome ageism to have a seat at the table. Ageism is still rampant in the Philippines, with more and more proactive and reactive youths getting the shorter end of the stick. Autonomy is still heavily equated to age and experience – a stereotype that should have been rejected years ago.
Issues on autonomy seems to be a very personal concern among the youth but we beg to differ. Legislations on safe spaces, abortion, divorce, and SOGIE (to name a few) are very important stepping stone to help the youth feel freer and in control of their lives. The goal now is to educate the public through open and safe discussions, and make the society, at large, more tolerant and accepting.
Health. While we have seen a steady decline in the number of new COVID cases in the country, there is still no denying that we are not yet out of the woods. All participants expressed concerns related to health, especially the government’s handling of the ongoing pandemic.
The pandemic has revealed a slowly collapsing national healthcare system. We have seen numerous instances when hospitals, even the biggest and most advanced ones, overwhelmed with the number and chronicity of cases to manage. Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, in an article published in Health Policy Watch (2021), warns of a “humanitarian crisis that will overwhelm the country and wipe out families” if the government does not step up its efforts. Inconsistencies in the reporting of the Department of Health is an alarming sign of neglect or disinformation. Social media platforms have become a big bulletin board for families crowdsourcing where to get hard-to-find medications and an obituary for patients dying in transit looking for hospitals to admit them.
Furthermore, one of the major concerns shared was on mental health (MH). The National Center for Mental Health noted “a significant increase in monthly hotline calls regarding depression, with numbers rising from 80 calls pre-lockdown to nearly 400,” (World Health Organization, 2020) and the most vulnerable population is aged 15-29. While there has been a push to promote a multi-sectoral approach in dealing with mental health through the virtue of the Mental Health Act of 2018, the national is still at a loss on how to enact the law, evident by the staggering dismissal allocation for mental health (only 5% of the total health budget). On top of that, mental health services are inaccessible with heavy concentration on metropolitan cities. Leynes (2020), in an unpublished manuscript, highlights three major gaps: “(1) stigmatization of MH conditions and people living with mental illness, (2) lack of understanding of the etiology of MH conditions, and (3) too much focus on case management than the promotion of psychological well-being.”
Maddy Savage (2020) lists the following as possible long-term mental health impacts of the ongoing pandemic: increase in social anxiety and germaphobia-based obsessive compulsive behaviors; post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression and insomnia; chronic loneliness brought on by social isolation; and depression, stress or suicidal thoughts.
Now, this begs the question: Is health political? Without a doubt, yes. Health, in all of its form, is political. There is an international understanding and agreement that health is a product of biopsychosocial factors. Ralph Fonte, a community doctor in Palawan, succinctly captures the role of social determinants with this example in his Facebook post:
“[M]ay stroke patient ka na kailangan mong itawid ng dagat, at pagkatapos ng 200km ng baku-bakong daan. Ipapaliwanag mo sa pamilya niya na kailangan niyang ma-CT Scan sa ospital na napakalayo. Kalabisan bang ipaliwanag na rin kung bakit nga ba walang matinong kalsada o ospital na malapit sa inyo kung bakit kahit simpleng ECG o xray kailangang iexport sa malayong lugar ang kamag-anak nilang may sakit?”
Education and unemployment. Current Philippine population stands at around 111 million, with an average age of 23.5 and approximately 67 million aged 30 years old and below.
In terms of education, there are basically two issues that arouse from the discussion. First, the sudden shift to online and modular learning greatly affected the delivery of basic education. A participant from Oriental Mindoro shared how students would turn over unanswered modules. Reports on lack of infrastructure and equipment have left most of the most vulnerable portions of the education sector to either resort to modular learning despite its obvious disadvantage or not enroll at all. More so, the following are top concerns: money for mobile load, lack of gadget, poor internet signal, students’ struggle to focus and learn online, and parents’ lack of knowledge of their kids’ lessons. A pre-pandemic study ranked Filipino students last in reading comprehension and second to the last in science and math. We can expect worse as “close to 4 million students were not able to enroll for this school year, as per the DepEd,” (ChildHope.org, 2021).
School culture is also a concern. In 2021, we have seen how students from some higher education institutions rally online against AFP sponsored online forums. Apparently, these events disguised as “peace forums” were actually platforms to red tag progressive organizations, political parties, and partylists. In an article by Lavoxa, the official student publication of De La Salle Lipa, the online forum also warned against activism and expressing dissent against the administration. “[T]he speakers called out the participants for throwing hashtags #HandsOffOurYouth and #NoToRedTagging in the forum chatbox, along with other criticisms.” Participants of the RTD also noted that schools tend to be apolitical and called for educational institutions to put a premium on social studies to make its students more socio-politically aware and active.
Meanwhile, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority reveal a 14.2% underemployment rate and 8.9% unemployment rate in the Philippines in September 2021. The report also noted drops in youth labor force participation and employment rates from August to September 2021 and an average of 37.7 working hours a week. In addition, participants of the RTD shared high rates of job mismatch among their peers and the difficulty of finding jobs. Some factors they relayed were ageism (preference for older candidates), lack of experience, and bias against technical vocational programs/courses.
Susceptibility to fake news and disinformation. Almost all participants shared concerns over fake news and disinformation, especially online and with the nearing elections.
UP mass communications professor Clarissa David categorizes fake news into two: misinformation and disinformation, with the latter being propagated intentionally as part of a propaganda. With 76 million out of 107.3 million accessing the internet through social media platform, the spread of misinformation and disinformation becomes easier and more efficient. David highlights that one of the hallmarks fake news is to “agitate readers or consumers.” Alarmingly, a study by the Ateneo School of Government noted that 67% of their youth participants failed to recognized fake news through a quiz they created and that “high support for President Rodrigo R. Duterte was correlated to lower accuracy,” (Ku, 2021).
Danilo Arao, Associate Professor of the Journalism Department of the College of Mass Communication, underscored the importance of fighting disinformation, “if people start believing in fake news more than they should news from legitimate sources, they will tend to make decisions that would not be based on reliable information.” The proliferation of disinformation poses great threats to democracy as seen in how it polarized the country in the last five to six years. Younger people are now resorting to Tiktok and other social media platforms for reference. While there are a number of content creator who are actually educational, bigger number is engaged in propaganda. This phenomenon is linked to our education culture as political efficacy is highly dependent on school efficacy.
Academicians, journalists, content creators, civil societies, and government should now, more than ever, aggressively fight the ‘infodemic’ and promote truth telling.
Lack of platform for engagement. All throughout the discussion, it was apparent that there is no enough opportunities and platform for the youth to participate. Most of the participants were active in school organizations back in college. As recounted, the pressure of seeking employment and the time required to maintain their professional careers were major factors for non-participation. Nonetheless, there were two potential engagement platforms that were heavily discussed: the Sangguniang Kabataan and Local Youth Development Council (LYDC).
By virtue of R.A. 10742 signed into law by the late PNoy Aquino in 2016, the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) was reformed as an answer to issues on “corruption and inefficiency,” (Bautista, 2020). As part of its reforms, the law now relinquishes full power and authority to the SK to develop and enact a three-year Comprehensive Barangay Youth Development Plan. Furthermore, RA 10742 is the first law in the Philippines that includes an anti-political dynasty clause. It also states the creation of LYDCs in every province, city, and municipality.
The major issue is on implementation. It is clearly stated that every SK should develop and implement a three-year Comprehensive Barangay Youth Development Plan. But how many SK have actually done this? During the discussion, it was raised that most SKs have had and are having difficulties setting up their own bank accounts. Perhaps because of lack of planning and/or knowledge on the part of the SKs. Furthermore, the SK Reform Act seeks to refurnish the political culture in the grassroots but for most SKs, the same old cycle continues –SK officialship is a cash cow.
Another major concern is the establishment of LYDCs. The law prescribes that every province, city, and municipality should have a Local Youth Development Council that will be composed of “representatives of youth and youth-serving organizations.” The council shall “assist the planning and execution of projects and programs of the Sangguniang Kabataan, and the Pederasyons in all levels.” However, as shared by some participants, even six years after its signing into law, some cities and municipalities are yet to form their own youth councils.
The provision of the law to have a Katipunan ng Kabataan, supposedly bi-annually, is an opportunity for all youth to engage in their barangay’s affairs. This brings back the power to the citizens as “the highest policy-making body to decide on matters affecting the youth in the barangay.” What’s also impressive is the reform’s emphasis on a “bottom-up” approach in crafting the Philippine Youth Development Plan. In essence, this is a promising step to engage every youth in making sure that the government’s directions and actions are responsive to actual needs and concerns.
Unfortunately, with the current administration’s dismissal of the youth sector and the pollution of the National Youth Commission (being an extension of Oplan Tokhang and led by questionably “young” officials), these provisions seem to be left in vain. The law is left underutilized if not neglected. It could also be beneficial to follow the direction set forth by the late PNoy: push from the inside government and tap into the youth’s potential.
There were a lot more issues raised during the discussion: climate protection action and discussions, capacity building and financial literacy, etc. The root of it all: if more young people are engaged with and involved in both discussions and implementation, we can achieve a more responsive and adaptive youth agenda.
Platform and opportunities are the biggest gap. In the next elections, it is, then, of utmost importance that we elect leaders who are not afraid to gamble on the youth – besides, they hold the future.
For now, may we all use or personal platforms to afford more opportunities to young people to participate. Like Bonifacio, they all have something to say and contribute.
Bautista, A.D.R. (2021). Exploring political socialization and political participation: The Filipino youth and the Sangguniang Kabataan in Caloocan City’s first legislative District. Child & Youth Services, 42:3, 224-249, DOI: 10.1080/0145935X.2020.1859364
ChildHope.org. (25 August 2021). The current education issues in the Philippines — and how Childhope rises to the hallenge. In ChildHope.org. Retrieved from: https://childhope.org.ph/education-issues-in-the-philippines/.
Department of Health and World Health Organization. (10 September 2020). DOH and WHO promote holistic mental health wellness in light of World Suicide Prevention Day. In WHO.int. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/philippines/news/detail/10-09-2020-doh-and-who-promote-holistic-mental-health-wellness-in-light-of-world-suicide-prevention-day.
Implementing Rules and Regulation of Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015, 16 Congress (PHI).
Ku, R.L. (17 November 2021). ASoG survey: Youth voters’ ability to spot fake news does not match confidence. In BusinessWorld. Retrieved from: https://www.bworldonline.com/asog-survey-youth-voters-ability-to-spot-fake-news-does-not-match-confidence/.
Leynes, P.J.S. (2020). Closing the gaps in mental health services in the Philippines. Unpublished manuscript.
Mapa, D. (04 November 2021). Unemployment rate in September 2021 is estimated at 8.9 percent. In Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved from: https://psa.gov.ph/content/unemployment-rate-september-2021-estimated-89-percent#:~:text=Unemployment%20Rate%20in%20September%202021,8.9%20Percent%20%7C%20Philippine%20Statistics%20Authority.
Reyes, R.N. (23 September 2021). DLSL students furious over PAF ‘Peace’ forum. In Lavoxa.org. Retrieved from: http://lavoxa.org/2021/09/23/dlsl-students-furious-over-paf-peace-forum/.