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The youth in politics: Taking the plunge

Happy New Year! What should we best ponder about as a beleaguered nation throughout this year?

That’s easy. The May 2022 polls will be the most momentous elections after the 1986 People Power revolt. Once again, we will tend to pillory the Filipino voter should the results be dismal. But perhaps it is not the Filipino voters that are primarily responsible for the rot in Philippine politics and governance. It is the very timidity or cautiousness of the Filipino youth to take the risk and foray into politics and offer themselves as candidates. I have worked with many young professionals, especially those in science, engineering, and technology, and many of them laugh at the idea that they should consider running for political office. This is sad, for who will get elected may well depend on who will offer themselves as candidates.

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The most significant local government executive position to target would be that of mayor. While the law requires only age 21 to run for mayor, the modal age for mayor based on a 2018 survey of 300 mayors is around 50. Of these, 78 percent were males and only 22 percent were females. Too few young people and too few women are taking the plunge!

One does not have to run for mayor immediately. While many young politicians try starting at the barangay level, it is workable to start at the municipal or city council level. Mayor Vico Sotto entered politics as a candidate for city councilor in 2016, and by 2019, went for the post of mayor of Pasig City, which he handily won. In a year of challenges, primarily the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Sotto has shown that there is a workable system to being inclusively responsive to the needs of his people, even when one radically shuns the traditional “epal” ways of other politicians who never forget to stamp their initials on every garbage bin, lamppost, and waiting shed in the city.

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Of course, Mayor Sotto has an illustrious name, which translates into voting power. But there is also the high level of integrity, capability, and responsiveness that form the core of his claim to executive authority and service to the people through election.

But have you heard of Councilor Joanne Valdez, 33, of Candon, Ilocos Sur? Joanne was our videographer for the various inclusive development projects in the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government and later at the Development Studies Program. Her outfit would record images of pregnant mothers lining up for the only artesian well available in a government housing project, or young adults telling stories of how they get by without food. After a series of these widely shared videos, Joanne was so touched that eventually she decided to run for councilor in her home city of Candon, Ilocos Sur, in the 2016 elections.

She squeaked past the Singson political dynasty’s handpicked slate, and was the only opposition candidate to win. She immediately put into fruition brilliant pro-poor ideas fit for the people of Candon, with the help of media, civil society, international organizations, and even Candonians living abroad. She handily won reelection in 2019.

Another example is Quin Cruz, 33, the No. 1 barangay councilor in Manggahan, Pasig City, despite being in the opposition. Quin has been a member of our Inclusive Mobility and Transformative Urban Resettlement Projects. He is, by dint of actual immersion, a ground-level expert on informal settlements. His dedication to the welfare of his constituents is well known beyond his jurisdiction.

These two people, whom we have seen straddle and cross over from the nongovernmental side to electoral politics, give me hope that one does not have to be from a political dynasty to run for public office and help incrementally turn Philippine politics away from the self-indulgent, corrupt, and insatiable ways of Filipino politicians. What enables them to gain the confidence and vote of the people is pure talent in enabling participatory local problem-solving, and a continuing capacity to trigger a demonstration effect that even international youth conferences and award systems have not failed to notice. All these young people need is an opportunity to show what they’ve got, and their performance will do the rest.

The year 2021 will be a momentous year. There will be talented and patriotic youth like Joanne and Quin who are on the verge of successful early ventures into politics. The country needs them, and you. Just do it!

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TAGS: Joanne Valdez, On The Move, Quin Cruz, Segundo Eclar Romero, Vico Sotto, young politicians
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