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Locating the youth in political platforms today
Farland Valera

BEYOND WELCOME ARCS AND BASKETBALL COURTS -- Candidates seem to have forgotten to include youth issues in their platforms of governance – a sad fact because the youth not only comprises a large chunk of voters, they are also the nation’s next builders. -- HFP

Those smiles, seasonally familiar, harbi-ngers of political agenda and electoral motives that only the realist mind understands, dominate the social skyline today. We, the responsive electorate, smile back, shake those self-seeking hands, receive the gray-scaled polyetos ni kandidatu, and talk of how life goes.

Our esteemed politikos present their plataporma ti gobyerno in many ways. Those ways intended, ultimately, to win votes come second Monday of May.

Some of the most commonly aired platforms are anchored on poverty alleviation, women empowerment, senior citizen security, economic growth, and environmental protection. Others even promise to expand already working government projects just so they can sell themselves in the voting market.

Almost unmentioned, though, are the young people, who, in Rizalian parlance, are the nation’s next builders. It’s appalling that the largest voting block is not the centerpiece of platforms this election season. Or maybe the young do not seem adult enough to be made the heart of government agenda?

In our collective consciousness, it is easy to recall that the Sangguniang Kabataan (popularly called SK) is the government’s arm to harness the youth’s potentials as bulwark of future leadership. However, it is also an effortless act to remember that the SK’s main governance thrusts were on welcome arc construction and sports, with that famed liga ti barangay, which, when done, culminates with a grand picnic at the riverside or the nearest resort.

These SK projects are not necessarily bad, in view of the fact that it is an agency tasked to carry out governmental duties. Nonetheless, the rationale of such usual schemes is a picture of a feeble polity for youth governance as it does not ensure sustainability and it fails to create a development trajectory.

The sports liga, for one, only provides an avenue for competition in the basketball-volleyball duo yet it does not spawn a genuine sports development program to complement those which exist in colleges and universities. Since it was never done in a programmatic approach, the liga has not transcended its nature as a once-in-a-while meeting of young sports enthusiasts who just participate for the reward and the team jersey.

The heydays of the liga have waned as the SK gradually got tainted with allegations of corruption and incompetent leadership. The SK-funded welcome arcs have become monuments of an ineffectual youth leadership development project.

Hence, the forging of a new law that aims to reintroduce the SK as a stronger, more pragmatic institution for the nation’s young people. Republic Act 10742, known as the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015, expressly mandates the formation of a Katipunan ng Kabataan in all barangays nationwide. Comprising of citizens aged 15 to 30, the new Katipunan promises to be true to that Rizalian ideal of nation-building.

Have our candidates failed to intuit this year-old law in their political radars and have therefore fallen short of crafting a platform to complement it? Or maybe there exists a general oblivion to the fact that the largest voting block is the youth sector?

Assuming that our politikos possess a clear understanding of youth issues, we forward the challenge for them to engage the young voters and include them in their vision of government. Assuming further that those who will be elected to sit in the august halls of power in the Cordillera are aware of the youth’s potentials to contribute to society, we pose the challenge that they introduce programs that rise above the usual liga. 

Allow me to present three areas of concern for the Cordillera youth where new programs can be launched – health, education, and civic engagement.

On health. The youth are a large chunk of our social capital; to safeguard their physical, mental, and social wellbeing is a constitutional duty of the state. Local government units must therefore see to it that community-based activities on strengthening mental health and social interaction are initiated. How about challenging the youth to become overcomers of social circumstances? How about inspiring them to jumpstart a movement for change – like the pay-it-forward phenomenon? Officials should be in the forefront of winning back our youth from the shackles of depression, self-cutting, suicide, and drug addiction. Don’t we all agree that prevention is better than cure?

Alongside this, the liga may be bolstered by instituting a sports development program in partnership with Department of Education or institutions of higher learning. This way, a sustainable, holistic approach to youth development may take place through the commitment of different stakeholders.

On education. While the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps has made gains in keeping indigent students in school, it has not really been successful in ushering a large number of beneficiaries through the educational ladder. Add to this the reality of many college students dropping out, some not even finishing a semester, and the picture of youth education becomes grim. LGUs in the Cordillera can inspire the youth to gain education (not just a college diploma) by organizing youth convergences that feature young successful professionals from various fields. Scholarship fairs may even be set up to bring opportunities of accessing education in reputable institutions closer to the youth who, because of their age, may not be very familiar with the pathways to higher learning.

I can still vividly recall my trip to a far-flung barangay in eastern Mountain Province where my team visited a newly built agricultural-vocational high school. Many students who met us came to school barefoot, their shirts worn out. The teacher-in-charge informed me that those students would be the first to become professionals in that place if they make it to college and earn a degree. I am convinced that many firsts will be recorded if elected officials go out to serve their constituents and not just shake their hands during election time.

On civic engagement. Today’s youth, fondly called millennials, are generally gadget-dependent, always connected online. The downside of this techy lifestyle is that people are disengaged in a face-to-face situation but actively engaged in social media. Real communities are left out because imagined communities are favored domiciles.

Elected officials are encouraged to look in to the possibility of developing a community-engaged young population by introducing programs that utilize the strength, number, and creativity of millennials. How about inducting the youth to execute development projects and inviting them to weigh when planning for community activities? Why not put the youth in working committees and enable them to own part of the decisions made? Remind them that a real neighborhood is more fun than the virtual world.

Increasing the capacity of the youth to participate in governance begins from ensuring that they are mentally healthy, physically fit, and eager to be educated. Building a strong, educated youth sector continues through enabling them to partake in decision making process and take ownership of decisions that affect public life. Thus, the youth can become achievers, community builders, and productive citizens.

We will not abandon the liga, nor will we demolish that welcome arc. But elected officials must guarantee that they will inculcate in the youth the beauty of dreams and desirable values by governing well. Elected officials, if truly they believe in the hope the youth carry, must put them back to the core of not just their platforms but also of their government.
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