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Strengthening youth engagement in nation building

On June 19, we observed Filipino Youth Day, coinciding with the birth anniversary of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was convinced that the youth is the hope of our nation. In his message, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. challenged the Filipino youth to serve the community and be of help to those in need. He also encouraged the youth to enrich their knowledge and talents, which is necessary as future leaders of the nation.

I’ve always believed that young people must be part of the discourse, especially in this digital age. The Millennials and Gen Z, whose lives unfolded against the backdrop of rapid technological advancements, can provide fresh ideas and innovative solutions to lingering problems.

Moreover, youth engagement is critical in building strong democracies. In the Democracy and Security Dialogue report of the Community of Democracies (CoD), it was highlighted that youth empowerment is vital in countering violent extremism. According to the report, countries with less youth participation in governance and a lack of youth empowerment programs have a high rate of their young population indoctrinated with extremist ideologies.

It is, thus, crucial for states to ensure youth empowerment in politics, and to create avenues for engaging young citizens by also reducing barriers for their political and economic participation.

The Philippines, as a democratic nation, promotes the right to suffrage. We must encourage the Filipino youth to engage in this democratic process not only as a right, but also as a responsibility. For instance, young Filipinos of voting age should already ensure that they have already registered to be able to vote in the next elections in 2025.

The CoD also released the Youth Recommendations to Increase Engagement in Democracy, based on the best practices for youth engagement and participation discussed during the 2021 Summit for Democracy. There are 20 recommendations, including the general inclusion of young voices in policies and laws; organizing youth citizens’ assemblies as a tool to crowdsource their views and opinions; inclusion of civics education in the school curriculum; public spending on youth beyond just education, as investments in infrastructure, sports facilities, community spaces, are also vital to improve the lives of the youth; and countering misinformation, among others.

Here in the Philippines, we have laws, such as the Republic Act No. 8044, which created the National Youth Commission to be leading government arm in harnessing the full potential of the youth as partners in nation building. Meanwhile, Republic Act No. 10742, the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015, provides a strong framework to encourage the youth not only to participate in governmental activities and public and civic affairs but to also develop a sense of leadership and patriotism.

Currently, there is a proposal to revive the mandatory Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) for tertiary level students, as this is believed to be an effective tool for developing leadership, discipline, responsibility, and patriotism among young Filipinos.

Oftentimes, we are led to believe that only those who have decades of experience can lead and provide solutions to challenges faced by our communities and our nation as a whole. We must not dismiss the voice of the youth, those who are unafraid to say what they think is right — because even if they turn out otherwise, it is refreshing to hear new views as these also provide fresh ideas even for the experienced leaders.

As we prepare the youth to be the next leaders of the country, we must already engage them to be part of the discourse and embrace them as responsible citizens fully capable to be contributors to nation building.

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