Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Speech during the National Congress on Good Governance, UP NCPAG, January 15, 2012.

The keywords of my presentation are youth, good governance, and sustainable human development. The thesis is easy to formulate: The youth have a significant role to perform in promoting good governance in the country to achieve sustainable human development. But how do we concretely realize this mission? How do we effectively tap the youth’s vast potential to bring reforms in our country? Let’s discuss the keywords first.


The Philippines has a very young population; the youth sector comprises about one-third of the population. If we will include children, almost half of the country can be considered young. How young is this generation? Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was already 73 years old when our teenagers today were born in 1997.

A big youth population is good for the economy since we can benefit from the talent, skills, energy, and idealism of young people. In short, young people are our human resources, our human capital. But certain conditions exist in order to maximize the potential of the youth. First, young people must be given adequate education and training. Second, their other basic rights are fulfilled like health, leisure time, and participation in societal affairs. Third, they must have access to decent jobs and opportunities for career growth. And fourth, they must be encouraged and given the freedom to lead in various organizations and institutions. I must add that the right of young people to dissent, to criticize, must be respected. Recently, the UN declared internet access as a human right. Are your human rights being violated?

What are the characteristics of today’s generation? Many of you can be called ‘Arroyo Babies.’ You grew up in the decade dominated by this politician, former President now Congresswoman, and Veteran Hospital’s most famous patient, Gloria Arroyo. You are also called ‘Digital Natives’ since IT almost became mainstream during your formative years. My generation sang ‘Ibon man may layang lumipad’ in Edsa while you on the other hand are playing with the angry birds.

To leave the country as OFWs is still the popular option of many young Filipinos. The BPO sector, meanwhile, continues to attract more young workers. Contractualization is accepted as a standard business practice instead of viewing it as an affront on human dignity. There are two career choices which seem to be anathema to young people: one is to work in the farms (students prefer Farmville over real rice fields) and second is either to be a politician or to be active in politics.

Good Governance

I can understand why many young people turn their backs on politics. Who would want to be associated with trapos, warlords, and other dark characters of Philippine politics? But if we will abandon politics, the government will be dominated forever by political dynasties. And why should we reduce political participation into electoral politics? We can still take an active role in politics without necessarily becoming politicians.

Good governance these days is defined by identifying the negative behavior of political leaders. It’s often invoked to battle corruption, abuse of power, and inefficient delivery of services. During my student days, Marcos was the supreme evil symbol for bad governance. Then Estrada came in 1998 and while he was no Marcos, he was ousted from power in our pursuit of good governance. Today, it’s clear that Arroyo is the preferred target of our righteous indignation. The Corona impeachment must be viewed as part of the demand to make Arroyo accountable for her many sins against the people.

Good governance is often discussed separately from people power which I think is wrong. The first term usually refers to the behavior of public officials while the latter is invoked during great political moments. But good governance and people power are directly related. We can successfully achieve good governance through people power. Politicians must not be given the exclusive right to enforce good governance since they can distort or dilute its substantial meaning. Magiging business transaction, accommodation, wheeling-dealing, horse-trading ang mangyayari kapag sila lang ang lalaban. We, the people, the boss, must reclaim our leadership in this battle.

On the other hand, the failure or refusal to empower the grassroots, the rejection of people power politics, must be condemned as a violation of the principles of good governance. How can you preach good governance while depriving the people of their right to take a greater role in the country’s political affairs?

Transparency is the buzzword today and it’s often cited as an effective approach to promote good governance. Thus the campaign for the swift passage of a Freedom of Information law. Young people are also being asked to join the transparency bandwagon by reminding them to engage our leaders and agencies through the aggressive use of social media networks. It’s convenient because the tools are already available, internet use is on the rise, and virtual collectives can be organized in support of a campaign (think of #itsmorefuninthephilippines).

Last year, netizens demonstrated how public officials can be humiliated if they are less honest about their work. DPWH officials learned it through the photoshopped way. But there are other tools we can develop to expose bad governance like maps, videos, and the ubiquitous use of twitter hashtags.

The transparency campaign must be sustained and it must be pursued even if the FOI bill becomes a law. Why? Because we have numerous anti-corruption programs and laws yet we still have one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. Corruption is the best Public-Private Partnership showcase in the country.

From Quirino’s Integrity Board, Magsaysay’s Presidential Complaints and Action Committee, Garcia’s Presidential Committee on Administrative Performance Efficiency, Macapagal’s Presidential Anti-Graft Committee, Marcos’ Complaints and Investigation Office, Aquino’s Presidential Commission on Good Government, Ramos’ Presidential Commission Against Graft and Corruption, Estrada’s Inter-agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council to Arroyo’s Presidential Anti-Graft Commission – we don’t have a shortage of anti-corruption initiatives in the past half-century. Should I mention too the anti-corruption laws that are still in effect today?

So yes, pass the FOI bill. Release the SALN of Corona and other officials. But let’s not stop with that. Good governance requires that we must be vigilant and aggressive in demanding the implementation of our laws and programs. When was the last time you wrote to your public officials?

‘It’s the economy, student’

Aquino said ‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.’ It’s simplistic but it made him a winner in the polls. It’s a catchy and impressive slogan but it doesn’t mean we have to believe it. Last week, Arroyo the professor published an essay entitled ‘It’s the economy, student’ to criticize the weak leadership of his successor. In the essay, Arroyo ridiculed Aquino’s anti-corruption slogan: “It is in poverty that we find the material roots of the problem of corruption – because the political system based on patronage–and ultimately, corruption to support patronage–is made possible only by the large gap between the rich and the poor. This will persist until and unless we enlarge the economic pie.”

Arroyo made some valid points in the essay especially about the need to expand the economy. Unfortunately, she should be the last person to lecture us about inclusive economic growth. Yes, GDP numbers improved during her watch but it didn’t lead to equitable growth. The rich became richer while the poor became poorer despite losing their kidneys.

If Aquino doesn’t want the ‘boss’ to be busabos, he must reverse the policies of his predecessor. Unfortunately, he is even expanding the bad legacies of Arroyo like the misnamed conditional cash transfer, foreign debt accumulation, and labor export.

Indeed, the economic fundamentals seemed sound during the time of Arroyo but quality of life deteriorated in the country. Lesson: economic numbers are rendered meaningless by the continuing poverty in the country. But this is no longer a new conclusion. In fact, the Philippines is supportive of innovative international campaigns to combat poverty like the Millennium Development Goals 2015. There is already consensus that the broad human development framework must be adopted if we want our people to escape the inter-generational poverty curse.

So why are we still poor despite the recent tweaking of poverty statistics by our so-called poverty experts? Again, the answer is no longer a mystery since we already knew that the problem is structural. Poverty persists because the system is designed to benefit the privileged few.

This is precisely the reason why the rise of global ‘occupy’ movements in 2011 was welcomed as an inspiring development for those who dream of a better world. The ‘occupy’ protests questioned the system sustained by greed and obscene hoarding of wealth by a cabal of corporations and evil geniuses on one hand, and the pauperized conditions of workers on the other. The ‘occupy’ message is applicable in the Philippines and it should replace the condescending attitude of blaming the ‘lazy poor’ for their destitute conditions.

End of the (old) world

The answer to bad governance is people power. The alternative to poverty is human development. The youth who will inherit this society must decisively act now if they want a more prosperous and peaceful future. Most likely the world will not end in 2012 but for the majority who are excluded from enjoying the wealth of nations, life is nearly synonymous with death.

We need young people who will fight the old system of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. Fortunately, we have the militant example of young people who made a big impact in our history. Our republic was founded by young visionaries like Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, and Jacinto; young revolutionaries fought the Spanish, American, and Japanese colonizers; our modern martyrs were students and young workers who defied Martial Law. We ousted Marcos and Estrada. We rejected the US Bases Treaty in 1991.

The promise of the new government is daang matuwid. Our task is to ensure that this new road will be open for all and not only for hacenderos and Porsche owners. Change should not be dictated to us; we should put forward our agenda of genuine change. Otherwise, we will only witness some cosmetic changes in the country.

It’s not enough that we merely absorb and accept the daily dose of information offered to us by mainstream media. Empowering the people requires that they are armed with correct information and a comprehensive understanding of our societal problems. We are in a unique position to perform the task of spreading and sharing relevant information to our various social networks. For example, we should aim to explain the relationship of good governance and sustainable human development, environment protection, and people empowerment. Yes, illegal logging is to blame for the floods in north Mindanao. But what about legal logging, legal mining, and other destructive practices sanctioned by the state?

I recognize that many of you are afraid, reluctant, and even doubt the power of young people participating in advocacy movements. We were told that joining or even supporting causes is dangerous, ineffective, and obsolete. But if we will examine our recent history, some of the most dramatic political episodes which made a huge impact in the country were direct actions and struggles of our people. Besides, do we want to inhabit a world where political engagement is limited to adding causes on Facebook, signing online petitions, and organizing virtual rallies? I can assure you that Filipino politicians are not afraid of online activism because 1) they don’t read; 2) they don’t manage their social media accounts; 3) you don’t vote in their districts and cities. But let’s replicate the outstanding practice of Arab Spring activists who have effectively combined online and offline activism to express their democratic demands.

While researching on employment issues, I stumbled upon an article written by a young American who defends the idea of working as a community organizer. He recalls this conversation he had with his mother. His mother asked him this: “You’re a bright young man. You went to college, didn’t you? I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer.”

His mother added: “’Cause the pay is low, the hours is long, and don’t nobody appreciate you.”

What was the reply of the son? He said: “It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it.”

Who is this young graduate who decided to become a community organizer right after college? His name is Barack Obama and he is now the president of the United States.

American poet Samuel Ullman explained how people grow old. “Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a body of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.”

My fellow youth, stay young, dream big for our nation, be brave and fight the oppressors. We are young and we should dedicate the best years of our life in the service of the poor. We should be like the angry birds. We should be like the plants fighting the zombies. Tanong sa isang commercial: Para saan ka bumabangon?

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