I have always advised anyone who entertained ideas that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could get away from it all to pause and ponder the reality of today’s political undercurrents. While she may be escaping accountability through the constitutional process, the truth is she is driving the political equation towards uncharted political waters.
All the thump and thunder of protests denouncing the illegitimacy of her presidency and a host of other issues create highly visible public outrage which is corroborated by scientifically-derived data. However, silent waters run deep, and deep and foreboding indeed are stirrings that come from groups that are usually quiet and uninvolved.
I am referring to the YOUng, the Young Officers Union of the New Generation on the one hand and the young people of our society on the other. Young officers commanding our soldiers have categorically asked Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down while student organizations have become increasingly recalcitrant. The officers of the YOUng are mostly products of the mid-80’s Gen-X – described as pragmatic, creative, strongly independent, self-reliant and hard-working while today’s crop of Filipino youths are now part of that group referred to as Gen Y – super sized Gen Xer of sorts, now larger in number and more diverse, individualistic and boldly frank.
As though rallying behind a call to arms for “their country, their future,” young people drove the critical mass that made EDSA II possible. The founders of YOU, newly established then, were also major participants in the 1989 coup attempt against President Cory Aquino which was only aborted after US fighter planes flew over Metro Manila to signal US support for Aquino. Had we been left alone to our own devices, that coup of 1989 would have succeeded.
Youth sentiment against Macapagal-Arroyo is unmistakable. Surveys authenticate a range of between 65% and 80% of Filipinos wanting her replacement. Expect the recent scuttling of the impeachment to fuel the intensity of the ouster call. Since 70% of the population is 34 years old or younger, it goes without saying that the survey correspondingly represented dominantly youth sentiments.
A quarter or 25% of our population is between 20 and 34 years old. This translates to 21 million employed, underemployed or unemployed Filipinos that pack enough energy and idealism to want to seize control of their destiny and that of their country’s. Among adults ranging from age 18 to those over 80, those aged 18 to 34 count for 49%.
In the military, the young officers who are between 22 and 34 years old are the lieutenants, captains and majors who are in direct contact with soldiers. Given the fact that Macapagal-Arroyo has managed to charm the generals with patronage and promotions, the reality is that junior officers have the numbers and the passion to mount a coup. Soldiers under their command know first hand the meaning of extreme poverty in the same way that it affects more than half of Filipinos. Sharing the same foxholes, junior officers and soldiers see the same patch of dirt and the same piece of sky – it will not take much for these junior officers to convince soldiers into taking a course of action they deem necessary.
The image of senior officers has gone from bad to worse, having been implicated in a string of scandals, including complicity to thwart the real outcome of the 2004 presidential elections. Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia with his multi-million- peso caper has become the icon of military decadence and crookedness among the senior officers.
Regardless of rank or stature, civilian, officer or soldier, young people are connected to each other by the values and imperatives necessary for the survival of their generation and those yet to come. They will challenge, seek new answers and discover new ways of doing things because the future is theirs. Society’s elders are no longer predisposed to agitating for change – instead they want to spend their energies accepting things they believe they can no longer change.
Take note of these three items that are foremost in the hierarchy of values of today’s young people (sourced from top global ad agency McCann-Erickson’s Philippine Youth Study, 2001):
1. True character, no false fronts, no duplicity. Notice some of the most successful advertising slogans that successfully sold brands to young people – Sprite’s ‘Magpakatotoo ka’ (live your true character) and Nike’s ‘Get real’.
2. Connectivity – the supremacy of technology and the symbols, places and events that facilitate inter-connectivity; selectivity in their choice of people they want to connect with. The recent World Youth Day in Germany is a magnificent display of young people who sought connectivity. The rapid development of communications technology and the convergence of communication tools and gadgets are all dictated by the young’s insatiable demand for connectivity.
3. Idealism, a constant virtue of the youth. They seek the ‘Holy Grail’, fancy themselves tilting with La Mancha’s windmills and are attracted to icons that represent their values. Ideals may vary among young people of different eras but their idealism and their loyalty to the cause that they believe in have remained constant. During the early days of Marcos’s Martial Law, it was the young activists who were the most consistent in resisting the dictatorship.
On the basis of these three important values revered by our young, it is obvious that their perspective and mindsets will never find a place for traditional politicians and Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo. Young or not, people hate liars and the young certainly hate liars more than others. Any self-respecting young person who says he or she believes traditional politicians and Macapagal-Arroyo can only be born yesterday.
When the Magdalo junior officers launched their misadventure in July 2003, I was surprised when I learned from parents of families living in Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village that their daughters and sons wanted to rally in support of the Oakwood mutineers. Two of these parents were Rosemarie “Baby’ Arenas and former Congressman Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco, who I would have considered least likely to have children identifying with the mutineers. But these young people did. And they felt this at a time when discontent against the system and issues hurled against Macapagal-Arroyo were relatively mild. If rich kids can think this way, how do the poor kids in the population majority think and feel today?
I consider the potential attraction between the YOUng and the young people of the country the strongest, albeit invisible undercurrent in this Gloria-Garci issue. The YOUng has the armed might and our young, the numbers and the passion to inspire action. It is their future, their country and they have the most to lose and the most to gain when things are set right.
Young minds do think alike and this is even truer now in our present era of fast communications and borderless connectivity. Seeking answers to end the country’s tribulations, they find none. Throughout the time they spent in their earlier school years, they have been exposed to the country’s backward crawl to worse economic conditions. They have witnessed the varied ways in which poverty and dearth of opportunities have exacted their toll on classmates, friends, relatives and parents taking overseas jobs, even at the cost of severe loneliness and breaking up of families. They have seen how the rest of Asia has recovered and how the country has become even poorer in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Currency Crisis. With about 40% of Filipinos said to be worried about the next meal, hunger has become a monster with a mind of its own.
Way back in the 1960s and 1970s, when quality education was still in vogue, a college degree bought you a secure future. Today, a young person with a master’s degree cannot even find a job. Doctors abandon local practice to learn nursing so that they can work in hospitals overseas and earn five, ten times more. People with MBA and engineering degrees have found themselves working in call centers. They are employed only because they are cheaper to hire than their counterparts overseas.
Nothing best underscores the desperation of the Macapagal-Arroyo era than the results of the Pulse Asia Coping Survey that was released to media last August 31. It showed that 33% of Filipinos are now open to resorting to illegal means in order to obtain relief (In table 7 of the survey, 21% are for going into illegal livelihoods and 12% are for supporting an overthrow of the government). Violent upheavals do not require the consent of the majority, merely enough hotheads and radical thinkers. And 33% delivers about 28 million of those.
And what do the young people see from their leaders? What do they think of the clowns in Congress who spend taxpayers’ money on actions that defy logic and moral propriety? And what do they think of a president who represents the opposite traits of the qualities they find most important in their hierarchy of values which places true character, no false fronts, no duplicity most paramount? How else do we expect these idealistic young people to react if not to take charge of their fate and their future by means they find most suitable?
The officers of the YOUng present a promise of redemption from the failed system and the rule of the exploitative elite. By default, the system is unable to provide the people an alternative that will deliver the long sought after reforms and the end of the traditional politics that brought us to this abyss. Hardly anyone sees hope or promise of relief from the option of charter change peddled by Fidel V. Ramos, Joe de Venecia and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If anyone sees any gain at all in this move, it is only that of averting the looming prospect of political oblivion for most of its proponents.
To the young, the officers of the YOUng may just about offer real and meaningful change, not one which gapes with loopholes designed to accommodate vested elite interests. Disgust for the traditional politicians and the oligarchy is so overwhelming that it threatens to overpower most people’s usual dread of armed political players and takeovers. Hating the devil to the worst possible, the deep blue sea now becomes a cooling option.
And that is where Macapagal-Arroyo’s ego-centric lust for power is bringing us. Her obsession with power, gained by whatever means, generated this crisis that has just about destroyed all our institutions. She may seem to be surviving the crisis for now, thanks to congressional allies who cannot separate narrow political interests from the demands of the country’s survival and an inept and discredited opposition. But the fact is she is also taking all of us deeper and deeper into a point of no return in unknown and dangerous political waters.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org