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Listening to the Young

There is new phenomenon in our republic. And it is this force in the fact that the youth of the land have a voice in democracy. The participation of the young people is dramatic in the campaigns and caravans of presidential candidate, Leni Gerona Robredo. Young people must be present also in the sorties of the other candidates but the dramatic surge of passionate youth noted in Iloilo, Cebu, Cavite and Bulacan seems convincing enough for me to mark this phenomenon as one of the most admirable unintended consequences of the candidacy of Robredo and, for that matter, the other candidates. I do not include Naga in this observation because it is a given that this city must rally behind, in full force, its brave daughter.

For a century or even more, without fear of exaggerating, we have always quoted the line, “the Youth is the hope of the Fatherland,” – make that Motherland, too. However, the frequency of the quote appearing in political messages does not equate necessarily to a critical mass of the population believing in those words as having happened already. The adage, which is taken from Jose Rizal, is either quoted tongue-in-cheek, or stated under the occasion of doubt and sarcasm. At best, individuals recite the lines because they are aspirational.

Lifted from the first stanza of the hero’s poem, A La Juventud Filipina or To the Filipino Youth, the line in the original says: Bella esperanza de la Patria Mia (the fair hope of my Fatherland). The line is full of sentiments because the youth does not merely give hope but offer a fair and beautiful hope to the country.

That reading resonates at present where the results of the coming election in May are both dreaded and hoped for. Or haven’t you heard of pundits say this is a do-or-die election? Elections bring us closer to the questions we dare not ask every day:

Shall this democratic process produce the same results again – traditional politicians riding on their connections to a name or clan?

Is there death to dynasties?

When will the change be? Shall there ever be change?

When these questions are asked, my response is similar to the generations that have lived before me and those very close to mine – change is difficult. We need to be realistic. We have to contend with the better choice. Or to select among the rotten the less rotten, or elect the less evil of them all. We have therefore become a people of no hope or less hope. If there is a longing for a change, the hope that comes with it is not beautiful but conditional.

Amidst the squalor of elections, compromise is an idealized idea, a situation deemed redeeming in our society that thrives in metaphors of religion and the Fall of Man.

We look around and see a preponderance of young people in a campaign or caravan. I must confess that the first time I saw vigor and fresh faces among the crowd, my conclusion was that for those young people, the loud and rowdy events around the candidates were commensurate to their own physicality and energy. Slowly and gradually, I observe how the young are not only running after candidates – in this case, Robredo and her party – but actually running the campaign.

We see them in many places as they prepare for the caravans, and as they themselves festoon the stage for the event. Early on, before the COMELEC banned murals and other non-traditional campaign materials, young artists and cultural workers filled empty walls with their own manner of illustrating the power of their candidates. Then they were there again to protect the walls and protest when the representatives of COMELEC, which included the police in some places, opted to whitewash or destroy the murals and posters.

Online, the presence of these young campaigners is both celebratory and vociferous. They are loud and brash; they are daring and sweet. Whenever a car blows its horn because they are crowding the thoroughfares, you hear them over megaphones with their profuse apologies. These are acts that are acceptable because they are young. From old men and women, these gestures are simply annoying.

Did I see this youth phenomenon coming? No. Not in my lifetime. Like most of you, readers, my solution to a clean election has always been elitist, organically anti-poor. I view the corruption of the candidates as meshed up with the corruption of the voters, most of whose profiles I lump under the uneducated. I saw education as the change agent for democracy to work, missing out on one factor – the educated generation as a major flaw in this political creation. I never thought of the youth, this youth, as the change agent par excellence.

Technology plays a great part in all this change. The same technologies in the Internet with which we have condemned the youths of the land are the same tools and applications that have empowered them. It was a short, and not blind, leap to using these tools for politics. These generations that we see on screen crying hoarse are the generations that have the feel for fake news because they are in the middle of it. For every Tweet or TikTok of a candidate, they have their own images to prop up their own parties.

When was it that we – older, senior, more experienced souls – were telling the young to be responsible and to shape up? Now, these young persons are telling us to leave the world to them, after all it is their tomorrows they are working for.

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