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The Right to Strike!

Privilege Speech of Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond ‘Mong’ Palatino 

Delivered on September 26, 2011 at the House of Representatives

Mr. Speaker I rise to defend the right of our youth to participate in political activities. Last Saturday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte urged the students to focus on their studies instead of participating in rallies. The remark was issued a day after the successful staging of a nationwide strike of students, teachers, school officials and members of concerned sectors who forged a strong unity to defend of our State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). The strike was organized for three reasons: 1) To protest the budget cuts and insufficient funding for our state schools; 2) To demand the realignment of the budget bill so that more funds can be used for the expansion and improvement of public higher education; 3) To urge the Aquino government to review its higher education policy.

Instead of belittling last Friday’s protest action, Malacanang should properly address the demands presented by the students. Instead of discouraging the youth to actively engage our political leaders, Malacanang should welcome the participation of young people in politics.

Ms. Valte and other Malacanang propagandists should not underestimate the students who joined the strike. They might be surprised to discover that the strikers are among the most committed scholars of our schools. The students must be commended for finding time and sacrificing so that they can link arms with other iskolars ng bayan in collectively asserting their legitimate demands to the government. They skipped classes not because they are abandoning schooling but because they wanted better education. They marched on the streets not because they are school delinquents but because they wanted to remind the government that its policies on education and funding priorities are forcing many young people to drop out from schools. It is precisely out of supreme dedication to learning that motivated the students to organize the strike.

Malacanang should know better that students are capable of performing well in schools while taking an active role in campus and even national politics. To speak and act decisively on various social and political issues are among the important duties of our young citizens. These are part of the youth’s learning development; these are essential components of citizen education in a democratic society.

Valte and the other propagandists seem to forget that from time to time, Malacanang itself is organizing public assemblies and even rallies where student participation is often made a school requirement. The President himself has been very consistent in his appeal for active youth participation in the public affairs. In a recent speech, the president even reminisced about his involvement in the student movement during the Martial Law years.

It is wrong for student activists to organize rallies but it becomes acceptable if approved by Malacanang? Public assemblies and rallies are not beneficial to society but they become an integral component of citizenship if endorsed by Malacanang? Our elders did the right thing when they marched on the streets in their youth, but students today are irresponsible if they skip classes to attend protest actions?

Encouraging the youth to study better isn’t wrong. What is unacceptable is the refusal to recognize that the youth become better educated if they are also immersed in the social and political affairs of the country. We need more student strikers, not less.

Malacanang shouldn’t limit the capacity of young people to perform great political actions. It shouldn’t reduce youth political engagement into wearing of yellow ribbons and posting comments on the President’s social network pages. Young people today, like the earlier generations, are willing and capable of creating history.  

Last week’s strike was something we should have anticipated. We cannot reduce the funds for social services without provoking the anger of our citizens. We cannot impose budget cuts and allocate insufficient funds for social services without generating public unrest.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, we live in dire times. Domestically and globally, budget cuts, price hikes, continuous rights violations and social strife continue to inspire countless young people to rely on the collective wisdom and power of the oppressed to build a better and more humane, progressive society.

Youths all over the world are up in arms. Youth and student riots in London, Chile, Spain, Madagascar, Columbia, Germany, Malaysia and elsewhere in the world are testament to how volatile the present global economic crisis is. Youths 17-25 years old are jobless, students are protesting against budget cuts and tuition and price increases. The whole world is in debt.

The Philippines is not an exception. Our conditions are not different, if worse, from other countries. And as in other countries, the youth and student movement is undeniably a moving force in the fight for substantial social reforms. 

Indeed, the string of massive student protests that erupted during the past few months were only a logical response to the aggravating crisis brought about by the disarray in the current global economic order. Economies that once seemed unscathed are now experiencing economic recessions. In order to curb their impending decline, countries intensify their privatization, deregulation and liberalization schemes—the three essential components of the current dominant economic framework notoriously known as neoliberalism.

Malamang ay nagtataka rin kayo: Di hamak na mas mahirap na bansa ang Pilipinas kaysa mga bansang nabanggit ko, pero bakit hindi pa nagra-riot ang mga kabataan dito?

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, we have our youth and student movement to thank for. Kailangang maunawaan ng marami na mapagpasya pa rin ang organisasyon ng mga kabataang aktibista sa paghikayat na magkaroon ng pagkakaisa sa ating bansa. Kung ano ang mayroon tayo at wala ang iba – ito ang buong kilusang kabataan at estudyante na naninindigang hindi riots at hindi anarkiya ang sasagot sa krisis. Sa kabila ng lahat, namamayani ang disiplina at matibay na organisadong pagkilos ng ating mga kabataang aktibista. Sa ganitong diwa, dapat pa nga natin pasalamatan ang mga organisasyong tulad ng League of Filipino Students (LFS) at iba pang mga makabayang organisasyon ng kabataan na nakikibaka para sa mas magandang bukas para sa ating bayan.

The social policies of the Aquino administration, clear as clear can be, nourish the ground for critical dissent. What the Palace is telling our youth now is to be silent while their right to education and social services is continuously violated. Reports early today contain a statement from DBM Secretary Butch Abad saying that our youth should make do with insufficient funds for our public higher education. It is this kind of utter insensitivity of the Aquino administration that forces our youth and people to heighten the struggle for their basic rights.

More strikes, not less, will definitely rock the nation as the youth and people fight for their future.

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