Democracy Talks in Manila—The Role of Youth Voices in Democracy

by Alexandra Megia
Eagle News

QUEZON CITY, Philippines (Eagle News) — Democracy. From the Greek word dēmokratiā, which was coined from dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”)— A governing political system which literally translates to “rule by the people.”

Popularized by Greek city-state Athens in 500 BCE, many countries today, practice this form of governing system—including the Philippines.

People visit the Pnyx Hill in Athens overlooking the ancient Acropolis on May 29, 2020 as Greece eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus). (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

Whatever your political stance may be, democracy hinges on the idea that the people will govern themselves. Educate oneself on local issues at hand and elect those in office who will best represent their interest on a state and or national level.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I.D.E.A.), partnered with Sweden’s Ambassador to the Philippines, his Excellency Herald Fries, and UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies, hosted an online seminar, “the Role of Youth Voices in Democracy.” Where political science experts, Philippine Youth Leaders and activists joined in on a discussion about the important part democracy plays in Filipino society.

In a time where a pandemic restricts youth from meeting in-person to have lively and healthy discussions about the future of the Philipppine nation, there has been a rise in youth organizations through the means of social media.

Bringing some awareness to several national issues such as human rights and abuse, in hopes that the youths listening, can help and shape a better democracy. 

Youth panelists included Dr. RJ Naguit, founding chair for the Youth for Mental Health Coalition and chairman of Akbayan Youth, Kira Velasco, student-activist, Robin Mijares, founder and executive director of Youth Uprising NGO, Sohaila Macadio, UnYPhil-Women and Vince Liban, UP Akbayan Youth.

The group calls to “deepen democracy” within the country. By reaching out to the nation’s youth and further engaging with civil society groups—to better understand the needs of the people and teach the nation’s democratic practices—both good and bad sides of the coin.

Increasing military responses—is democracy safe?

Soldiers stand guard as they wait inside the military headquarters to be deployed in major thoroughfares, in Manila on March 14, 2020. – Manila will impose a night-time curfew in the city of 12 million, officials said on March 14, as the Philippines steps up efforts to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)

According to I.D.E.A.’s Amanda Cats-Baril, program manager of I.D.E.A. in Myanmar, reports that “the Philippines is a mid range performing democracy, there’s no areas of grave concern.” 

However, Cats-Baril notes that since 2019, Philippines’ response to this pandemic have been highly militarized. From 120,000 arrests made for those who broke EGCQ (Enhanced General Community Quarantine) and the “shoot-to-kill” threats for breaking curfew. Even the “Heal as One” Act gives the government authority to criminally prosecute journalists for spreading false information about COVID.

Cats-Baril says that this is due to the “cult of personality around President Duterte” and the consolidation of power and the executive as seen a “lack of opposition in Congress,” makes oversight of checks and balances difficult. 

Keeping democracy healthy and alive

Corazon Aquino (C,R), President of the Philippines, gives land titles to representatives of 5,999 peasant-beneficiaries of the government land reform program next to Agriculture minister Heherson Alvarez (C) in Santiago on January 10, 1987. Aquino campaigns, in this northern region led by her rival Juan Ponce Enrile, for the ratification of the draft constitution at a rally attended by some 8,000 people. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo by ROMEO GACAD / AFP)

One of the youth panelists, Vince Liban, laments the challenges that the Philippine democracy faces. “The Philippine democracy has always been vulnerable. Despite the best efforts of the 1987 constitution, many democratic policies remain unimplemented.”

The way to solve these complex problems? No one really knows. But a collective effort is being called upon by these youth leaders.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) gestures as he delivers his state of the nation address, while Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (R) listen, at Congress in Manila on July 23, 2018. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP)

Robin Mijares calles for the youth to “first educate yourselves.” Know the problems that are happening locally, so that you can learn from the process and see what worked out. Then bring that experience it to a national level.

But Liban calles for something much greater. Liban says that “we should establish international cooperation and solidarity, democracy demands to be felt in civil society, and the people need to feel that democratic institutions are at work, and are working for them.”