Open Letter: #PopeFrancis, hear the Filipino youth’s story

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January 14, 2015

Dear Pope Francis,

We, the Filipino youth welcomes with joy, justice, peace, and love His Holiness Pope Francis to the Philippines. Your writings and teachings inspire us to offer and commit ourselves to selfless and meaningful service to our fellow people, most especially the oppressed and the marginalized.

The Pope’s pronouncements for the poor are like manna that replenish our soul to continue our struggle for the poor and the oppressed. Thus, we were all passionate and jubilant when the news came that you will come visit our country this January. However, as much as we want to meet you in person and share to you our country’s realities and struggles, we won’t be able to do that, for it is the Philippine government that decides who will participate in the activities during your visit. It is in this context that we are writing to you, dear Holy Father, to share our struggles and the social realities that confront us each day.

No words can fully describe the magnitude of poverty in our country. While nearly every administration since the founding of the Philippine Republic has been quick to praise itself for stalwart economic management, growth has mostly been confined to the upper classes and their businesses, and has rarely, if ever, resulted in the creation of real, long-lasting, decent-paying jobs on the ground. The national economy, geared as it is toward foreign markets and dependent on foreign investments and overseas Filipino remittances, has failed to develop thriving local industries. Nor has growth been inclusive. Profits of major corporations and CEO bonuses have soared while workers’ real wages have stagnated or declined over the decades.

In a recent interview with Italian paper La Stampa, His Holiness has correctly pointed out the existence of youths all over the world who are “neither working nor studying.” This is a prevalent situation in the Philippines.

Education has become a privilege rather than a right in our nation. Soaring tuition rates, coupled with the high cost of living, has made it close to impossible for many Filipino students to finish schooling. This situation has even been further aggravated by several government policies including the deregulated nature of tuition and other fees, dwindling state funding to public education, and anti-student policies such as the “no late payment” and “no permit, no examination” policy. These policies have hindered the youth from finishing school, and forced our families to work long hours just to get by.

Repressive labor policies from deregulation to contractualization have also left workers in vulnerable straits, unable to find decent employment should their contracts expire. Official government figures show that the combined ranks of the jobless and underemployed – some 10-12 million Filipinos of working age – today make up 11 percent of the country’s total population. The youth comprises half of this figure.

While prices of basic commodities, including food, health services, and transportation continue to rise, our wages as young workers and employees remain miniscule and below living standards. The minimum wage in our country – 456 Philippine pesos – is less than half of the actual amount needed to have a decent life. Wages and salaries remain unchanged for years despite the roaring inflation, with the government content on knowing that our nation remains to be one of the major sources of cheap labor for the global economy.

Meanwhile, the youth in the countryside and the provinces continually suffer from landlessness and backward agricultural processes, a situation perpetuated by landlords who have remained vastly powerful both politically and economically. While a third – or about 9.7 million hectares of land – in the Philippines is agricultural, 70 percent of farmers still do not own the land they work on. The poorest sectors of Philippine society include small farmers and fisherfolk. Philippine agriculture is also the least mechanized in Southeast Asia, with the lowest subsidies for small farmers.

Inequality in the countryside is further aggravated by the sustained militarization campaigns of the government. Communities and schools in the farthest reaches of the Philippines are being used as garrisons, with many of our school children taking their classes under the shadow of imminent gunfire.

In cities, urban poor communities creep in the shadows of high-rise buildings, a testament to the huge gap between the poor and the rich. Urban poor communities, where many young workers and students reside, face threats of demolition on a daily basis.

Any mention of national development is incomplete without mentioning the full spectrum of civil, political, social and economic rights that should be guaranteed to all citizens regardless of class, status, religion, ethnicity or political inclination. Yet human rights in the government’s development plans are noted only in passing, and while the administration pays lip service to ‘’inclusive growth,” the facts on the ground speak of a different reality. Human rights defenders, trade unionists and activists of all stripes have long been assaulted on all fronts for their work. Over a thousand cases of human rights violations have been recorded by human rights groups under Benigno Aquino III’s presidency. Over 400 political prisoners remain behind bars, with over 150 arrested under the current administration, many of them youth organizers and leaders.

Despite being a nation frequented by natural calamities, our nation has also remained vastly unprepared for such disasters. Our government has consistently shown its incompetence and utter neglect of the youth and people that suffered from recent typhoons, including Typhoon Haiyan. While state officials may show His Holiness a picturesque view of improvement and rehabilitation, they will most probably block you from seeing schools that remain without roofs, families still living in tents, and the depressing upshot of prostitution for food in some of the remotest areas of the Visayas and Mindanao regions.

This is the real story of the Filipino youth. This is the situation that the government will surely fail to show you, our dearest Pope. For while government officials regale you with stories of the nation’s supposed recovery, they will surely fail to tell you how the government itself is steeped in corruption. Our leaders themselves may paint a rosy picture of development, but they will fail to say that in recent years, the youth has actually resisted and fought against their corrupt practices that further undermined the Filipino people.

We are narrating to you our plight in the hope that you will help us and stand with us. When you spoke to the youth in Brazil, urging us “to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide, to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary,” we took your words and engraved it in our hearts. When you told us “to learn to be on the side of the poor, and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor,” we made it our marching call. Many of us that are writing to you are community organizers, youth leaders, and activists who have dedicated our lives in service of the Filipino people, in the hope that the youth can truly make a change.

Thus we humbly turn to you, Pope Francis, for help and guidance. May you stand with us as we continue the fight against this system of waste, this system that has left the youth to the clutches of poverty and hunger. As you visit our country, may His Holiness not only encourage the Filipino youth to continue the struggle for a better future, but also share to the world the plight of the Filipino people.

Help us, dear Pope, as we battle against inequality, as we fight for education, better social services, and for peace and unity in our nation fraught with war. May your blessed presence guide our leaders into ironing issues rocking the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and also spur the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Help us achieve just and lasting peace by compelling the Aquino administration to honor its agreements with rebel forces, and addressing the roots of the ongoing Philippine insurgencies – which is societal inequality brought about by the current system that puts profit above people.

Journey with us, Pope Francis, just as Christ our Lord journeyed with the first Christians, and together, let us change the course of history. Together, let us live up to the words of Christ: “Faith without work is dead (James 2:14-26).” Stand with us, dear Pope, and together, let us spread the true meaning of mercy and compassion, and let us fill our nation and the world with the light of the Living Faith.

Yours in Christ,

Student Christian Movement of the Philippines

League of Filipino Students

National Union of Students of the Philippines

College Editors Guild of the Philippines

Anakbayan (Sons and Daughters of the Nation)

Kabataan Partylist (Youth Party)

Kabataang Artista Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan (Youth Artists for Genuine Democracy)

Youth Act Now Against Corruption

4 thoughts on “Open Letter: #PopeFrancis, hear the Filipino youth’s story

  1. seems like congrats are in order (baby):). may the fine parents always strive to prove themselves worthy of the precious newcomer:).
    read your other post about street dwellers(?) being taken away for the pope’s visit, can’t find it now, but it doesn’t fool any visitor to the pinas.
    was saddened but not help admitting the truth of the main observation of a teenage student who accompanied the French pres on his visit to the pinas when she was interviewed for the radio: ‘yes, we were lodged in a nice hotel with nice gardens, etc, but one can’t help seeing the slums anyway, and the degree of deforestation from the plane’.
    seems to me that waiting for pinas politics or society to change for the good is a bit like waiting for godot, is it going to happen or not at all, and in whose lifetime? perhaps much better for the youth to take their destinies in their own hands, move ahead, and not dwell too much on politics. may seem defeatist, but as far as i can see from how two generations before me described things in the pinas, mura ba’g kanang sinulog nga step, one forward, two backward.

    • Thank you, Ibbie. Glad to hear from you. Hope you’re doing fine.

      As for not dwelling on politics, doing so would only leave the field in the hands of those who would want to prevent the majority from taking their destinies in their own hands.

  2. still alive, thanks:).
    i guess you’re right, it has to start somewhere.
    been browsing thru quite a number of blogs by pinoys and pinays of your age, i think the problem is, the pinoy youth equate a good or better life with being able to go around malls, go on so called ‘foodie’ trips, having electronic gadgets, in short, access to commercial goods, that’s all.

    thus they get fooled into thinking that things are getting better in the country because they have this lifestyle of consumption that their parents (supposedly) didn’t have.

    what they don’t realize is that:
    *in the time of their parents, even high school or grade school graduates could have good jobs even in the pinas. nowadays, people with hard-earned diplomas from the best universities and colleges end up having jobs that used to be done by high school graduates before (receptionists, sales representatives, department store employees, etc). having said that, education, especially college/university education is still the key to the youth liberating themselves, if only so as not to be easily fooled by what they hear or read.

    *the vicious cycle of consumption only serves to enrich the commercial classes who refuse to pay their employees proper wages. a gay friend of mine insists on going binge shopping in the pinas everytime he goes home because of course binge shopping abroad is quite unaffordable. until he got into a conversation with some cashier and sales girls in some department store and he realized that they worked for meager wages under more terrible conditions (long hours, unpaid sick leave) than him, who like me, works as a domestic worker. he has shifted to divisoria in the meantime, like a lot of european spouses of pinays who are conscious that in doing so, money goes directly to the lower classes instead of passing thru those who keep the profits for themselves.

    which is why i do not particularly seek out pinoy goods when i go to an asian shop. because i ask myself, are the profits of these goods going to be shared with the employees or is it simply going to enrich these pinoy corporations to an extent where they have absolute dictatorships over their employees. this is not a shallow statement as i’ve been in a language class with a pinay negociante who freely admitted to our other classmates, even to the point of bragging perhaps to emphasize that she supposedly belonged to a different (read superior) class than me:) not only here (as she’s married to a local and doesnt have to work for her keep) but back home as well, that she’d been already jailed a few times (in the marcos times perhaps, as i dont think any succeeding president has dared tackle the negociante class) for unfair labor practices in their family-owned business.

    *finally, the youth don’t quite realize or refuse to realize that the percentage of people being to afford a comfortable lifestyle is getting smaller and smaller. and that the competition for decent jobs, being already rough elsewhere, is going to be much rougher locally. i’ve heard former classmates talk of how robberies, street dwellers, and drug abuse have increased in once formerly sleepy towns and cities, sure signs of the increase in jobless rates.

    the former generations may not have practiced as musch conspicous consumption as the pinoy youth nowadays but only because these goods available now were simply not there before. but perhaps the generation of their parents could better afford to bring up their children decently (i think of sari-sari store owners who could manage to send 5 kids thru university) whereas two-income families nowadays already have problems at the grade school level of their kids.

    they don’t see it but the conspicous consumption of the better-off pinoy youth today only leads them to an essentially boring existence such as may be found in the american middle-class suburbs, this being their main model for what a better life is. as unconsciously or consciously confessed by one pinay blogger from manila who’s a ‘foodie’ because she stuffs herself whenever she gets bored (which is probably often).

    as the French ecolo (or German?, as he’s actually active in France) politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit says:
    Nous voulons un monde nouveau et original. Nous refusons un monde où la certitude de ne pas mourir de faim s’échange contre le risque de périr d’ennui.
    very rough translation –
    We want a new and original(?;( can’t translate better) world. We don’t want a world where the certainty of not dying of hunger is exchanged for the risk of dying of boredom. (LOL.)

    here’s wishing you and your circle interesting times ahead:). whatever you do, may you not have to stuff your stomach because you lack things to stuff your brain.

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