Social Change: Karlo Mongaya says ‘start young’

A feature article about me came out in the Iloilo-based daily The News Today the other week. This is the text.

Karlo Mongaya says ‘start young’

By Kathy M. Villalon

The Philippines’ cultural, economic and political systems that don’t work continue to happen because of apathy. It is a state wherein despite poverty and other forms of injustice, citizens are already resigned to it because of one reason – fear of going out of one’s comfort zone.

A person has a tendency to avoid conflicts that normally arise when one attempts to change the system because of fear of being labelled as crazy, subversive or kill joy or the loss of one’s security.

“It is not new for people who are immersed in an unjust system to become resigned to the reality of domination. It is all too common to see someone enraged about an injustice but still feel incapable of taking action to liberate themselves,” according to Karlo Mikhail Mongaya, Panay spokesperson of the lone youth party in the Philippine Congress, Kabataan Partylist and its fourth nominee for the 2013 elections.

I can still remember the time when I was still a college student at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas where Mongaya graduated Bachelor of Arts in Literature-Management in 2011, we often joined in rallies to protest tuition fee and oil price hikes and demand for wage increases for teachers and labourers. As we graduated from school, some continued the fight for change while some of us just got lost in the established system.

Mongaya believes that the passion for change starts during a person’s younger years.

“In general, young people are naturally inclined to be more idealistic, sensitive to injustices, optimistic about change, and open to radical ideas,” Mongaya said.

But he emphasized that there is “no bright future for this generation if the present rotten system and all its defects persists, if the youth will not be involved the struggle for social change.”

He added that since the youth has the most time and at their prime physical condition, they are at the best age to serve the people.

“In particular, it was my involvement in progressive activist groups during my college years in the University of the Philippines Visayas that exposed me to social realities of the oppression and exploitation of ordinary workers, peasants, urban poor, and other marginalized sectors,” he said.

He was Chairperson of the UPV Cebu Student Council in 2006-2007 and National Vice Chairperson of Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (the national alliance of student councils in UP) in 2005- 2006.

“My parents’ and their old friends’ stories about their involvement in the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement during their younger years also made me more receptive to activist discourse when I entered the university,” he added.

Mongaya said that what really opened his eyes to reality was his immersion with the working class, urban poor, fisherfolk, ‘tumandok’ or peasant communities for days, weeks or months.


Mongaya said he was inspired by the “life of Edgar Jopson, among many other progressive leaders and thinkers in the Philippines and around the world.

“Edgar Jopson or Edjop graduated valedictorian of the exclusive school Ateneo de Manila. The son of a local business scion, he was also a traditional student leader, and had all the ingredients for a successful career in whatever mainstream field he may have chosen to pursue.

But instead of climbing the career ladder, Edjop chose the less-travelled path of organizing the peasants, workers, and other marginalized sectors for change at the height of Martial Law. Edjop died brutally in the hands of the military but his shining example lives on,” Mongaya said.


Now that Mongaya is following Jopson’s footsteps, has anyone ever called him a subversive?

“Nobody ever told me that in my face yet. But, yes, my organization, Kabataan Party-list has been labeled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a communist-front organization and recruiter of NPAs on several occasions,” he said.

“These malicious accusations have been used to justify illegal arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights violations against the leaders, members, and supporters of progressive groups and parties like Kabataan,” he added.

“There is nothing wrong with being active in asserting for one’s rights, especially in these times of the worsening national situation, oil price and other fees hikes, spiraling tuition increases, education budget cuts, and growing joblessness. If fighting for one’s rights is subversive, then to be a subversive is justified,” he stressed.

Isn’t he afraid that what happened to Jopson will happen to him? I had a talk with his mother Doris at one time and she feared for her son’s safety.

“As a full-time volunteer for Kabataan Party-list, I am always vigilant about security matters, especially with the persistence of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists under Noynoy Aquino’s ‘matuwid na daan’.

But I have never been paranoid. In a society like ours, danger is present everywhere. People die all the time for different reasons. But to serve the people in spite of danger makes your life a life that has been lived fully,” he explained.


On the other hand, Karlo is a normal young person who also has other things he gets busy about.

During his free time, he goes out with his girlfriend Shiela and his friends.When he visits his family in Cebu, he engages his youngest sister in storytelling.

He also loves to read books. “All kinds of books – from the likes of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace to Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed to Filipino short story writer Rosario Cruz Lucero’s Feast and Famine.

One of my favorite books is Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Set on the twin planets of the Earth-like Urras and the Utopian Annares, the novel is a striking critique of the evils of capitalism and a realistic imagining of the challenges faced by a futuristic socialist society,” he explained.

Like everybody else, Mongaya also watches movies. He likes historical films like the Chinese epic Red Cliff, French World War II spy-thriller Les Femmes de l’ombre, or classic Filipino films such as Sister Stella L or Orapronobis. He loves Charlie Chaplin.

A man with a good command of the English language (he was Editor-in-Chief of UPV’s student publication ‘Pagbutlak’ and UPV Campus Journalism Awardee in 2011), Mongaya maintains a blog

He is also the Philippine correspondent for Global Voices Online, an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world. In 2010, he was also a delegate for the said summit in Santiago, Chile.

In parting, this lover of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food, wishes to send this message:

“The truth is, as long as we do not comprehend the causes of oppression, then we tend to become fatalistic, cynical, and passive. Only by involving ourselves in the struggle for social transformation can we liberate ourselves. We cannot fight for our rights alone, neither can others do this for us. Our struggle must be an organized, collective one.”


  1. Wow, I didn’t realize that I was interacting with a significant youth leader just a few moments ago. I wish I have your idealism, but I guess that one wanes as one gets older?

    1. Haha, in fact I don’t recognize myself in this writeup. But to answer your question, not necessarily.

      We have many veterans of the First Quarter Storm and the anti-dictatorship struggles in the 60s, 70s, and 80s who are still active in the mass movement today. While these were the generations who were in their twenties when they defied Marcos, they are now senior citizens. Their example shows that it’s not necessary to lose your idealism when you grow old.

      Well, it’s not too late to start too. With the ever-worsening crisis afflicting the Filipino people and the toiling masses of across the world, it is necessary for the youth and the people to unite and collectively push for social change. :)

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