Friday, June 14, 2024

Crossing Borders and Challenging Norms: Sillimanian Advocates

By Jan Andrei Elizalde | The Sillimanian Magazine

Living in a post-revolution Philippines, one can assume that our citizens have become all the more wary of our political climate: understanding and, by all means necessary, protecting our democracy and human rights. Silliman University is no exception to this.

Silliman—standing the tests of time and surviving the many horrors that our country once fell victim to—is a living testament of the Filipino spirit of resiliency. Spanning over a century, the university has partook in many revolutions, protests, and humanitarian actions that countered the oppression instigated by authoritarian rule. Today, students that bear the “Silllimanian” title continue to carry this responsibility. 

Advocating within the portals

No advocacy starts from the top. All of its efforts and results are forged by its smaller units in its even smaller communities, working its way up to the lion’s share of the problem. For people to demand change, it must first begin in its grassroots.

In the case of our university, the battles we share with the Filipino people start within its portals. A prominent example of this is the public’s annual protest since the EDSA People Power Revolution. This year, second-year physical therapy student Chelsea Anne Rallos led the movement

It has become an annual tradition for the student body to hold a commemorative event for EDSA. As for this year’s rendition of that tradition, activist group Dakila Dumaguete and several student organizations held “Revelasyon: Active Vista International Human Rights Festival.”

Spanning ten days, Rallos and her team organized film screenings, a talkback session, commemoration walk, community mural, movie premiere, and more that upheld the tales of those who lived, survived, and witnessed the atrocities that loomed upon our people.

“I consider this [festival] such an accomplishment because we were able to gather almost 400 people and they all came together to listen to the local stories during [martial law],” she said. 

Rallos is also an environmental advocate. “I started in environmental advocacy because of how active the community was in Bacolod City and was further amplified by my involvement in the [Silliman University Student Government] (SUSG) Environment Committee,” she said.

The city of gentle people (or its lack thereof)

Advocacy work in Silliman is not only chartered within campus. Most, if not all, of its efforts are usually driven towards the common good of the Dumaguete public. And a stellar testament of this is the abundance of student leaders eager to extend their kindness from campus to city. 

In recent years, Dumaguete has had difficulties in living up to its title, “The City of Gentle People,” as what every tour guide calls it. But despite its name, crimes have started to become more evident commonalities between citizens—especially with cases of theft, harassment, and stabbings increasing by the count.  With hopes to achieve safer streets for Dumaguete, one student leader surged and faced this challenge headstrong: Franz Jullian Sevilla.

Sevilla is what one would call a double agent. Besides coursing through his third year in mass communication, he also serves as vice-chairperson of the Dumaguete City Local Youth Development Council. Through his leadership, Sevilla and his colleagues pushed for the “localization of the Safe Spaces Act for the city.” Consequently, the city’s then Sangguniang Kabataan President, Renz Macion, filed an ordinance in its pursuit. 

“By using our voice, we have reached the ears of those in position, and eventually got the positive change we were looking for,” he concluded.

Sevilla is also the governor of the Kapunungan sa mga Mass Communicators, the student organization of the SU College of Mass Communication. 

A shared responsibility

For Sillimanians, advocacy work also reaches various regions of our country. And despite the difficulties one may bear—as one does with any large aspiration—the efforts they carry from campus to country remain steadfast amid the threats faced by our youth.

One common problem Filipinos face is our nation’s proneness to natural disasters. Typhoons, earthquakes, and other similar disasters are merely natural for our country, a truth that is in consequence of our topography. 

Because of such commonalities, it is in every citizen’s responsibility to always be prepared in responding and managing such circumstances. One Sillimanian that shoulders this responsibility—for others and for herself—is second-year foreign affairs student Raven Valerie Emia

Beginning her journey with hopes to create networking opportunities, and as she comedically put it, “for clout,” Emia was a member of the Red Cross Youth (RCY) – Cebu Chapter wherein she “mobilized to aid the victims of a devastating landslide.”

Despite the fact that she was not directly deployed to the emergency upon her first task, she participated in organizing, packing, and distributing aid from the base office. “The urgency and sense of purpose I felt during this crisis were overwhelming, igniting a newfound passion for serving others,” she added. 

Emia continues to ignite her flair for welfare, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and health services she advocates for under the Philippine Red Cross (PRC). 

Throughout her years in the said organization, she was also awarded as an RCY Service Awardee, became a youth instructor for the RCY Youth Volunteer Formation Course and Leadership Development Program, and a trainer for the PRC Welfare and Psycho-Social Trainer for Facilitators.

Beyond the islands

Entering a larger scale of advocacy work, Sillimanians by the plenty participate in national engagements that share similar goals in promoting the common good.

One Sillimanian that braved the international waters is an environmentalist from the Negros island: fourth-year sociology student Joshua Villalobos

Throughout the years, Villalobos became the co-chairperson of the SUSG Environment Committee wherein they achieved the university’s declaration of a climate emergency—the first ever university to do so in the Philippines.

According to a post released by the SUSG Environment Committee, the declaration recognizes the “need for local and global action to confront the impacts and threats of the climate crisis not only to Silliman University and its constituents but also to the Filipino people.”

Villalobos also engaged with other advocates in Dubai for the 2024 United National (UN) Climate Summit and the 28th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP28), wherein he “followed the negotiations on the first ever Global Stocktake to help ensure that children and young people’s rights are considered and integrated.”

Moreover, he participated in the 16th World Social Forum at Kathmandu, Nepal for the World Social Forum 2024, which is a “global platform of civil society organizations and social movements around the world to talk about pressing issues and work together under the theme #AnotherWorldIsPossible amidst the background of various crises happening in our world.”

Presently, Villalobos works with various groups, international and local non-governmental organizations (including UN agencies, youth groups, and social movements) to pursue social and climate justice, and human rights advocacies. He also sits on the board of three youth organizations tackling climate change, food waste, youth empowerment, and rural youth rights. Villalobos, moreover, is a pioneering board member of the first-ever Youth Sounding Board of the European Union Delegation in the Philippines.

“I am also happy to have started a local youth-led, multi-stakeholder network campaigning for climate and the environment called Negrosanon Initiative for Climate and the Environment,” he added.

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