Activism empowers the youth

The Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP), in the context of its preparations for the 500th anniversary in 2021 of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines, has declared 2019 as the Year of the Youth. The theme it has proclaimed: “Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, Empowered”.

In a pastoral letter it issued last December, the bishops extolled the example of the young lay missionary catechist St. Pedro Calungsod and Richie Fernando, the young Jesuit who died shielding his students from a grenade explosion, appreciating “fresh and energetic youthfulness” as a gift that enabling the young to commit to serve others while renewing the Church and the world.   The bishops also praise the youth for being empowered:

“In the face of so many problems and difficulties today affecting our Christian life, families, social relationships and communities, as well as various personal and socio-cultural concerns you raised in your letter (mental health, substance abuse, HIV-AIDS, access to education, environmental problems, human trafficking, politics, dialogue with cultures, digital community, etc.), you are able to exhibit the humility to seek the support that will lead you to discover your strengths and capabilities to live meaningful lives  . . . We all long for a better world and society, for a renewed Church, and we see you as protagonists of this change, as the dynamic force of the Church now, when you reach out to the peripheries to bring Jesus and His message of salvation to the lost, the least and the last, including other young people like you who yearn to be loved, gifted and empowered.”

Youth empowerment is what my work is all about as a professor of law, governance and politics, and philosophy.

I have been teaching for 38 years starting in 1991 when I first taught philosophy as a Jesuit Volunteer in Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro. I am now teaching the children of my students, not to mention the children of my classmates and high school, college, and law school contemporaries. Currently, I teach in 12 learning institiutions, mostly in law schools from as far north as Tuguegarao to the Western (Zamboanga) and Northern (Cagayan de Oro) tips of Mindanao. I teach in four public schools (UP, PUP, PLM, and University of Makati), five Catholic schools (Ateneo de Manila, La Salle, Ateneo de Zamboanga, Xavier University, and San Beda) and a seminary (Redemptoris Mater), two non-sectarian law schools (Lyceum and FEU), and in a judicial academy run by the Supreme Court.

The San Beda Graduate School of Law, headed by Dean Fr. Rannie Aquino, has enabled me to teach in Cagayan State University, Isabela State University, and Saint Louie University in the North and in Cor Jesu and Ateneo de Zamboanga in the South.

I also teach political science, public policy and management, environmental and climate change policy, and philosophy courses to both undergratuate and graduate students in Ateneo de Manila.

The reason for this scaled-up teaching, as challenging as it is logistically to meet its demands, is a realization that we need a critical mass of empowered youth that will make another Philippines and world possible. Aside from teaching the youth directly, I have also prioritized teaching their teachers.

I emphasized this last Saturday when I had the honor of speaking at the Regional Assembly of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (Region 10 – Northern Mindanao) held in Cagayan de Oro. I was asked to speak about empowering the youth. I echoed of course the words of our bishops and shared my own reflections of how we educators could help in empowering the youth.

I proposed four Rs to do that – we must teach and inspire, provide tools, and accompany the young to RESIST EVIL, REINFORCE GOOD, REMEMBER OUR ROOTS, and REIMAGINE THE FUTURE.

We must encourage our students to resist human rights violations and atrocities, whether it’s drug addicts or social activists that are the targets. They must resist the defeatist attitude of this government against China at the expense of our national sovereignty. I hope they will resist the erosion of democracy, among others the relentless attacks on the opposition.

We must reinforce the good things the government is doing and that is happening in socierty- helping the Bangsmoro succeed for example, shold be a priority for us in Mindanao, likewise helping newly appointed agriculture secretary William Dar achieve his laudable objectives and participating in the effort to clean up the environment like in the case of Boracay and Manila Bay are important.

We must help the youth remember and learn from history – from making sure the history of the US-Marcos dictatorship is not revised to understanding better what make us a nation starting with the Philippine Revolution of 1896. Above all, we most accompany our young people in appreciating the gift of Christianity to our islands – as we approach the 500th anniversary of its landing in our islands. I highlighted the immense good that has given our people but also recognize the bad legacies of our colonial history

Finally, I told my fellow educators that we must empower our young to reimagine another world, a better future – one where children are safeguarded and protected, where technology does not serve to alienate or divide us or render human labour irrelevant but instead new technologies connect us better to each other and liberate us from poverty and exclusion, and yes where we overcome the challenge of the climate emergency.

It is in this context that I am concerned about the senate hearings that are being conducted by the Senate Committee on Public Order chaired by Senator Bato de la Rosa. The premise of the investigation he is conducting is that student acitivism is bad for the young and bad for the country.

Based on my four decades as a teacher, the opposite in fact is true.

Many of our best and brightest students were and are activists. In times like the Marcos dictatorship when there was no democratic space to fight injustice, those best and brightest also became the most courageous. Every year, I bring my students to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani to tell them them the story of Edgar Jopson, certainly one of the greatest of alumni the Ateneo de Manila has produced, and Lean Alejandro, a product of the University of the Philippines that has inspired more Filipino youth than our alumni who has become president.

Sarah Elago of Kabataan PartyList in the great work that she is doing in Congress has carried on with honor and excellence the great tradition of activism that Jopson and Alejandro lived.

Jopson, Alejandro, and Elago are the tip of the iceberg. Because of my long history of teaching and mentoring, I have known and worked with student and youth activists of all ideological persuasions. Some of them are revolutionaries; others are military and police officials. But most are government officials in local and national agencies (some are even in the judiciary), in civil society organizations, social movements, or with the private sector. The country has been greatly enriched by those who have activist backgrounds.

Senator Bato should look at the faces of his or her colleagues in the plenary, including from his own party  and  he will be able to identity that many of them at one point or another were student leaders and activists in their university years.

Of course, student and youth activists will clash with their parents, their teachers, and school administrators. That comes as part of the definition of activism. That is what empowerment is all about. Parents, teachers, administrators and yes the senate should welcome that.

Without exception and conditions, I stand with all youth and student activist organizations. Whether it is Kabataan PartyList, Akbayan Youth or Anakbayan, whether it is the National Union of Students in the Philippines, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, or the Union of Students for the Advancement of Democracy in the Ateneo schools, I commit my full support and will defend them from all attacks.

Activism empowers the youth and we are a better country because of that.

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