By Elias C. “Kiko” Labro, Jr., August 1, 2015
An Activist’s Reflection: The Significance of the Youth and the Youth Movement in Building a Just and Peaceful Community in the Region
In the early hour of August 22, 1983, I was seated in a corner of a dark alley facing the door of an old lady’s house. Ka Naty, called by her friends and families, advised me to come to her house in order to catch the vehicle that will bring us to Domingo Church in Quezon City, to join the world’s grieving of the murder of the former Senator and staunch critic of the deposed dictator, the former strong man of Asia, Ferdinand E. Marcos. It was 2:00 in the morning. For a boy of 15 teenage years who was supposed to spend time with his peers in parties, drinking and dancing, to choose to be in front of a coffin that was not even known to him personally, was a stroke of destiny.
The death of Ninoy Aquino stole my younger days. He kept me in his horizon that brought my consciousness to a different level of commitment. He nurtured my youthful body to become a responsible activist during that period – this is the life that I had chosen and the rest was history.
Many literatures have been written about the significance of youth in nation building. More rhetorical assertions on youth’s supposed role in a society that is heavily burdened by social inequality, human rights abuses and corrupt politicians – being the next generation in line after the so called “older” one succumb to its failure to influence the society for a better place to live for. For many intellectuals and for the hopeful, the “youth” are simply defined as the transitional belt from the hopeless societal condition into a progressive community for everyone’s enjoyment – that “youth” Is an inherent obligation! Being a “youth” is perceived to be a responsibility that was passed on from failure to failure of the previous generation – until it reaches the quantum of success!
This paper will form part of the book written and to be published by Ms. Kalpana Ambepitiya, a fellow from the Sri Lanka Green Alliance.
UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL OBLIGATION
I lived in an ordinary working class life, from a labourer father and a tailor mother. I spent my younger days in a church from a socially conscious priest, from the sermon in an altar – reading the scriptures page to page, finding how the injustices surface and the “Christ” who became the first activist in his generation. Nobody forced me to understand the relevance of the scriptures in the midst of massive demolitions of the shanties in Metro Manila, workers of conscience being abducted, thousands of homeless people and children starving to death in the busy streets of Tondo and Negros Occidental. These occurred after a well-publicized hosting of the dignitaries of the then first couple, Mr. and Mrs. Imelda Marcos, in a lavish hotel in Manila.
Nobody forced me to understand the relevance of the scriptures.
Digging deeper to the root cause of the problem – I found myself leaving the shanties of San Andres Bukid, Manila. I left my family, the church that nurtured my interest to understand the great prophecies of the poor by leaving and understanding how the “poor” is the reflection of the societies inability to provide a just and decent living for his supposed constituents, the greater majority. This is not about the ideology that was popular during that period as against to the inept and corrupt system of government provided by Mr. Marcos and supported by International Monetary Fund – World Bank under the auspices of the “big brother” from the West, the Imperialist power of the United States of America.
To be able to understand my obligation as a youth , I choose to live in different slum community of the country and learn from their aspirations, rather than finding an answer to a thousand questions of inequality in a comfort zones of the university, on my own home or even in a sacerdotal corner of the very holy place of the church – live and learn with the people. I was very sceptical then. The only thing in my mind was really to understand how this system made the rich become richer, and the poor became poorer. I’m just a young boy then enjoying the life of listening and reflecting on the values of spending my precious time with unfamiliar individuals. I lost my opportunity to enjoy my younger days compared to the other youth in my age. I lost my precious time to grow and shares my time with my own family . I never regretted having lost those “precious times” as defined by the middle class intellectuals, rather, I had a much enjoyable journey with the poor and learned more about the science of oppression and the oppressor; the sociological definition of the poor in a society that perceived to be rich – the value of the knowledge would not be as big as it is without practically going into the most effective school of the oppressed, in the community.
The process of understanding the situation developed into a commitment and was redefined as an obligation – to empower the people to become an active and productive member of society.
The vacuum in which I was unconsciously trapped
I was arrested on September 3, 1988. I experienced the same horrible stories of torture, humiliation and even choosing death as an option to be able to escape hour after hour of feeling the physical and psychological pain endured from my abductors led by the most hated Capital Command (CAPCOM) of the then Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) under the auspices of the then Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) of the former President Corazon C. Aquino.
It was in 1993 when many of my colleagues started to review the path that we had chosen; a path that was seen as an irrelevant choice today – the violent form of struggle.
The pain never succumbed me to desperation. The anguish never put me in the corner of abandoning the aspirations that together with the other youth leaders aspire for. It deepened my understanding on how “greed” will religiously do anything even to the point of “killing” a worker of conscience just to preserve the status quo in favour of their greediness.
In the midst of the internal debate on the form of struggle, I found myself, again, in the same corner of the house of Ka. Naty, seeking for an answer that haunted me for a year. I found no answer – and left me no choice but to sit, rethink and rejuvenate in the same place that nurtured my interest, in my own family’s home.
That crossroads crisis that everyone is experiencing is the same crisis that gave us the opportunity to grow, politically. The states reaction on our perseverance and the internal organizational conflict must elevate us above to become a leader of your own right.
Radicalism is an accepted norm if society offers no other choice. If other groups or individuals see this as an aggression on their own choice of their form of struggle, they were wrong. It is just an ordinary decision from an ordinary change seeker who had the opportunity to process from himself the process of understanding the society and choosing the right path that he himself understood. My contention is, it is an individual’s process that makes an individual regain the confidence of being part of the society’s transition from the oppressed to live a more meaningful life.
Men are not an object of change but the subject for societal transformation. Organizations and ideology must serve the interests of the people. People must not be slaves of the “ideology” or the “organizations.” It must be constantly reviewed whether the strategy is adapting appropriately to the evolving level of consciousness, the level of tolerance, the historical and sociological context that the situation is dictated.
THE CHALLENGES THEN AND THE PERCIEVED CHALLENGES OF THE YOUTH TODAY
I became the Manila Chairman of the then Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyunalismo/Youth for Democracy and Nationalism (KADENA) in 1987. KADENA was perceived as the most radical youth organization and was the community youth organization most hated by the state instruments. It was in the height of the Anti-US military bases campaign when I started to understand the consequence of the path that I had choosen – my own life was in fact in danger.
We didn’t have the same technology as youth have today. There were no cell phones, no internet. The most effective way and “useful way” of communicating in the grassroots was to go directly and have a physical meeting with the youth leaders then. To be able to show the youth’s disgust over the system and to the prevailing situation is to conduct rallies even on a day to day basis aside from the “postering, graffitist and lightning rallies”.
Today, different forms are used by different youth who muster significant forces to oust a dictator or to influence the parliament to adopt changes. By using social media, dictators from the Middle East were removed from their seat of power and is also used effectively by the recent Hong Kong Occupy Movement. When shall society introduce another form of global communication, create another venue for information and manage to mobilize and form an action that will influence the world?
The Sangguniang Kabataan
The country provided the institutional mechanism for youth under Republic Act No. 9164 providing on the role of the sector in nation building. It is founded in the Village level to be able implement programs and projects for sectoral development. On the other hand, President Benigno S. Aquino, suspended the implementation of the Sangguniang Kabataan by virtue of a law as stipulated in RA 10656 for fear that it would become a “breeding ground” of future “traditional politicians”. This caused society to review the significance of the “youth” and “youth movements” in nation building in a society perceived as corrupt.
The stagnant condition of the poor reflects the situation of the youth in general. Since 99% of the population live in impoverished conditions, the number also reflects the number of youth who lack adequate education and who are tendering their youthful bodies in the “child labour” industries, in the plantations and other vagrant activities.
I would summarize my narration quoting some of my views that were shared during the occasion of the 3rd Asia Pacific Greens Federation congress held in Wellington, New Zealand in my speech, to quote:
“While the country has long been free from the dark side of the Martial rule of 1970’s, the Philippines is still under the bondage of poverty and injustices ruled by the same people who are with us against Mr Marcos. Unfortunate as it is, the social change that we are aspiring for has been reduced into a mere changing of the old guards – not changing the system.”
The following consideration reflects the challenges perceived by the youth. This also addressed the issues on the lack of the future leaders to govern the new system that everybody is aspiring for – the Green Ideology of Just and Equal Opportunities.
The youth’s potential must share the values of an independent capacity to think. The need to have the potential in balancing between the lessons of the past system of the particular countries who introduce alternatives to the capitalist greed evolving the world today. The exceptional understanding on the “suppose alternatives” produced nothing but the continuing existence of the poor majority and greedy leader-politicians who once known as the “alternative one”. The kind of alternatives that the Greens ideology based in its five (5) pillars (Ecological Integrity, Social Justice, Active Non Violence, Participatory Democracy and personal Integrity) must be painstakingly advocated and will become the core values of the perceived new generation of “change seekers”, which are the youth.
The Universal Characteristics of the Youth Movement
This is not about anti-Communism, Anti-Imperialist or Pro-Greens Ideology. It is about the system that were espousing and the failure of the introduced system to address the issues of poverty, homelessness, no jobs, abduction, killings and persecuting the workers of conscience. It is about the availability of the alternative that will address the current inept one. The availability of the ideology that the society is offering based on the respective countries’ experiences, historical foundation, geographical and sociological perspective – the ideology that are uniquely practiced in the respective countries not solely copying another society’s pattern. It is about the failure of the capitalist system brought to developing countries which painstakingly resulted in undaunted poverty in the region.
While we appreciate the significance of influencing policy determination at the national level, Greens PH is focusing its strength in determining the acceptable community model and exercising its strategy in the Grassroots community. It is in the context that before we had the courage to propagate and introduce the suppose alternatives that we are ideally espousing for, it is only logical to first “test case” “our model” in specific communities from which we can gain inspiration from the community’s experiences and learn from the program’s weakness.
In the book published by the author, entitled, The Sociological Underpinnings of Greens Perspective in the Philippine Political System: Partido Kalikasan (Laguna) Grassroots Centered Advocacy on Village Ecological Governance”, it was emphasized that the social movement must preserve the strategy of the two legged tactics: a strong mass movement and electoral participation. That means every single individual shares in the passion of participating in elections and to represent the advocacy espoused by the group at the state level.
The social movement must have its constituents at the grassroots level who shall work as the “support group” that will be the people’s alternative social structure in any eventualities that the current government structure will failed to do his task to govern. The ideological youth must be represented in different levels of governance in the formal structures of government.
The youth movement today must focus its strength in educating its peers and the community in general on the current societal problems in the context of “Climate Justice”.
As part of my speech during the 3rd Asia Pacific Greens Federation’s congress last June 12-14, 2015, I had the privilege to emphasize that “Understandably, Climate Change, in the essence of Climate Justice, is a compounded element of “greed” in the capitalist mindset and “greed” in local bureaucrat capitalists who manage to stay in power after the 1st bloodless revolution in 1986. The national government officials from the Executive branch, the members of the parliament and the local chief executives used their “powers and positions” to influence business controls and secure profits.
The massive land conversion to open trade liberalization of the agricultural products by the most hated economic pattern under the World Trade Organizations’ General Agreement on Tariff and Trade resulting in the destruction of natural habitat and eco-systems of the country due to the proliferation of the “mining industry” owned by the foreign nationals and interests and secured by our local laws.
The mountains and forest reserves were destroyed. Hundreds of rivers were “destroyed” and become a dumping site for their industrial waste. The rivers which served as the natural habitat for fish and other resources for the benefit of the locals are now so intoxicated that they no longer serve such purpose.
Many low lying communities were annihilated by landslides from destroyed mountains. Thousands of indigenous people were robbed of their rights to till and protect the lands that their ancestral fathers protected since time immemorial. Thousands of people were relocated. The continuous struggle for lasting peace in Mindanao is a result of the continuing quest against the foreign dominated and interests in the natural wealth hidden in the mountains and the core lands of the region.
The Youth movement must consider also the significant effects of the present realignment of capitalism among the wealthy nations among the members of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN), to quote my speech:
“In light of the ongoing realignment of the industrialized countries and the western interest in the region, the emerging restructuring of the capitalist interest by the upcoming ASEAN integration this 2015 in the region; Asia Pacific Greens Federation (APGF) must address this kind of situation. The imminent integration of the countries within the ASEAN region is seen as another form of capitalist manipulation. The business interests will consolidate their effort to control the rich and vast natural resources, and utilise the local oligarchs who control political power. This will bring more catastrophic effect in the lives of the ordinary toiling masses, socially and economically. APGF must represent our interest in the international arena; APGF must assert its role as an alternative social and political structure in the midst of the Globalization pattern. APGF must address the issues of organizational strengthening within the region. My concrete proposal: Form a study group that will focus on the consolidation of the emerging parties in the ASEAN region; strengthen the collective action by the parties who are in power by sharing its experiences in managing the affairs of the “greens” at the parliament and in the executive branch. “
The admiration in pushing for an alternative leadership failed because of the unavailability of the “next generations” of leaders who adhere to the fact that the current system that we are fighting for is not confined on changing only the old guards. The movement that will represent our vision of society must be based on the respective culture, historical context, the geographical settings and its sociological perspective. It must be delineated from the ideology that is being practiced outside on the stated perspective.
08/02/2015 – 07:19