Unity Statement on PNoy’s 2012 State of the Nation Address (SONA)
We, youth and students from progressive organizations, in a collective voice, commend PNoy administration’s victories in exacting accountability and fighting corruption – the impeachment of Ombudsman Mercy, Chief Justice Corona, the prosecution of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and corrupt previous officials. In such victories, the youth and students, along with active citizenry, are vigilant partners. Furthermore, we cherish the messages it inculcates among the youth – there is hope: crime does not pay, justice will be served.
Moving forward, we urge the PNoy administration to now more aggressively pursue structural changes towards economic development and growth, which is inclusive, and benefiting the people at the grassroots level, especially the poor and marginalized. Young people, consisting a third of the population, should be a target and partner of the government in pursuing development. We bring to the government’s attention the continuously worsening youth situation, endangering the ‘fair hope of the motherland’. Hence, we call on the PNoy administration for increased investment in and partnership with in the youth, which is an essential element of national development.
Invest more in the education and employment of the youth
We laud the administration’s initial initiatives in increasing the budget for education, developing the K-12 program aimed at improving the quality of primary and secondary education, the provision of conditional cash transfer program as a stop-gap measure, and the creation of a task force for students’ rights and welfare with the National Youth Commission.
However, much more is to be desired. The number of out of school youth, now at 12.4 million, has been increasing. The quality of Philippine education consistently lags behind in comparison to Asian neighbors. Despite the increase in education budget allocation, it still remains far from the desirable level of public investment in education, which is pegged at 6 per cent of the country’s GNP and 20 per cent of total public expenditure, or the Delor’s standard.
The Aquino administration should work more on these strategic issues for us to move forward and ensure education for all, through: (1) improving education governance at the local levels, (2) ensuring education budget transparency and accountability from planning to implementation monitoring; (3) improving and expanding alternative learning programs targeting the out of school youth; (4) investment on educational infrastructure – conducive classrooms, up-to-date books and laboratory facilities, including continuing teacher training programs. Furthermore, an overall environment for learning, free of discrimination and students’ rights violation, is of critical importance. We call on the PNoy and Congress for the enactment of the Students Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Bill, which has been in Congress for almost 15 years.
Along with greater access and quality of education, youth unemployment and underemployment pose great challenge for young people. About 50% of youth ages 18-24 are unemployed, according to the Institute for Labor Studies (ILS). While, college graduates land in call centers or seek greener pastures abroad, still below their level of education. There is a need to address job mismatches, strengthen career guidance and school and job transition mechanisms, while not compromising the true purpose of education, which is holistic development and empowerment.
Neoliberal economic policies have failed and continue to fail in providing decent jobs for young people, the case in the European crisis where up to 50-60% unemployment in Spain and Greece mirrors this sad reality. PNoy administration should develop a strong local economy, focusing on the agricultural sector where more jobs can be generated with sufficient government support and intervention in reviving this industry. Social entrepreneurship should be developed and vigorously supported as additional support to local economy.
Stop-gap and safety net measures for the unemployed should be put in place while a more comprehensive employment program is developed through multi-stake holders dialogs. We share in the PNoy administration’s dream of working abroad as more of a choice than a necessity. However, the present case – the exploitation of the flight of overseas Filipino workers- needs much attention, especially women.
Corporate greed as manifested in cutting of and outsourcing of jobs, preventing permanent and secure tenure, increasing precarious jobs, should be cut and uprooted. We call for the immediate passage of the Security of Tenure Bill and reforms for the provision of deserved benefits and pension for workers.
Invest more in the health of the youth
The numbers on health is embarrassing and alarming: (1) an average of eleven maternal deaths per day; (2) staggering rise in the number of teenage pregnancies according to the UN Population fund report; and, (3) the steady rise of HIV-AIDS cases – from one new case in every three days in 2000 to one new case every three hours in 2011.
The enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill is an imperative for our generation and generation of Filipinos to come. The debates have been exhausted; 70% of the population remains steadfastly in need of RH.
We see that this is only a matter of political will. The same political will in ushering in the resolution for the passage of the Sin Tax Reform Bill. We rally behind the government’s effort in ensuring that sin products – alcohol and cigarette – are less and to a greater extent inaccessible to young people. Efficient implementation of Sin Tax will not only lessen young people’s access to these products, it will also lessen government expenses of alcohol and cigarette caused diseases and generate additional resources which can be allocated for reproductive health and universal health care.
Enacting the Reproductive Health Bill and the Sin Tax Reform Bill should come towards developing a program for universal access to health care.
Invest more in the environment
We believe that the issue on environment should also be included in the Aquino administration’s platform for economic development. It is important to take into account the protection and conservation of the environment towards achieving food security and sustainable development necessary for national development, ultimately essential to have a positive future for our country. Hence, the youth call on the Aquino administration to invest more in the protection and conservation of the environment.
Specifically, the youth urge the PNoy administration to put an end to the liberalization and aggressive promotion of mining industry by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and instead enact the Minerals Management Bill. Mining is one of the most disastrous industries for it does not only destroy the environment but harm the health and livelihood of the people living near a mining area as well. Furthermore, the youth calls on the president to invest more in infrastructures and other physical requirements necessary for climate change adaptation as the climate change problem continues to heighten up.
Invest more in the participation of the youth
Young people should not only be beneficiaries of the government programs and policies, they first should also be partners of government in developing and monitoring them.
We laud the strengthening for such mechanisms as the Local Youth Development Council, ensuring broadest and genuine Basic Sectors participation in the National Anti-Poverty Commission, re-prioritizing of marginalized youth sectors of the National Youth Commission, and the opening up of the Department of Budget and Management in the deliberations of budget allocations for state universities and colleges (SUCs). In the same line, we commend the openness of the Department of Interior and Local Government in dialogs towards reforming the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK).
We now call on Congress and PNoy to support the passage of the consolidated SK Reform and Empowerment Bill which will ensure the end on extending political dynasties in SK, greater budget autonomy, transparency and accountability. It is an affirmation of the Constitutional provision for youth participation in governance and nation building.
We expect the PNoy administration to continue consultations and partnerships with youth organizations in addressing our issues and concern. This ensures training and development of young people, sustainability and ownership of youth programs and policies.
Investment in the youth is an investment in the future
On the second half of the president’s term, we will march forward to more reform initiatives that would guarantee accessible and of good quality education for all and improved and inclusive health care program and facilities. We will march forward to more initiatives of opening wider democratic spaces and avenues for political participation of the youth as well as efforts for the protection of the environment and climate change adaptation.
We call on the PNoy administration for greater investment in and partnership with young people. We will match these investments with greater vigilance and increased critical engagement of young people with the government.
These joint investments for the youth and of the youth are most appropriate and needed now. It will reap greater fruits for steering the country from its past of corruption and impunity, to a present of development, and a greater future for the Filipino people planted now. ###
A unity statement of Akbayan Youth (AY), Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), First Time Voters Network (FTV), Students Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Coalition, and SK Reform Coalition on President Aquino’s 3rd State of the Nation Address.