OF TREES AND FOREST
Young people have always been referred to as the “future of the country.” And they are. At some point, those of us who have had the extraordinary opportunity to serve the country will fade away in the background, and our young Filipino leaders will take over.
But I also believe that the future is here, now. The youth should not wait for the transfer of responsibility and simply wait for their turn. They need to grab the baton of leadership and start steering the country to a better future.
And there is no better chance of doing that than with the coming elections in 2022. According to data released by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), of the projected 66.9 million eligible voters nearly 52 percent belong to the 18-40 age brackets.
During my first term as member of the House of Representatives, we passed RA 8044 or the “Youth in Nation-Building Act which defined the Filipino youth as those aged 15-30. The United Nations define it as those people between the ages of 15-24 while other countries peg the bracket at 16-40 years old.
The Comelec noted that around 30 percent of the voting population belong to the 18 to 30 age group (this translates to 20,070,000 of total registered voters), while the 18 to 40 accounts for 21 percent. In terms of sheer numbers, there is no doubt that young voters can potentially determine the result of 2022 polls and with it the country’s future.
This has been the trend since the 2016 polls where voters from the 18 to 24 bracket comprised the big chunk of the electorate accounting for more than 20 percent or 11,026,578 of the 54,363,844 total registered voters. But the more important question is this — can the youth live up to that potential? Can they utilize that voting power in order to chart a brighter future for themselves and the entire nation?
The fact of the matter is that there is really no youth vote because young people do not vote as a bloc. Just like everyone else in the country, they are divided by social class, political affiliation, and the like. Young voters need to rally around certain issues that are important to them in order to realize their political clout. They should stop listening to the “you are the future of the country” platitude and start paying attention to what needs to be done in the here and now.
And the here and now presents us with one issue — how do we recover from the pandemic that has upended our economic growth and most aspects of our lives? All the other usual issues important to young people — quality education, employment & livelihood — will be dependent on how successful we can be in restarting our economy and bringing us back to the path to prosperity. The pandemic has negatively impacted young people’s education and employment prospects. The lockdowns have damaged their jobs and employment prospects and disrupted their education and training on top of having a serious impact on their mental well-being.
For instance, data from government last May 2021 revealed that while the country’s unemployment rate stood at 7.7 percent, the youth jobless rate was at 14.5 percent. This translates to 1.12 million young Filipinos without jobs during that period. Today, the economy has began buzzing once again with the lowering of lockdown restrictions and some jobs have returned but more needs to be done.
For young voters, the most critical question is not who do they like as president or senator for 2022 but rather, what is the plan, the platform of government that would effectively allow us to recover our economic gains? Young people need to assess candidates critically and decide who has the plan that would give them quality education amidst the pandemic, jobs when they graduate, and a pandemic-proof economy to make sure our gains are sustained.
So the next time someone says, “vote wisely,” remember what it really means: vote for your future and our nation’s.