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Revisiting the roots of Filipino youth activism

By Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer

Vol. XCI No. 8

Oct. 4, 2019

When the masses are quiet, it often means one of two things: the more positive is that the people are content, at peace, and that the conversations they have are harmonious with their comfortable lives. However, the second case is much more common. When all is quiet, something sews the mouths of the people shut—shortening their breaths, making their hearts beat loud with fear. Those that are left are unintelligible whispers. Sometimes, those hearts stop beating, and so do the whispers. When the heartbeats stop and whispers are cut out, people disappear.

Throughout the different Filipino cultures; however, one thing is common: noise. Whether it is to drive out evil spirits or to celebrate whatever occasional happiness the people have, there is always noise— however harmonious or chaotic it may be. Perhaps it is through the unending noise of Filipino cultures, and the Filipino people, that throughout the various attempts at silencing the masses, the “common tao” still manages to find avenues to air grievances—to fight injustices. When the young and innocent are unaware, and the old are tired and abused, it is often the youth and the students that rise up to make noise.

Propaganda of Young Ideals

Throughout the 333 years of Spanish occupation, resistance movements have erupted, mostly armed and bloody. Perhaps, the most significant one is the peaceful propaganda headed by young Filipino pensionados. The pensionadios were middle-class indios who were studying in Spain or Spain-backed institutions. As the peaceful movement grew, its members were refered to as Propagandistas. Made famous by names such as Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Antonio Luna, the Propaganda Movement sought to negotiate for social reforms. Essentially, the Propagandistas was a group of artists and intellectuals.

They sought change in Philippine society by publishing articles and various forms of literature together with competition-winning artworks. While these actions were not direct, they helped raise awareness of the Filipino situation.

As history would have it, the movement itself was not successful. No social reforms were made into reality. The Philippines was not integrated into Spanish society. However, the art and thoughts from the movement managed to start the wave of the revolution.

The Young People of People Power

The day after the enactment of Proclamation 1081, giving way to Marcos’ Martial Law, various media institutions were closed, and journalists detained. Overnight, 50 thousand Filipinos lost their jobs, some of which were incarcerated. Many of them never got out.

Together with these, schools in the whole Philippines were closed down. Among these schools were campuses of the University of the Philippines System, Philippine Science High School and Silliman University. Students were captured—some interrogated and tortured—some made to disappear.

However, in the years that followed, student movements were central in keeping the dream of freedom alive. Underground gatherings, highly illegal at the time, were held under bated breath. One wrong move would have risked the safety of not only one person, but also those of their families and friends. Yet, these students went on, becoming braver each time.

The height of this bravery became the vocal protests held independently throughout the country. Remaining strong against a barrage of injury and threat, these individual protests held on. The collective voice of the Filipinos was heard when people, both young and old, gathered by the thousands in the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue—EDSA. As such, the first peaceful revolt happened in the history of humanity, thanks in part to the vocal activity of the youth.

The young and the Modern World

The youth still continue to be the forefront of change in modern society. Whether it is through local protest, aiming to solve problems affecting the downtrodden, or through international activism, spreading awareness regarding problems bigger than individual people, the youth remains ready to rise up to the challenge. As cliché as it may sound, but the motto of the Filipino heroes of old was that the youth is the hope of the nation remains true. More so today, when problems continue to pile up and solutions are rare. Young people lead, but do they really have a choice? They are, after all, fighting for their future. There is no nobler cause.


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