Are the Filipino youth apathetic? | Inquirer Opinion

Are the Filipino youth apathetic?

Much has been said about the purported Me Generation—their selfies on Facebook, “mundane” tweets and pictures of #food on Instagram. But research shows that the Filipino youth are perhaps not as disengaged, apathetic and self-absorbed as people claim them to be.

A study that I conducted sought to answer: How engaged are the Filipino youth? What online and offline sociocivic and political activities or processes do they engage in? What are the factors that contribute to their disengagement/engagement?

A total of 400 Filipino youth respondents (between 15 and 30 years old), 8 focus interviewees and 4 key informants across Metro Manila participated in the study.

Typical Filipino youth

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Mykel, 19, represents the typical Filipino youth. He is from the low socioeconomic brackets  DE (average monthly household income of P20,000 or less). A graduate of secondary school,  he highly values relationships with family members and peers.

And yes, Mykel is active online—much like the rest of his peers.

Despite assertions that only the upper socioeconomic strata are digital media natives, the results of the study show that new media are reaching the most impoverished areas in Metro Manila.

An incredible 90.8 percent of the 400 Filipino youth reported regular Internet use like checking e-mails, updating social networking sites and browsing websites.

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3-hour daily Internet use

Mykel uses the Internet four days a week. He is not alone—41.8 percent of the youth reported using the Internet every day while 17.3 percent reported being online thrice a week. On average, the Filipino youth are online 22 hours a week, or roughly 3 hours a day.

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They use the Internet through rented computers/laptops from computer shops (33.3 percent), their own computers/laptops (30.3 percent), or their mobile devices (24.0 percent).

Mykel uses the Internet through the “Piso Net” computer shops in his barangay and accesses his social media accounts through his mobile phone.

Civic, political life

But what does the active involvement of the youth online mean for civic and political participation?

With the rise of digital media, the landscape of civic and political participation has likewise evolved. The youth use social media and other online platforms to extend involvement in civic and political life.

By and large, Mykel and his peers are still the most active in offline platforms of involvement: 73.75 percent are engaged in offline political activities and processes, while 51.25 percent are engaged in offline sociocivic activities and processes.

However, pointing out the substantial involvement of the youth offline does not nullify the impact of online platforms in engaging the youth. Online measures have proven to be instrumental in expanding and augmenting offline participation among the youth.Tsong, 20, is active in a service-oriented organization for the underprivileged youth. He emphasizes the importance of online platforms in expanding the reach of his organization. “Online channels are usually for information dissemination, for promoting activities outside our organization. But we also use online channels to organize ourselves,” he says.

Just like Tsong, most of the Filipino youth were involved in at least one organization in the last 12 months:

54.2 percent were involved in sports organizations.

46 percent in religious organizations.

37.2 percent in academic or preprofessional societies.

These three are the organizations the youth reported the highest engagement with varying degrees of involvement.

Electoral participation

In terms of political involvement, they are most active in “electoral participation.” These activities and processes include registering to vote (67.3 percent), voting in a local elections (61.5 percent) and voting in national elections (56.3 percent).

Others, such as Bryan, 20, were involved in the elections themselves. Bryan is the chair of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) in his barangay. Despite the controversy surrounding the SK, active youth leaders see it as a stepping-stone to future political engagement. “I get to see firsthand how politics works in the country since I have aspirations [to be] a congressman or senator,” Bryan says.

Most of the youth, however, engage in other political activities only sporadically because of general disenchantment with national and local politics. Still, they value voting and consider this to be one of the most important aspects of political involvement.

Ethical consumerism

In terms of sociocivic involvement, they are the most involved in “ethical consumerism.” These include donating to organizations (33.3 percent), buying products based on principle (28.3 percent) and boycotting products based on principle (20.8 percent).

Through the practice of “peso voting,” the youth prove that they are neither docile nor mindless consumers but rather critical, discerning and ethical in supporting products and brands, which they believe are aligned with their values.

Typology of involvement

Being active in one of the four dimensions of participation is defined as involvement in at least two activities of that area in the past 12 months.

12 percent of the youth are hyperdisengaged, those that have not participated in any activity in any of the four areas.

6 percent are disengaged and have participated in only one activity in at least one area.

29 percent are engaged in one sphere of participation and have done at least two sociocivic or political activities (whether online or offline).

27 percent are engaged in two spheres and have participated in at least four activities.

15 percent are engaged in three spheres of participation, and are involved in at least six activities.

11 percent are hyperengaged. They actively took part in at least eight activities in the past year.

In the past 12 months, the youth were engaged in an average of 3.5 activities in any area of participation. This is roughly one activity every three months, which is higher than the average in other countries.

These are the factors that influence participation:

1. Gender

Interestingly, unlike in other countries where participation is related to gender (specifically, women are more active in sociocivic activities in the United States, while men are more active in political activities), participation among the Filipino youth is not at all related to gender.

Filipino men and women are equally likely to be involved in any of the spheres of participation, which may imply lateral opportunities between the sexes.

2. Age

Rather than gender, age has a higher likelihood of influencing involvement. Younger members (15- to 20-year-olds) are more likely to be involved in online sociocivic activities, due to their higher involvement in social media based on previous studies.

Older members of the youth sector (26- to 30-year-olds) are more inclined to be involved in offline political activities due to age restrictions in electoral participation and more exposure to political activities as more seasoned young professionals.

3. Satisfaction with current system

This may influence engagement among the youth. For mobilization to occur, the belief in the ability to instigate change must be greater than the level of dissatisfaction.

The youth are most dissatisfied with labor and employment (average rating of 2.61), public housing (2.73) and healthcare (2.80). They perceive themselves to be most influential in education (3.41), healthcare (3.30) and policy formation (3.14).

Taking into account the average rating for both perceived influence and satisfaction, they are likelier to be involved in matters related to healthcare, labor and employment, and education.

4. Confidence in institutions

Confidence in the ability of certain institutions to perform their functions well in the interest of the public is of utmost importance given that these are the backbone of democracy.

The following institutions registered the highest confidence among the youth:

Local government (46.3 percent)
Civil service (45.0 percent)
National government (40.0 percent)

One very interesting revelation here is that the youth place the highest confidence in their local government. This means that barangay and city officials have the most leverage in engaging the youth.

Bernadette, 17, says that working closely with her local government has led her to have more confidence in the institution. “When problems arise, people are quick to judge. But being closer to these institutions, you get to understand that it’s not as simple.”

She adds, “At the same time, knowing how things work, you have more to observe, analyze, criticize and reflect because you are more immersed.”

Conversely, the following institutions registered the lowest confidence among the youth:

Courts (41.8 percent did not express confidence)
Law enforcement (40.0 percent)

5. Pride

Among all the incentives, pride in being a Filipino had the most bearing. The sense of pride associated with being part of a certain community was the most influential in swaying involvement:

91.3 percent are proud to be Filipino.
77 percent are proud to be members of their city.
75.8 percent are proud to be members of their barangay.
75 percent are proud to be members of their region (NCR).

It is the deep, genuine love for country that motivates the Filipino youth to be involved.

Me-anne, 21, is motivated because of her desire to instigate change. “I see so many things wrong, so many things in dire need of improvement, and I can’t just sit back and watch these develop for the worse. I want to take an active role. I want to be the change that I want to see,” she says.

6. Internet use

Internet use has proven to be a major driving force in the youth’s inclination to engage in civic and political activities—but both for the better (making the youth more active) and for the worse (making the youth more apathetic).

First, the Internet has the capacity to enhance involvement. Regression models show that online political participation is hinged on the number of online political groups. The more online groups the youth have, the more exposed they become to online political activities. Because of repeated exposure, the youth have a higher likelihood of being involved in online political activities.

Second, the Internet has the capacity to expand involvement. For offline sociocivic participation, the number of online sociocivic groups is crucial. The more the youth are exposed to online sociocivic groups, the more involved they become in offline sociocivic activities. Again, this is not surprising given the ability of online platforms to introduce new streams of involvement, which may lead to participation in offline activities.

However, the Internet may also lead to opposite results.

Third, the Internet has the capacity to distract the youth from involvement. In offline political participation, the more the youth use the Internet, the less involved they tend to become in offline political activities. This may be due to the various avenues for leisure the youth may engage in online, which may distract and deter them from participating in political activities.

What now?

It is evident that the Filipino youth are not as apathetic as people claim. On the contrary, they were active in 3.5 activities in the past 12 months. Only 18 percent were categorically disengaged.

They were most active in “electoral participation” and “ethical consumerism” and are likelier to be involved in the healthcare, labor and employment, and education sectors. Pride in being a Filipino was the strongest incentive for involvement.

For change to occur, local government units wield the most influence. Sports, religious and academic or preprofessional organizations also have leverage since there is sustained interest in these groups.

Indeed, the Internet remains influential in youth engagement. However, both for the better and for the worse.

In an increasingly digitizing world, it is crucial for the Filipino youth to undergo media literacy education for them to be equipped with the skills so they can dissect media texts and responsibly create media texts toward nation-building.

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(Ma. Angela Teresa G. Sebastian served as chair of the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Mass Communication Student Council. This article is based on her undergraduate thesis, “Digital and Analog Citizenship: A Study on the Online and Offline Civic Engagement and Political Participation of the Filipino Youth Living in Metro Manila,” which received the best thesis award from her college. Sebastian was recently recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines—National Capital Region.)

TAGS: Filipino youth, Talk of the Town

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