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Young and free to speak up

Calling all parents! Nakabalo ba mo na ang inyong mga anak gaapil-apil na ug rally sa siyudad (Did you know that your children are now joining rallies in the city)?”

This strange question, accompanied by a photo of a peaceful youth protest, was posted by the Facebook page of the Surigao Del Sur Police Provincial Office last June 7. It is unclear what exactly the post is meant to imply. Is it saying that it’s wrong for the youth to peaceably assemble? That parents must advise their children against doing so? That sumbong sa nanay is now a police response when young people speak up?

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Unsurprisingly, the post drew thousands of angry reactions and comments. Coming from a police page, this kind of messaging is troubling. But it pales in comparison to the slew of other social media posts from other government outlets in the past several months—posts that vilify activists and advocates, or outright red-tag them as terrorists. Messages like these can suppress the voicing of grievances and sentiments critical of the government’s shortcomings, no matter how far removed these sentiments are from being terroristic.

The youth, apparently, aren’t spared. From public protests to student publications to Facebook posts, young people who are sharing their informed opinions are getting disparaged for it. Remember Joshua Molo, the student paper editor in chief who was forced to publicly apologize after criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response?

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We grew up being told that we are the hope of the nation, that we must use our education, free thinking, and energy to build a better society. Yet now that so many of Gen Y and Gen Z are trying to do that by speaking up about the wrongs they see, they are being shushed.

What’s worse is, much of the silencing comes from people the youth are supposed to trust and respect. Parents, elders, public officials, law enforcers. On the streets, when youth groups gather with a bullhorn, observers would cluck their tongues and go, “Sayang lang ang edukasyon n’yo.” On social media, young people who write their independent thoughts are at times met by older folks who patronizingly say, “You are too young to understand.”

Even at home, there is a persistent stigma against activist and advocacy groups, or even just outspoken individuals, painting them as bogeymen lurking in progressive colleges and universities.

“Don’t ever let me see you at those rallies,” parents would warn their kids, as if joining an assembly for a cause you care about automatically meant joining some terrorist recruitment drive. This could explain why cops now feel they could appeal to parents against protesting youngsters. Parents who misunderstand social involvement get scared of their own bogeymen.

These are small but powerful ways to stifle voices from the youth. It doesn’t even matter which side of the political spectrum they identify with, or if they associate with anything or anyone at all. The point is that young Filipinos are as free as any other Filipino to have an independent opinion and to express that opinion in public. And their expression can make a real difference.

That’s not just a platitude. Millennials and Gen Z now hold real sway in sociopolitical matters. Consider that as of 2019, these demographics comprise more than half of registered voters in the country. That power is amplified by their strong command of modern communication platforms such as social media, influencing which topics get talked about, which deeds get praised, and which ones get “canceled” (heavily criticized).

Judging from the backlash that anti-protest posts are getting online, it’s clear that young Filipinos won’t just quiet down when they see something that should be called out. Not even when they are threatened by something as grave as the anti-terrorism bill, or something as laughable as a sumbong sa nanay Facebook post. And that’s a good thing, because young people being able to speak out is a sign that we are still somehow a democracy.

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From your friendly neighborhood millennial (who is anti-terrorism and pro-freedom, just like my peers), happy Independence Day.

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TAGS: COVID-19, education, Independence Day, Surigao Del Sur Police Provincial Office, terrorism, youth protest
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