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Youth deserve better

“So young and so corrupt” was the scornful description the late Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson bestowed on Ernesto Maceda, then a city councilor who would, despite Lacson’s scorn, later scale the ranks of Philippine politics and closed his career as Senate president.

Regardless of the accuracy of Lacson’s accusation, “so young and so corrupt” (Maceda was but 23 when he entered politics) has endured as a pithy phrase to describe politicians who defy the stereotype of the idealistic youth. Indeed, to judge from recent events, it would seem the pejorative lives on among young politicians.

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Various youth groups have been up in arms against Ryan Enriquez, the chair of the National Youth Commission (NYC). At least 120 such youth and student groups, as well as Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Councils) from different universities and local governments, recently called on Enriquez to resign from his post for his “misrepresentation of the Filipino youth.”

The NYC chair’s biggest offense, it seems, is his silence — indicating indifference? — on urgent issues affecting young Filipinos, the commission’s prime constituency. The petitioners cite the NYC chair’s deafening silence on such pressing matters as the clamor against online classes (an impossibility for many young people), mental health concerns, violence against women and children, and massive unemployment among young people.

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“We hold Chair Enriquez accountable for NYC’s silence and inaction during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” the youth statement declares. “Under this leadership, NYC has not released statements or action points to address pressing issues faced by the youth sector… Enriquez’s actions are an insult to the Filipino youth and the dignity of NYC’s employees,” the statement added.

Adding fuel to the fire is Enriquez’s support for the anti-terrorism bill that many youth organizations, among others, have decried, especially as it puts the rights and safety of protesters and critics of the Duterte administration at risk. Worse, say critics, is that Enriquez publicized his support for the controversial measure without prior consultation with youth stakeholders or even other NYC officials.

The youth statement points out that Enriquez’s support for the anti-terrorism bill “reflects his disregard for the welfare of citizens, particularly the youth, critical (of) our country’s governance.”

Equally concerning is the claim of the NYC Employees Association (NYCEA) that the chair has the tendency to abrogate authority to himself, that instead of coordinating with other commissioners to vote on an issue, he often decides by himself. The employees likewise cited instances when Enriquez “abused his authority, violated security of tenure, and harassed the agency’s personnel.” This prompted the association to take the unusual step of writing directly to President Duterte about their concerns last month.

“NYC should not be led by an individual who gravely misrepresents the Filipino youth and shows no clear concern for their welfare. Its employees, who work closely with the members of the youth sector, should not be governed by an individual who steps on their dignity,” the youth groups said.

The 12th National Youth Parliament, composed of alumni of the NYC-led program, also repudiated statements posted on the NYC Facebook page, saying that these “do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position, nor are they endorsed by the 12th National Youth Parliament.”

This is not the first time the NYC has come under scrutiny for its dubious state of affairs. Even ordinary Filipinos were scandalized when Enriquez’s predecessor Ronald Cardema used the NYC chair position for nakedly political ends — not only to demonize youth activist groups in line with the Duterte administration’s hardline stance against critics and dissenters, but also to campaign in the 2019 midterm elections for the party-list group Duterte Youth of which he was a member, violating the law prohibiting electioneering activities by public officials.

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Cardema then attempted a political sleight-of-hand when he sought to replace his wife as the No. 1 candidate of Duterte Youth via a last-minute substitution. It was also revealed that Cardema was ineligible to sit as representative of a youth party list, being overaged.

No questions have been raised about Enriquez’s age. But his performance so far, tainted by his overt political sympathies while neglecting his prime constituency, belies what he is at heart. A former provincial board member of Cavite, Enriquez, it seems, is more inclined toward politics rather than public service or youth advocacy. Young people of this country deserve better.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, National Youth Commission, NYC, online classes, Ryan Enriquez
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