Challenges and Prospects to Youth Civic Engagement in the Philippines

Hutter (2008) categorized the Philippines (together with Thailand) as a country that has decentralized support for youth civic engagement, including policies, programs, and youth bodies. She also noted that youth participation in the country is integrated in the school curricula and that youth-oriented programs are run by multiple organizations, including youth-led ones.

The inclusion of the NSTP in the Philippine higher education curricula allows the youth to be educated about civic involvement. Moreover, the NSTP also instills in the youth the value of volunteerism through participation in different activities that involve community building and the like. Such involvement in civic affairs brings forth a realization among the youth that they are proactive movers of the society.

However, challenges still confront youth engagement in the Philippines, a country categorized as a “democratizing state with strong civil society.” The following table presents this.

Challenges to and Supports for Youth Civic Engagement (in the Philippines and in Thailand)

Challenges for Engagement

Supports for Engagement

  • Decreasing government funding for youth civic engagement activities (Philippines)
  • Inefficiency and corruption of National Youth Council (Philippines)
  • Weak economy (Philippines)
  • Weak education system (Philippines)
  • High levels of youth unemployment
  • and migration (Philippines)
  • Gender inequalities
  • Difficulty for young people to balance
  • studies, responsibilities at home, and participation in youth civic engagement activities
  • High financial cost of participating in activities
  • Distance of activities from home
  • In some cases, lack of parental support
  • for participation
  • Lack of information about programming
  • options
  • Negative or mixed media portrayals of
  • young people

  • Government decentralization allowing greater youth participation at the local level
  • Significant government support for youth civic engagement
  • Support for youth civic engagement within the formal education system
  • Adult role models and collaborative youth-adult relationships
  • Religious support for youth civic engagement
  • [Value of helping others] in local culture
  • University support for youth civic engagement

It is also important to take note that there are other venues for youth political engagement, and some of these may be considered extreme or extra-legal, if not at all violent. For instance, the UN Security Council (2013) reported that children aged 10 to 17 years old are recruited and used by the MILF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, NPA, and the Abu Sayyaf Group in armed conflicts. The participation of children ranges from support roles (as messengers or transporters of ammunitions) to combat roles. The report also mentions the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ use of children as guides and informants in military operations against the NPA. Putting an end to this practice remains to be one of the challenges in integrating the youth in the country’s legal, political, and social institutions.

On the other hand, student activism or street parliamentarism is a widely practiced form of participation among the youth, particularly the students. In this form of participation, the youth engage with the state and attempt to influence policy making, pressure the government for reforms, and promote youth interests at large. Previously criticized as apathetic, the Filipino youth have recently proven that they are relevant in ushering societal change, and this they have done through voting. In the May 2016 elections, the candidates intensely persuaded for the youth’s vote—a proof that this sector is potent in decision- and policy making. The said elections had 82% voter turnout, with the youth (consistent with the UN’s definition of any person aged between 15 and 24) comprising 20.24% of the registered voters (COMELEC 2016).

Today, the Filipino youth are considered to be highly technologically literate. Their use of social media has transformed their avenues of engagement into the online platform. The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) (2016) observed that “social media is a powerful catalyst for the engagement of the collective, but particularly—and critically—the young”, especially during the 2016 elections. Online platforms allowed the youth to express their political views through the Web. Similarly, online campaigns had the youth as targets by the candidates. While there is a criticism to raise the level of discourse in social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms), the youth are, nonetheless, no longer merely occupied with leisurely affairs and hardly of political concerns (PDI 2016).

Looking at some global trends may also suggest important challenges or prospects in the status of the Filipino youth’s participation in governance, either as political candidates or as voters. In a survey done by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Philippines ranked 56 out of 126 countries in terms of the number of legislators whose ages are 30 years and below and are members of the lower house of the national assembly. The country ranks fairly compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors (except for Indonesia at rank 33 or 2.9%), but falls way behind European states such as Sweden, the world leader. At the upper house (the Senate), the Philippines ranked at the bottom (of 43 countries) as no senator aged below 30 years was elected in office. Such ranking is apparent because the constitution requires that an elected senator must be at least 35 years old. Nonetheless, several countries have recently reduced the age for candidacy requirement such as in Algeria (from 28 to 25 years old), Kenya, Morocco, and the United Kingdom (18 years old) to increase youth representation as political reform (IPU 2016). What do you think does the constitutional requirement in the Philippines say about youth participation in the Senate?

The tables below summarize the survey by the IPU.

Global Ranking of Legislators Aged under 30 (in Percent) in the Upper House

The World Values Survey (Wave 6: 2010–2014) (table 13.4) also presents some trends in youth political participation in the Philippines including voting; membership in political parties; joining acts of protest, demonstrations, and boycotts; and signing petitions, in comparison to world and Southeast Asia. Of the indicators of political participation in the Philippines, voting is the highest at 62.0%, way above the world average of 43.6%. This definitely is a positive aspect of youth participation in the country and this affirms the youth’s participation in elections as noted in the previous discussions. The use of other means, such as joining boycotts and active membership in political parties, is the lowest at 3.5% and 5.8%, respectively. Similarly, other aspects of participative democracy such as signing of petitions (6.8%) and participation in demonstrations (10.7%) are yet to be fully utilized by the Filipino youth.

Political Participation in the Philippines in a Comparative Perspective*