Sunday, January 28, 2007

To all college students in the Philippines, what does the future hold for you upon graduating?

You are in your 3rd or 4th year college. Graduation is within your reach. You can see it. You can smell it. You can taste it. You can even imagine the graduation celebration already. You and twenty of your closest friends or even your whole batch will be at you favorite hangout, your favorite restaurant, drinking, eating, and singing the night away. You will laugh and cry as you reminisce about all the hardships you endured - the all-night sessions of studying for exams, the get-togethers to work on challenging projects, and of course all the drama of puppy love and college romance, the countless break-ups and make-ups. But that’s all behind you now. You made it. You’ve arrived, right? You’ll be joining the ranks of the young professionals, working hard during the day and partying just as hard at night. And as you establish your career, you’ll buy your dream car, the latest cell phone, and every other material thing to satisfy your needs. You’ll get your single or maybe even double unit condo in some newly built high-rise in Quezon City. In the morning, you will wake up with the sun rising over Manila Bay. And at night as you hangout in your terrace, you’ll make a wish at the shooting stars falling across the horizon. You’ll be served from head to toe. Your katulong will have everything done for you. What a beautiful life, right? Yes. But first, let’s go back to your graduation party. As the last balloon falls to the ground, as the last karaoke song softens to its last refrain, and as your mind clears from the effects of San Miguel and tequila, your future comes into view. Bright? No, not quite. In fact, it’s a little dark. You took off the cool sunglasses you’re wearing. Maybe it was the shade. No, it’s still dark and even blurry. You rubbed your eyes just to make sure. Nothing happened. It still looks the same. Getting frustrated, you took a deep breath to sigh. Right then and there, as the diesel-emission-polluted-air fills every alveolar sac in your lungs, the reality hits you. You realized that you’re in the Philippines. Finding a job, let alone getting a good one, will be extremely difficult. With the exception of the privileged few - usually family members of the wealthy clans and/or related and/or well-connected to high-ranking government officials - for many, there is no real future upon graduating from the university. The job market is extremely slim. Most positions requiring a degree have been filled already. And for those that were able to start early, they understand the importance and value of securing a decent job. The opportunity is precious therefore many are employed for the long-run. With the anemic economy, no new jobs are created leaving very little to zero opportunities for those wanting to join the work force. If there are vacant spots available, the odds are too high with so many job-seekers. And because it’s the Philippines, there are social hurdles to overcome for an average person. The policy of who-you-know is in full effect. This is the stark reality that lies ahead for the recent graduates.

For an average person, the thought of having a bright future after getting an education is not a reality in the Philippines. It is not even a possibility. It is only a dream. A dream that can only be achieved if he or she escapes this country of corruption ruled by the most incompetent and self-serving group of people. The hundreds of rapidly expanding enclaves of dengue and malaria-infested and garbage and human excrement-littered slums scattered throughout the country is a sheer reminder of the failures of its previous and present president as the nation continues its gradual, steady decline. For most people, even if educated and skilled, if unable to earn an income due to lack of job opportunities, these slums are eventually their destination. Knowing what life has in store for them in the Philippines already, many Filipinos have made and still continuing the exodus to other countries just to find work. They are driven by the hopes and dreams of improving their life and of their loved ones. And many did find success, providing a much better life for their family. Over the years, the number of Filipinos scattered all over the world has grown to a few millions. Many will come back to the Philippines especially the contract workers in the Middle East. But the majority, those that had immigrated to Australia, Canada, and the United States, has no desire of returning. They can’t be blamed for such choosing. Given the choice of better or worse, naturally anyone will choose the better one. This is a clear conviction of the Philippine government’s continuing failures.
Where is the shame of the government of the Philippines?

Incidentally there is an irony to all these, from having no opportunities to leaving the country and finding success somewhere else. The Filipinos that have found success in other countries are now the ones sustaining the life of the Philippines and its government, the very same country and system that failed them. Annually, tens of billions (in US dollars) worth of remittance are sent the Philippines by Filipinos working and living abroad. It would seem that the Philippines would be highly developed and industrialized when a significant amount of externally-generated revenue is being pumped annually into its economy. This is hardly the case. Instead, the country has remained stagnant with its Third World conditions. The remittance that eventually ends up in the treasury as taxes and fees (and there are many fees collected from Overseas Filipino Workers, OFWs!) is now the main source of booty for the politicians. The Trapos (traditional politicians or soiled cleaning rags), the old-breed of corrupt government officials that Marcos established, are masters of blatantly stealing the country’s money or subtly using it for their own personal benefit. The Trapos have now shared this same practice of quickly acquiring and amassing wealth to the Politistas (actors/singers, artistas-turned politicians, a disturbing trend that was started by Erap Estrada as he emulated Ronald Reagan, a US president who had an early career as an actor and sports broadcaster), the new breed of corrupt government officials but just equally incompetent. The Filipinos abroad that are sending remittance are now perpetuating the appalling conditions in the Philippines. The country is dismal as ever.
Where is the shame of the government of the Philippines?

The legislative election in the Philippines will be held in a few months. This should be a good sign for the Philippines because there is a potential for change in leaderships. But the most troubling aspect of the upcoming election is that the politicians, both incumbents and new candidates, are not offering plans or initiatives to the current problems of the country. They are all making a lot of noise by grandstanding and switching parties and alliances. It’s all about their personal gain, their political career, their chance of getting elected. Nothing is being offered for the betterment of the country. The political parties (and there are many!) have no platform or even some sort of initiative to offer. This shows that none of them has any kind of plan for the country. They all want to be leaders but they do not have a direction to lead or take the country. An equally troubling part to the lack of platform from the political parties is the lack of inquiry from the people or even from the media and the different organizations that supposedly championing changes. Nobody is asking the most basic questions. “What will you do for the country?” “What are your plans to improve the dismal conditions?” “How will you accomplish those plans?” Maybe the people of the Philippines do not know how to ask those questions. Maybe it is too much to ask for the masses, ang masa. But instead of holding all the people responsible to ask those questions, one group will be held responsible for asking one basic question. So let’s go back to your graduation or even the year before.

Yes, that’s right. The group I am talking about is all the college students. You all know what’s in store for you after you graduate. I am holding all of you responsible to ask every candidate in the upcoming election the most basic question that relates and directly affects you. “Honorable (fill-in the candidate), you are aware of the very high unemployment rate in our country due mainly to lack of job opportunities - we have more graduates than jobs available, what are your plans to create new jobs here in the Philippines so we can be employed here and not go to other countries to be slaves there?” This is a very simple question that requires an answer. And their answer should be the basis for them getting elected. Hold them accountable to address the issue. Hold them accountable to the solutions that they propose to address the issue. Hold them accountable to take the necessary actions to solve the problem. Hold them accountable for your future. It is your responsibility to hold them accountable. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Issues such as lack of job opportunities should be what the college students should protest. You need to hold the person or group of persons including the president of the country responsible. You are all very intelligent and should not fall for empty promises or temporary solutions. Make the leaders commit to plans to improve the country. Force them to take actions. Continue protesting them. Continue to pressure them. No more ningas kugon. Your future, your survival and the country’s, is at stake. If they don’t deliver, then remove them from his or her office and warn the replacement that you will do the same thing if he or she proves to be incompetent and ineffective as well. Draw the line in the sand now and make a stand, or else all of you and the country will continue to suffer. It is up to you, not the corrupt politicians, to determine your future. It is your choice.