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The good fight

“What’s with these guys?” You wonder as you stare at a picture of young adults—probably students—holding up placards with angry words written in all-caps. It’s probably about an issue you’ve seen in social media, or about something else you haven’t heard before. Because why should you, right? None of these are things that a privileged, sleep-deprived college student should worry about. As far as you’re concerned, the only injustice is the crippling amount of schoolwork you have to cram, and the only thing that needs saving is your GPA.

Yet here they are—people your age discoursing issues even full-fledged adults have a hard time trying to wrap their heads around. It’s impressive, but at the same time intimidating. Is it really necessary to be this gung-ho about politics at this time of your life?

For them, it is.

Taking a stand

You’ve seen them marching on the streets, rallying with the masses, and clamoring for change. Whenever there’s a political debate, they’re the ones with the most resounding arguments inside the room. Young as they may be, they have made their stances clear, and they’re willing to go an extra mile to advocate it. You might even wonder why people your age would subject themselves to the never-ending, tiresome protest.

In times of political crises, activists have resisted to uphold the rights and well-being of the Filipino people. With each passing day, the abuse of state power only gets worse and more glaring as those in positions of power continue to use their authority for personal gain. Any young adult with a rational mind can clearly see these injustices against the people, and those with the will to step up have long made their appearance. Part-time activists Jhon Dilag of Anakbayan Indang and Sharo Banzuela Jr. of The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) are one of the many youths who persist to fight the tyranny of the state. In an interview with The HERALDO FILIPINO, they shared insights on how important youth activism is, and how it leads them to taking action, beyond their comfort and privilege.

There’s more to youth activism than joining the masses in organized rallies. Sure, marching under the scorching heat with little to no shade while being surrounded by armed policemen can be tough and risky, but the part in being a youth activist that takes the most effort is probably in educating yourself. “Kailangan ‘pag isa kang activist, patuloy at patuloy kang nag-aaral,” Banzuela mentioned.

For a young adult with the whole, cruel world ahead of him, knowledge is power.

Forged in the hottest fire

Activism burns brighter when there’s a struggle, and for some youth activists, struggling is how they began. Dilag became an activist after alleged case of electoral fraud took place in his university’s student council elections. As for Banzuela, he joined his organization to investigate the questionable charging of fees to students in state universities and colleges (SUCs), and the privatization of these public institutions, particularly of his own. Initially spurred to take actions by their own concerns, these individuals eventually rose to fight for the causes of others—of their own people.

And their battles are nothing to scoff at. With the current administration vehemently suppressing political dissent, youth activists are red-tagged and branded as rebels and communists. Dilag and Banzuela both attested to have experienced harassment from armed forces, placing their safety at risk. “Kahit inosente kang tao nga pinapatay ka na ngayon, paano pa kaya ‘yung activists na critic mismo,” said Banzuela. As for Dilag, “Mahirap siya sa seguridad namin bilang kabataan, kasi anytime puwede kaming ma-desa [desaparecidos].” Unfortunately, these security threats are not exaggerations. The imminent dangers it possesses are real indicators of a fascist regime.

Besides red-tagging, youth activists also endure ill-founded criticism from those attempting to silence them. Branded as “bayaran”, naysayers discredit them by accusing them of receiving payment from malicious anti-government factions—a propaganda deemed to invalidate their efforts and struggles. There’s also the undermining of their political stance, a card often played by those older than them, shamelessly telling them to focus on their academics and not get involved in “adult” matters. Naturally, these attacks have never been more unfounded, and in no way does it define the actual, compelling potential of the youth to think for themselves, and take their own stand. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and the duty of criticizing and keeping those who govern us in line falls into our hands. Democracy deems it to be such.

The call for resistance

Contrary to popular belief, the efforts of youth activists are in no way fruitless. Many of the basic rights we take for granted have been a direct result of the ongoing struggle. Especially for students, who reap the benefits of youth activists lobbied for regulating tuition fee increases, junking of developmental fees for SUCs (courtesy of NUSP), removing mandatory ROTC and the No Permit, No Exam policy, as well as simple rights such as dress codes and haircut policies. Ultimately, the end goal is to attain an efficient education system that births critical thinkers for the progress of the country.

But it doesn’t stop there. Youth activists have also shaped the country’s history on a national scale. NUSP, for example, had played a major role in the ousting of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and plunderer Joseph Estrada. Basically, if you think the history of the Philippines is bad, we could say that they’re the main reason that it wasn’t the worst. Now, the responsibility lies upon us in keeping the fight against oppression and making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

In a country crippled by corruption, there are still things that are worthy to be preserved but are hanging by a thread. There are foreign endeavors that are against the best interests of the people. There are atrocities committed in broad daylight—the killings of the people, repression against the press, imperialism in culture and economy, intimidation and assaults in indigenous ancestral lands, and other forms of exploitation of the Filipino people. Our futures are ultimately at stake, and in one way or another, our resistance is our only form of survival.

This might sound a little too heavy to take in all at once. But the point is, the struggle is real, and it is out there. And in times of great need, youth activists will raise their banners and embrace the struggle—all in the name of justice and equality.

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This country is headed straight to the dumps, and things just get exceedingly worse with each passing moment. On that happy note, here’s a hard-to-swallow pill: everything’s burning around you, and just because you can’t feel the heat, doesn’t mean the fire isn’t there. You don’t have to join rallies or burn effigies to show where you stand but the least you can do is open your eyes and pick a side. It’s no longer acceptable to keep mum about all things irrational in a national climate where every voice of reason matters.