By Ancelmo Miguel Catalla

Cartoon by Francesca Diane Tan

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the country, Filipinos were already facing a pandemic of their own – the lack of youth representation. Struggling to just voice out our opinions, fearing to be invalidated by the older generations, these unprecedented times also posed unprecedented burdens. As the government’s readiness, or lack thereof, fails to meet the needs of every Filipino, it has become even harder for the youth to spark the change that the country desperately needs. 

With this, we must have a solid representation of the youth who can truly recognize the problems that we face. We need someone who can stand with us on issues like campus press freedom, student activism, and mental health. We don’t need wolves in sheep’s clothing.

On October 6, 2021, Sandro Marcos was invited to talk at a webinar by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Cordillera Administrative Region (CHED-CAR). He spoke about “redefining the role of the youth in nation-building.” It disappoints me that the grandson of a dictator is given the platform that more deserving members of the youth are deprived of. If we truly want to empower our youth, we should not enable false advocacies and deceitful representations. 

As a member of the youth, it is disturbing to watch Sandro Marcos “embody” the youth and give a talk on building our future when he has not acknowledged how his family destroyed our country. It’s disheartening for CHED to allow Sandro Marcos a platform for youth empowerment when his only interest is to introduce himself to the public so that his family could cling back to power. It’s disappointing for CHED to work with Marcos when there are more qualified and capable members of the youth who can truly catalyze the development of our nation.

Our country holds future scientists, engineers, creatives, and leaders that would truly propel the development of our country. Back in 2020, a student from Mapua University won the James Dyson Award for his invention that harvests ultraviolet light and converts it into electricity. A few months ago, several graduates of Philippine Science High School were offered admissions to prestigious universities abroad, including Yale University. 

Earlier this year, the Varkey Foundation, together with, launched the inaugural 2021 Global Student Prize. They looked for exceptional students who have a stellar educational background, influenced the lives of the people in their community, and created a global impact. Because of the huge platform that the award offers, over three thousand students in over 94 countries turned in their applications. Fortunately, I was named as one of its Top 50 Finalists. I was the first and only Filipino to be shortlisted for the prize. 

I feel very lucky because this recognition provided me with an outlet to promote the student voice not just in the Philippines but all over the world. I will be able to talk and cooperate with other student leaders around the globe and discuss the problems that we have in our countries, and I am thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Certainly, the recognition we receive is a testament to the potential of the Filipino youth. It shows us that we are more than capable of progressing our country. Unfortunately, most members of the youth fail to become agents of change for they are denied the platforms that will enable them to nurture the Filipino youth even more. 

The leaders of our country need to recognize who the true nation-builders are. They are those who strive to become excellent to contribute to their country. As part of the democratic process, the government should guarantee that those who represent the youth in creating policies are those who know our real issues. They are those who are courageous enough to fight those who oppress the youth.

Ultimately, the youth will dictate the future of our nation and we are the ones who can make this country great again. This is why we need leaders who can understand our struggles. Now more than ever, we must remain steadfast for our voices to be heard, push our advocacies even harder, and amplify the unheard voices. 

As a youth, I deserve a real and better representation.