18 February 2017
Message at the AIESEC Youth Speak Forum: The Youth’s Role In Nation-Building, Madison Aurora Hotel, Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City
The phrase “the future lies in the youth of today”, holds more power now than at any other time in the history of mankind. Generation Y, the YOLO generation, or you, the millennials, are about to take over the world. In fact, you are already changing the world.
One in four people you will meet are aged 15 to 29. Just looking at your sheer number, it is apparent that there has never been as many energetic, and creative spirits, walking on the earth as today! In fact, those who ran the nerve center of volunteers who campaigned for me during the elections were millennials. Because many of them stayed on as I started exercising my mandate Vice President, the average age in our office is now less than 30. These young people prove that the youth of today are not cyberzombies, but avatars of hope. They are my secret ingredient to nation-building. Pag nakita ninyo ang opisina namin, hindi lalagpas sa isang daliri ang mga matatanda.
But around 90% of the world’s youth live in underdeveloped and poor countries, facing new problems that were not here decades ago. You live in polarized societies, steeped in much anger and division. The gap between the rich and the poor is at its widest now— and the poor can see that injustice every day in billboards, television, and social media. Filipino youth struggle with finding jobs, HIV, psychological, and physical abuse, etc.
The strength of your generation seems to be matched by the weight of your burden.
But there’s more. Children and youth who have lost loved ones to the war on drugs —7,600 dead so far— are giving out a silent cry that few seem to hear. Plus, there is a brewing concern: the age of criminal responsibility may be lowered from 15 all the way down to 9, supposedly so children can “understand responsibility” and so our nation can “stop producing a generation of criminals.” Can you imagine a 9-year-old imprisoned for a crime? This is on top of the fact that the death penalty may be imposed very soon.
How I wish we, your elders, gave you a better world than this. How I wish we, your parents, were able to fix our country’s problems before you reached teenage years. As a mother of three young girls, sometimes I cannot help but worry about the uncertainties in the world that I send you out to, every morning.
But that’s my protective side. I need to remember that you are powerful in your own right. That instead of shielding you from the truth, I must allow you to hone your skills so you can be empowered to change the world and build a better nation in your own unique way.
Many of those who made a stand during the successful, bloodless revolution in 1986 that freed our nation from dictatorship were from the youth. I was your age during the 1986 People Power revolution.
They were fearless and we lost many of them during Martial Law. Three decades after, the youth once again led those who spoke against the unexpected burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
There’s more reason to be hopeful. The fact that you are here, now, widening the discussion on how to achieve sustainable development goals on poverty, climate change, and quality education, proves my point. Your generation cannot be simply dismissed as a shallow, selfie-taking, pretentious generation. Instead of ranting, you are engaging. Instead of losing hope, you are finding ways to discover your role in nation-building.
As you seek for ways to be changemakers, let me propose an issue that I hope you will adopt as yours.
There is a silent crisis in our country today. Ninety-five Filipino children die every day because they don’t have enough food to eat. Just think about that for a minute. One cup of rice, nutritious vegetables, and some protein can save a child’s life. It is an outrage for this many children to lose their lives due to hunger and malnutrition.
If these children do survive hunger, but do not have enough to eat between birth up to their second birthday, or within the first 1,000 days of their lives, they become stunted. That doesn’t just mean a life of physical disadvantage. It also means mental, psychological, and emotional difficulties. They won’t be able to learn well in school or be gainfully employed. This is dangerous because these children will grow up to be the youth force of our country in a little more than 10 years, just like you are the youth force of our country today.
Did you know that our country’s progress is fully dependent on the ability of the youth to be successful in life? Economists call this, the “demographic dividend.” In the next 30 years, population experts predict that the youth population will grow faster than any age group. Your earning potential is expected to turn us into a Singapore or South Korea or Japan. But hunger, stunting, and malnutrition— this silent crisis I am telling you about today— puts this progress in danger. That’s why we need to do something about this now. Not tomorrow. Today.
Dear young ones, you can do this by opening your eyes to this silent crisis of hunger. Look around you for spaces to collaborate and engage the government and the private sector on a deeper level. Educate fellow youth to use social media for nation-building instead of people-bashing. We need more positivity, instead of negativity. Spread love, not hate. Stand in the light, and outside of darkness.
The Office of the Vice President has for its core program, Angat Buhay, which goes to the root of society’s problems, instead of treating its symptoms. Drug abuse and criminality are symptoms of poverty. They can’t be solved by summary executions alone, cv whether of the rich or poor. We cannot achieve real peace— the kind that keeps our people safe at night— by creating more desperation among a people traumatized by the senseless sight of blood on the streets.
We solve it by fighting in the war for life: by upholding the principles of liberty and freedom to speak dissent, by empowering both the rich and the poor, the private sector and the government sector, the young and old, to be part of the process of nation-building.
Angat Buhay has adopted 50 of the poorest and most remote LGUs in our country, and every week, we find time to visit them and other communities like them and try to experience first-hand their concerns and their progress. We trade our office attire for slippers and jeans, and walk through muddy rice fields or visit seaside communities.
This is our way of expressing our highest level of empathy to people that have been left behind by progress. When we visit, we listen and ask powerful questions, rather than dictate our thoughts on our vulnerable brothers and sisters. During the first day of our launch, different partners gave more than 700 pledges to make real and lasting change on the ground in these 50 poorest municipalities. For example, feeding programs to fight malnutrition and stunting are already on their way, hopefully to save a generation from hunger.
I invite you to join us. We will carve a space for you in our programs. This is the time to move forward with audacity and hope, because while you have the luxury of time, our country cannot afford to wait.
Last week, I was invited to a Youth Forum called “Let’s Change The Conversation”. They told me that many of them have been feeling beaten and depressed by all the negativity around them and they wanted to do something about it.
Do you feel the same way? Are you somehow lost in all the hatred around us? Has hope become difficult to come by?
This afternoon, I am urging you to not lose the urge to fight. You are not alone. Let us walk together every step of the way. No effort is too small; no plan too complicated to discuss. Every idea is precious, if we all have open minds. If you keep your eyes focused on the youth’s massive potential to change our country’s future, and even that of the world, whatever is thrown at you will seem small and insignificant.
All these do not mean however that we can slacken our pace. Let us constantly aim for learning and excellence, shunning mediocrity in all that we do —whether it’s spelling or cooking or volunteering for community service.
May you choose hope over hate, light over darkness, excellence over mediocrity, life over death.
Kaya nga tawag sa inyong generation, YOLO generation.
Because You Only Live Once—to change the world!
Maraming maraming salamat, thank you all.