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Youth leaders participating in the Arangkada: Youth Leaders Summit 2023 are writing their collective commitments on a tarpaulin with a jeepney graphic.
Nothing about us, without us. Youth leaders declared their commitments and calls towards more meaningful participation in democratic governance during the Arangkada: Youth Leaders Summit 2023 in Cebu City.

“Nothing about us, without us.”

This is the concluding call of the 1,000 Filipino youth leaders to the government, private sector, and civil society to ensure young people’s meaningful participation in democratic governance at the Arangkada: Youth Leaders’ Summit 2023 held in September in Cebu City.

Anchored on the Philippine Youth Development Plan (PYDP) 2023-2028, the youth leaders bared their collective commitments and calls for greater involvement in addressing various economic, political, social, and cultural inequalities and injustices in the country, dubbing it as the “Declaration of Youth Participation in Democratic Governance in the Philippines.”

Arangkada (accelerate) 2023 was implemented by the Youth Leadership for Democracy (YouthLed) in partnership with the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. to foster collaborative engagement, upskilling, and strengthening of youth networks across the country; providing more enabling spaces that inspire youth participation in democratic governance. Its theme “Gearing Towards Sustainable Coalitions” aptly captures this vision.

The changing face of youth active participation

The Philippines has a long history of youth active participation. From the First Quarter Storm in the 1970s, to the People Power Revolution in 1986, to today’s hashtag campaigns online such as ‘#AbanteBabae’ to advance women empowerment, ‘#NeverForget’ to remember the injustices during the Marial Law period, and most recently, ‘#DragIsNotACrime’ to stand up for the rights of drag queens to express themselves and their views, we continue to feel the youth’s vibrant presence and their continuous advocacy for causes that matter to them. 

According to the 2021 National Youth Survey, the youth’s expression of participation today is shaped by technology, specifically by social media and online campaigns. With 97% having access to at least one social media account, it is no wonder that more than a half of youth surveyed (60%) have liked or shared political or social posts on social media. 

Prince Harvey Arellano, a Sultan Kudarat-based youth leader and a summit participant, described a more involved participation of the youth in democratic governance.

“We’ve seen youth participate in different forms of democratic governance such as through elections. We’ve seen that effect especially now in the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections in which we are able to take up space in government and not just remain as bystanders,” Arellano shared.

Prince Harvey Arellano, a youth leader from LUPAD coalition, is at the summit podium holding a microphone presenting the youth declaration.
Prince Harvey Arellano, a youth leader from LUPAD coalition, presented the youth’s collective commitment towards engaging in policy reforms that foster inclusion of voices in the margins.

This year’s summit captured the momentum young Filipinos have gained through time, learning from the shared herstories and histories that generations have experienced. The youth’s expressions of participation may have changed, now complemented by technology, but the calls never wavered especially with systemic issues continuing to persist.

First presentation to the Youth of the Philippine Youth Development Plan

This year’s summit holds paramount importance as it introduced the new PYDP to the public for the first time. During NYC Commissioner Reena Pineda’s presentation, she shared the NYC’s ‘10 Centers of Participation,’ identifying key priority areas where the Commission will focus its efforts in the next five years to bolster youth development: (1) Health; (2) Education; (3) Economic Empowerment; (4) Social Inclusion and Equity; (5) Peace building and Security; (6) Governance; (7) Active Citizenship; (8) Environment; (9) Global Mobility; and (10) Agriculture.

As part of its partnership support to the NYC, YouthLed then designed the summit to localize the new PYDP, zooming in on each center of participation and facilitating conversations that deepened the participants’ knowledge on issues and triggered entry points for participation.

Kim Aira Resuma, a summit participant from the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities (FAITH) Colleges, wrote a note in her notebook towards the end of the Social Inclusion and Equity session capturing her key takeaway, “Sa bawat pag-arangkada, dapat kasama ang mga bata.” [“Every time we accelerate, the youth need to be included.”] 

She shared that the youth’s contributions are often belittled because of their age, but the eagerness and active participation of the youth she witnessed in Cebu proved otherwise.

The breakout sessions also encouraged the participants to leverage existing regional and issue-based coalitions. This is to further amplify the youth’s voices and efforts, strengthening their position, as NYC puts it, as Kaagapay sa Kaunlaran [partner or ally in nation-building].

Arellano, who is also a member of the Leaders United for Progressive Advocacies in Davao-SOCCSKSARGEN (LUPAD) youth coalition, pointed, “With the presence of the youth organizations and coalitions, [the NYC] can expand their reach. They can expand the mobilization of their activities.” 

The NYC’s areas of focus also resonate with more youth as seen in YouthLed’s Local Youth Assemblies conducted in 51 provinces across the nation, with more than 3,400 participating youth leaders, each representing at least one organization.

A group of youth leaders discussing the priority issues that affect the youth sector in their region.
Collaboration at work. Youth leaders during the Arangkada: Youth Leaders Summit 2023 collectively identified priority issues that affect the youth sector in their communities.

This tells us that today’s issues have never been more felt by the youth. But to address the issues of the youth, they must also be at the driver’s seat steering the wheel.

“We must give importance to the vital role of youth in all of their diversity and other stakeholders in social change and development in both formal and informal spaces of engagement,” the youth stated in their declaration.

Towards a shared destination

At the beginning of Comm. Pineda’s keynote, she asked all participants to close their eyes and imagine the Philippines they wish to see in the future. She then requested all the participants to hold on to their visions and deeply ingrain them into their hearts.

“A fairer, more equitable, and just society” – this is how the youth responded and described their collective vision — further concretized by their eight-point declaration, committing to active and constructive engagement in democratic governance.

Mahatma Sangacala, one of the members of the declaration’s technical working group and a YouthLed Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) Fellow, shared that writing the declaration with fellow youth leaders means a lot to him, “It is an opportunity to incorporate my experience, and the data I have from the times I engaged in grassroots areas. It is a responsibility to our nation, the declaration contains the oath, the promise of those 1,000 youth in the summit to fulfill.”

With the direction set, the next step is to sustain the momentum of the youth. The summit has provided the space to enable more youth leaders to participate and foster partnerships between and among themselves. Toolkits on approaches such as deliberative democracy have also been launched to guide youth leaders as they engage communities. 

Beyond the summit, YouthLed has also began supporting projects of youth organizations through a grant facility called the IGNITE Grants, mobilizing nearly P12.3 million in grant funding to support initiatives that strengthen youth participation in democratic governance.

The project is also monitoring the journeys of 277 youth leaders who vied for a position in their barangays during the recent local elections, inspired by the various leadership training YouthLed has facilitated for them. 

For Resuma, she plans to echo the lessons she learned to other students through their Sibika Hub where she had spearheaded various civic education and engagement activities. Arellano, on the other hand, also shared that LUPAD plans to continue expanding their membership base and identify the advocacies and strengths of the organizations they will engage.

Arangkada is not simply a theme of this year’s summit but a declaration in itself – that the youth is no longer making any U-turns, only accelerating to a path forward.

“The future is here. And those decision-making bodies, we also see ourselves among them. The hope for the future is here, we are here,” Sangacala highlighted.

The Youth Leadership for Democracy (YouthLed) is a youth-focused project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Asia Foundation that aims to increase civic engagement among Filipino youth, leading to their strengthened participation in democratic governance.

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