December 2006
Political Predictions
First Person

Reality bites

This essay was solicited by i Report, the online magazine of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, for its current series on political predictions. The views expressed in the essays included in this series do not necessarily reflect those of the PCIJ or any of its staff members.

“THE FUTURE of this nation is as bright as its bearers — passionate and patriotic young Filipinos ready to take on the reigns of leading the country to its much desired progress…”

How I wish I could write those words and mean them. But as I reflect on how I see the Filipino youth in 2010, there is one feeling that remains: uncertainty.

I remember growing up thinking I could make a difference. And I was not alone. Being a student leader, I got exposed to a plethora of leadership gatherings that made me realize that I was not the only one yearning to help the country. It did not matter that we were not living in Manila, but in agricultural Oriental Negros. We would talk about giving ourselves through service, being active in community pursuits like tutorials, skills training, and other literacy programs. It was such a unified dream: from Manila to the provinces, we, the youth leaders, wanted to see the country back to its glorious form.

Then we grew up and reality set in.

The latest statistics show that 11.6 million of our youth are out of school. Of a hundred students that enroll in Grade 1, only 13 will finish college. The levels of competency and literacy of our high school students have significantly gone down as shown by the dismal results in national achievement tests. And we are talking only about the disturbing state of our education. What about the state of our nation?

Well, no luck there either. We are still facing the same gigantic debt, massive problems of graft and corruption, sluggish justice — these are things we have been stuck with for decades now. And this is the kind of scenario being handed down to the next generation. No wonder many of my peers now wish to leave.

I confess I want to go abroad myself, but only to study and add to my skills as an educator. For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to teach — probably because our family runs a school. As a child, I would always be the teacher whenever we played “pretend.” Now I am finally one, having finished college in 2004. I can’t remember if any of my former playmates shared my passion. But perhaps there were only a few — if at all — because about half of my batch mates in school wound up with nursing degrees. I think many of them aim to work abroad, and I can’t really blame them because they just want a better quality of life than what seems to be achievable here.

Yet it’s really frightening to see many of the best and the brightest leaving our shores, and it makes me think this would later create a big obstacle to our country’s progress. We can always hope that they would return someday and share with us whatever they learned overseas. But 2010 may be too early for that to happen.

Still, maybe our country’s long list of problems is not the only reason for the steady exodus of young (and not-so-young) Filipinos. After all, we have been seeing a change in our set of values — and it’s not for the better. Ours is now a culture where one’s worth is measured by the brand of one’s cell phone, the car one drives, or the name sewn on the back of one’s pants. Relativism and crass materialism: a deadly one-two punch that knocks us into lethargic apathy to issues more pressing than the latest fashion.

THERE ARE times, however, when I think all is not lost. Two days ago, for example, I witnessed a debate among high school students and was amazed by the degree of awareness they had about issues concerning society today. They talked about the rampant “vigilante” problem in our province and the ideas they espoused were breathtaking. I cannot forget what one 15-year-old debater said: “Vigilantism is immoral because we place justice in our hands. But what justice? In this country, how long will it take for us to see justice served?”

I have also seen a burgeoning number of young volunteers making a difference in the lives of people in rural communities through various advocacy programs. They teach values and skills. They build homes and shelters. They provide health care and proper nutrition.

Numerous teens, too, have harvested honors for the country in competitions all over the world in areas of sports, music, and academics among others. Their vibrancy electrifies media, the sports arena, the schools, and their communities.

Countless leadership trainings gave me the privilege to see how young student leaders would pitch in fresh ideas toward nation building and would consequently hear about how they actualized them. It probably helps that we are in the provincial capital, Dumaguete, whose more than six universities keep it humming with intellectual activity.

The problem is, the students’ idealism also remind me of what we used to be back in the day. What they are doing — selflessly committing to the country, attending to communitarian pursuits, doing a myriad of volunteer work — these were the things we also did in the belief that we could make a difference. But where are we now? Most of us are engrossed with coping with the bills. We are focused on making a living. We are fixing personal relationships. But we do not seem to have made a difference outside our own homes, since our country is pretty much in the same situation it was in years ago.

My father, who was once a student leader, recalls a time when they did effect change on those streets in the tumultuous martial law era. Young people then fought, unified by one cause: that of breaking the chains of dictatorship and abuse. Back then, my father also longed for a better quality of life in this country and for a time it looked that he would see that come true. Then, slowly, things went downhill. In a fragile nation still reeling from decades of dictatorial rule, lack of moral ascendancy reared its menacing head. To this day it casts its shadow over us.

I WISH success for my peers who have set their sights on working overseas. But I am also hopeful that with increasing employment opportunities here, maybe fewer young people will leave in the next several years. As it is, we have become beneficiaries of the global trend in outsourcing, with a call center and an editing company establishing businesses just recently here in Dumaguete. If things go well, Dumaguete — and maybe even other places in Oriental Negros — could have several more of such businesses by 2010.

By then I hope I would have been finished with my master’s degree and doing more administrative work, particularly in the guidance program of our school (since my degree is in guidance and counseling). But more than such professional growth, I would like to see myself becoming better in the vocation of teaching — and touching and changing lives.

I have learned well from my parents. My mother is a teacher, too. She came from a poor family, but through sheer hard work, she and her siblings were able to improve their lives. Meanwhile, at 63, my father still coaches our basketball team (which recently became the champion in the City Meet, a tournament among schools in Dumaguete City). He is a devoted educator like my mother, and his influence among students continues well after they graduate.

That’s what I want to emulate as a teacher: create a lasting impact that leads to positive transformation. As a grade-school teacher, I want to instill not only academic skills among my pupils but values as well. It takes more effort but knowing that I made a difference in the life of even one student makes it all worth the work. Survival is not the name of this “game.” Service is.

I know there are other Filipinos my age who think this way, too. Here in Dumaguete and elsewhere, other young people are steadily and continually setting things right. That’s why I believe that our generation can still step up to the plate. A recent study showed that despite all the trouble our country is in, majority of us are still proud to be Filipinos. We have more self-confidence compared to young people from other nations and we get more satisfaction in life. If we can only have an environment that could encourage the youth to focus their energy and talents toward nation-building, perhaps in three years we could get the wheels of a new revolution rolling and make this country great again.

Wishful thinking? Reeking of naiveté? Perhaps. But as one cliché says, it takes just one pebble to form ripples. All we have got to do then is to thrown one. We can contribute by being the best in what we are doing, in whatever profession we are in. And this is exactly what I am trying to do.

If I can’t seem to shake a nagging feeling of uncertainty, it is because of the way things are at present in our country. With leaders saying one thing and doing another, with leakages in licensure examinations, with cheating seemingly integrated in the electoral process, optimism is getting harder to come by even among us youths.

But many of us aren’t about to stop hoping we can help make our country into what we have always known it can be. So don’t count us out just yet.

Lea Janice Remata Sicat is a 5th and 6th grade reading and writing teacher at the ABC Learning Center in Dumaguete City, Oriental Negros. She was one of 2004’s Ten Outstanding Students.