When asked about how they feel about today’s democracy, youth leaders from Davao region showed us two images, one of happiness and the other of frustration. Some say that they feel sad and wary because of the various issues that have transpired in the country in such short time, while others remain hopeful that despite these challenging times, our country will rise up and reclaim its promise of democracy to everyone.

Last March 19 and 20, the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks conducted its first #TheYouthFactor: Engaging Young Dabawenyos in Philippine Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development through the Strengthening Decentralized Governance Project which was held in Davao City. With 18 youth leaders from Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte, our youth leaders were joined by some of the Mindanawon CSO leaders in the region.

The two-day activity was divided into two-parts. The first day was a forum with Mr. Erin Tanada, a lawyer and former Deputy Speaker for Luzon who shared his insights on the current political issue about the administration’s call for Federalism and Charter Change. Why the need for this? And its implication to our current political landscape is something that our young people should know as this is something that will affect their generation in the long-run. “Is Federalism the magic pill that will solve the problem?” For Mr. Tanada, it’s just a structure. Like all any other structure, for it to succeed is all up to the people who are in the structure. “Kung mag-iba tayo ng struktura pero pare-pareha parin yong mga uupo, maayos ba ang ating problema? Maybe a little. But with the same people running the government, it will still be the same.”

When asked if he is against Federalism, Mr. Tanada said that he is not against it but he believes that the government shouldn’t rush to it. As there a lot of things that needs to be addressed first before this and that we should also be clear as to what kind of Federalism our country will be having especially that various versions are being made for study. Aside from Federalism, the topic on Charter Change was also tackled, Mr. Tanada discussed among the participants the process and what the government wants to happen in such limited time arguing that in such drastic measure, the people should be consulted and must be included to not undermine democracy which emanates from the people.

After the forum, we asked our youth leaders to share their insights, feelings and comments on the day’s activity. With much enthusiasm, the youth are very grateful that they were included in such formal discussion as this is something that they don’t get to participate as opportunities such as these are not provided to them back in their communities. They also appreciated learning about the salient features of the Constitution, and the things that need to be considered before opting for a Federal government.

The second-day of the activity was a forum workshop which primarily focused on the youth situationer of the region. Mr. Mayjee dela Cruz of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines talked about the Young Adult Fertility Survey (YAFS) Results for Region XI. His presentation also includes the issues on Mental Health and discrimination on the LGBT as these are just some of the common issues in the country but least talked about. His presentations were used as supplemental data of our youth leaders in their workshop.

During the workshop, the youth were tasked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the youth in their communities, the issues that are common in their communities and the root-causes as to why it happens, and lastly they brainstorm and think of concrete steps, programs and policies that can help in reducing the impact of such issues. Among the things they have identified, their recommendations on the activities and programs that should be given to help the youth in their communities have common themes.

Let youth opportunities be made accessible for all, our provincial youth demands. Opportunities have already been made available through the National Youth Commission, though some programs are limited to only few lucky ones. This is why our youth recommends for them to work closely with provincial and municipal LGUs, academic institutions (both public and private) and civil society organizations in carrying out massive programs and activities that can educate and heighten youth interests. Activities should not only be limited to forums or tree-planting but on capacitating the youth in building their knowledge and capacity for long-term development and expressing their democratic space.

As the two-day activity ends, we asked them for their insights and learnings, as most of them are first-timers in participating in this kind of activity, they have appreciated the initiative that MINCODE facilitated and they hope that this would not be the last time that they will be able to participate in this kind of activities.

In these changing times, one can say that democracy in our country is being troubled by the present administration’s promise of change. And yes, change is here. But we go beyond that change and remain faithful to our mission of peace and development in Mindanao. For over twenty years, the civil society has worked on efforts to uphold the lives of Mindanawons despite political and societal changes. And now we see younger people taking action and becoming more vigilant with today’s issues. As we continue to work, we remain inspired and optimistic that our democracy will not be easily altered as long as we see young people value the same things that we have worked hard for, our democracy.