ANTIQUE, Philippines – Despite the demands of schoolwork, students are not just standing on the sidelines this election season, volunteering to campaign on the ground for the candidates they believe in.
In the province of Antique, this spirit of volunteerism is on full display, with youth volunteers going as far as crossing rivers and rice paddies to visit far-flung barangays, rain or shine, just to campaign for their chosen bets.
Yearning for change
Youth volunteer Psalms Matthew Saligumba said that there is a lot at stake in the coming election.
“Kami ang manubli sa kung ano ang matabo sa kadya. Kami ang pinaka-apektado gid sa kung ano matabo sa eleksyon,” he said. (We will be the ones who will bear the results of the election. It is going to affect us the most.)
Saligumba, who is actively campaigning for presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan, believes that the youth will benefit the most if the Leni-Kiko tandem wins the election.
However, he emphasized he is not just campaigning for Robredo and Pangilinan. “I am campaigning for good governance, transparency, and accountability in government,” he said.
Fellow youth volunteer Carla Aquino agreed with Saligumba, saying they are campaigning for the brand of leadership Robredo and Pangilinan represent, particularly their dedication to serving and taking care of people’s welfare.
These youth volunteers have to juggle multiple responsibilities alongside their campaign work. Things are getting more hectic, especially as they have to cover a number of barangays in the homestretch of the campaign.
Saligumba, a graduating high school student, said he wants to participate in house-to-house campaigns every day, but he needs to also attend to his schoolwork and his household responsibilities.
Youth volunteer Carlo Eric Villas said he would sometimes attend his online classes while doing volunteer work.
“I could not fully pay attention to the lecture, but I do study and review at night so that I would not be left behind,” he said.
They plan out their days for campaigns, school work, and household chores in advance, making sure they fulfill all their commitments.
Struggles on the campaign trail
On-the-ground struggles are another subject matter.
Going to different barangays requires funds to sustain their campaign activities. When funds are limited they spend their own money and chip in, even though they do not have a stable income.
“For example, si amo dya mabakal kang tubig, tana sa pamasahe. Kung sino ang may extra nga kwarta, anda lang anay nga kwarta. Sanda lang anay ma-shoulder kag if ever nga may budget sa sunod, i-reimburse lang,” said Saligumba.
(Somebody will buy water and another will pay for the fare. Volunteers who have extra money will be the ones to shoulder the costs and if ever there is a budget in the fund, they will be reimbursed.)
However, he said that a simple ‘thank you’ from people – especially senior citizens, children, and those who have been visited by volunteers for the first time during their engagements – make their arduous work fulfilling.
On some occasions, people would invite the volunteers into to their homes and offer them food and water.
“Kung mag-campaign kami sa barangay, kag nakita nanda kami nga ga-volunteer para sa kandidato, sanda mismo gapanghagad nga manahaw, gapadara ka manga, ka butung ka niyog, kag sandiya,” Robredo People’s Council (RPC) Antique youth coordinator Tony Boy Alcantara shared with enthusiasm.
(When people in the barangays see that we are campaigning, they invite us to have snacks with them. They have given us mangoes, coconuts, and watermelons.)
Some people, meanwhile, underestimate the volunteers, even ignoring and dismissing their efforts.
”Ang panuruk kang mga taho bala, hindi kaw pa well experienced or panuruk kang mga taho na-into lang ikaw kay amo ra gani student kaw pa, wara kaw pa ti experiences sa mga politika,” Saligumba expressed.
(People look at us as if we are misled and are not well-versed in politics because we are just students.)
Alcantara added that they have also experienced being turned down by barangay officials. Some would politely decline but some were aggressive.
“Nangampanya kami sa sangka barangay, ginhambalan kami nga malayas kay lain ang gina supportahan nanda nga kandidato,” he said.
(We went to a barangay and they told us to go away because they were supporting a different candidate.)
Nevertheless, the youth volunteers continue to go out of their comfort zones to stand up for what they believe in.
“We do not feel discouraged because we know our history. We believe that our age is not a barrier for us to speak the truth and do justice to the sacrifices of those who selflessly fought against tyranny,” Villas added.
For people and country
Despite the challenges, the youth volunteers are grateful for their experience.
“You see the passion and eagerness of volunteers of different ages campaigning for their country,” said Aquino.
They were able to form new connections and learn new lessons during the campaign period.
According to Alcantara, he feels delighted because even in this age of misinformation and disinformation, there are still people who stand up for what is right.
“Working on the ground is far different from campaigning on social media because you get to know people. You see their situation, you hear them first-hand, and you see and feel their sentiments,” said Aquino
Villas said that engaging people who firmly believed in other candidates was their way of practicing “radical love.” He was able to connect and build rapport with different kinds of people he met along the way.
“They are not your enemy, [they are] part of what you are fighting for,” he continued.
On top of that, Saligumba pointed out the power of young people.
“Once nga ga-unite ang mga youth, duro duro gid kami maubra, duro gid kami mabuligan para sa kapwa namun nga mga taho kag sa bansa mismo. May dyan gid nga mga kabataan nga naga-intra, tumitindig, at lumalaban kag nagatinguha nga bag-uhon ang systema nga kami nga mga kabataan ang mag-benefit,” Saligumba said.
(The youth can do a lot of things if we are united. We can help a lot of people, because there are young people who are standing up and fighting to change the system, so that we can all benefit from it in the long run.)
The youth volunteer is looking forward to the time when the country will be truly united. He is hoping the government will be able to give a platform so that the concerns of the youth will be heard.
“Hindi natun paglipatan kung sa diin kita nag halin kag dapat iririmaw kita sa pag-decide sa atun nga pungsod,” he added.
(We should not forget where we came from and we should be united in deciding for our country.) – Rappler.com
Marie Andrea Pefianco is a Rappler Mover in Antique.