youth activism

[OPINION] The youth of the Philippines vs Secretary Lorenzana

Jayeel Cornelio
[OPINION] The youth of the Philippines vs Secretary Lorenzana

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'In spite of the social media backlash on Secretary Lorenzana, the disheartening reality is that the public is on his side. Here’s why.'

The Philippine Secretary of Defense is waging a war that is not only unnecessary, but is also a waste of time and resources in the middle of an already exhausting fight against COVID-19.

This makes Secretary Lorenzana a disappointing figure.

Nothing is of course surprising with his statements. This administration has mastered the art of creating enemies where none exists. In the words of Etta Rosales, who herself suffered under Martial Law, “since Duterte cannot govern democratically, he has to create an enemy to justify the use of force.”

For Lorenzana, the decision to terminate his department’s 1989 agreement with UP is justified. 

In his view, the agreement, which barred the police and the military from entering any of the latter’s campuses without approval, is no longer sensible. On his Twitter account, he claims that the move is “not meant to restrict freedom…. This is us taking a step forward to strengthen our fight against the enemies and protect the UP community.” 

In spite of the social media backlash on Secretary Lorenzana, the disheartening reality is that the public is on his side. Here’s why.

Satisfied with the military

The first point is that the military enjoys the confidence of the public. 

At the end of 2019, 79% of Filipinos — an overwhelming majority — expressed satisfaction with the AFP’s performance. The military’s satisfaction ratings were not only higher than that of the PNP. It had also been steadily rising since 2015.

The same survey, run by SWS and partially sponsored by the military, also revealed the massive public confidence in the AFP to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA). 79% of Filipinos had “much confidence” that the AFP could beat them. 

The many reforms that the AFP have been carrying out over the years has clearly paid off. 

Based on his research in conflict areas in Mindanao, JC Espesor documents the work of the military in partnership with NGOs for peacebuilding. He concludes that “the contributions of the miltary to socioeconomic and relief and rescue operations during complex emergencies in Mindanao are helpful in gradually changing the negative perceptions held by people in conflict zones.”

Youth as troublemakers

It does not help too that the state renders politically engaged youths as its enemies — especially the organized ones who are vocal, critical, and active. 

In 2018, I wrote a piece about youth as troublemakers. In the eyes of this administration, they are in state universities like UP and PUP because of taxpayers. Thus they should instead be thankful for the opportunities they have.

In this view, that they are attracted to the communist movement is a betrayal; they are ungrateful troublemakers. 

Once again, Secretary Lorenzana turns to Twitter to claim that the “country’s premier state university has become a safe haven for enemies of the state. The Department of National Defense will neither renege nor shirk on its duty to protect the rights of the majority.”

This statement is disconcerting. 

As a professor, I find so much joy whenever my students ask the hardest questions in search of the most unpopular answers. I may not agree with everything they say, but at the very least they are asking tough questions. To discover wisdom, after all, is what university education is about.

What this administration does, by contrast, negates the wisdom they could find for themselves and offer to our society.

Indeed, this administration is most happy with unthinking subservience to the President – like the Duterte Youth, who are more interested in policing their peers than in defending them. 

The youth vs Lorenzana

The recent turn of events is not just about academic freedom. Nor is it just about UP, PUP, or any other state university.

This is about the future of our young people and what they can do as critical citizens who will demand accountability especially from those in power. 

This is why the battle is ultimately between the youth of the Philippines and Secretary Lorenzana.

Regrettably, this regime has rendered the space for protest and accountability much smaller. It sows fear but it also infantilizes our youth.

Sonia Soto, who was the signatory to the Soto-Enrile accord in 1982, minces no words: “Democratic rights are not given to us on a silver platter. You always have to fight for them. Inaaruga mo.”

This is therefore not the time to leave our young people alone. Their idealism is worth fighting for if only because the adults who are now in power have lost it. –

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development  Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist of the National Academy of Science and Technology. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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