Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Youth and First Time Voters

They say it’s in troubled times where new breed of leaders sprout and take their shots to lead an equally troubled electorate. And so when we are challenged, one, or well, many might come up the stage and dare the culprit for a fistfight.

Our country has a fair share of leaders shaped by challenges. And normally, those who dare to fight are those who take less of the consequence, idealistic that is. In retrospect, the leaders who stood still in the bleak history of our land are, in present time, now seen in daily monetary exchange. Yes, their presence is now on our money bills. But the likes of Rizal, Bonifacio and Ninoy were not congenitally placed on the bill. They have brought groundbreaking changes to our country, too colossal for them to be installed in some monumental way.

Rizal published Noli Me Tangere at age of 25. Bonifacio, Inc. mounted the Katipunan when they’re just at 20s. Ninoy was arguably the youngest politician who vied for seat at the local government and the Senate. What’s the common variable? Maybe it’s their young blood flowing through their veins which drove them to aspire change for their country, but by blood or something else, they were young and they dared the tyrant for a fistfight.

The present administration is now drowning from their self-made political storms. Malacañang, where the eye of the storm seems to be permanently glued, has always practiced reactive stance on the issue, never cared much to lessen the storms they face. As general election is just months away from occurrence, political storms engulfing the nation bring so much reason for its citizens, this time not to shield themselves with umbrella, but defy the flashes of controversy with empowered stand on issues we all should get involved with.

The political storms call for volunteers to resist the eye of the storm. Perhaps, the pattern from Rizal and Bonifacio to Ninoy tells us that the young may bring another monumental change to our country. Let’s know their numbers. Presently, the youth aged 15-30 comprise of 1/3 of our entire population. In election figures, the National Statistics Office is projecting nine million First Time Voters in the next election, an addition to the total 27.6 million young voters aged 18-34 who will participate in the polls. And as of June this year, 2.6 million new voters are added on the voting population, and the figures are expected to flood before the registration ends on October 31. Whoa, that’s a promising figure enough to elect a president! A strong nine million FTVs can be a powerful change-advancer in the elections, but the numbers are yet to be tested. Sad figures show that 78% of the youth aged 7-21 are not concerned about politics. 70% say they distrust the politicians.

The First Time Voters’ Project (FTV) is just one movement which answered the call to advocate the voice of the new voters. In 2001, some youth camped out of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office to protest the disenfranchisement of 4.5 million 18-21 years old first time voters. The failure of the eligible new voters to participate was due to lack of awareness on the ongoing registration and the incapacity of the Comelec to register efficiently all the first time voters. Reform-minded groups then took an alliance to never let disenfranchisement of large scale happen again.

In its fourth engagement to call for higher youth participation in the elections, FTV Project drives-up electoral education and registration awareness to every part of the country with high youth concentration. In-schools and community-based organizations take part in aim to let all qualified new voters practice their right to register and vote.

The Philippine Constitution has clearly detailed the youth’s importance in our country. And I quote, “The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.”

But despite this mandate of the Constitution, how come some studies show that politicians keep on ignoring youth agenda in their list of priorities? Well, some argue it’s because the youth simply don’t participate in the elections. As mass media now aggressively call for the youth to engage on 2010 polls, not to mention the so-far-so-great result of the new voters’ registration figures; dear politician, better think again.

As FTV Project works on the new voters’ State-assured rights, advocates lobby to institutionalize the FTV Project as their generation’s response in changing the socio-political culture of the youth towards alternative politics and transformative governance.

They have four words for the politicians, “Listen, it’s our turn.” The youth have high expectation for the next seating government. The youth agenda which include education, health care, employment and poverty are expected to be on the list of the politicians’ platforms this time. To date, one of four youth voters live below the poverty line. Education, which is supposed to be of highest budget priority, receives even less from the government. Decaying education policies haunt the schoolchildren’s future. Another less-attended factor, health care, brings the sick closer to their grave. Unemployment among youth continues to be on the rise. Thanks to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), the sector which saved the country from sure misery in the last world recession, is by the way composed largely of the youth aged 25-29.

It’s in the youth’s nature these days to act indifferent to issues of their time. But history has it that the more the youth got punched with social worries, the stronger they aspire change and challenge the things they find wrong. Edsa People Power 1 and 2 are strong evidence of the youth’s power to topple the ill when it’s already too hot to handle. These should also warn those who think of repeating the ill-deed of the previous regime.

The youth fight is everyone else’s fight. What the youth aspire will always benefit the whole; the present and the future generation to come. Don’t let them down.

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