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Student leaders call for youth to be ‘vanguards of social justice’ on IYD 2021

As the national human rights situation worsens, the youth are enjoined to stand tall against tyranny.

Last International Youth Day, August 12, saw progressives and student leaders coming together for National Union of Students of the Philippines’ (NUSP) Sibol webinar. With the theme of “Cultivating the Youth as Vanguards of Social Justice,” the one-day event aimed to empower, engage, and educate Filipino youth to be more involved with local and international issues.

Among the speakers was National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Chairperson Atty. Neri Colmenares, who called for the Filipino youth to fight against such human rights violations being committed by the administration and their “cronies.” 

“I would like to think that it is because of the people’s struggle that many [of the local chief executives] are gaining the courage to speak up [for the people], that is important here–the struggle [of the people] itself,” Colmenares told the attendees, emphasizing the importance of speaking up against human rights violations.

He particularly noted some local government officials that were once afraid of standing up against the national government for its fear of being included in the Narco List, but now are criticizing it for its lack of effective response to the pandemic. Said list was involved in the deaths of various government officials, including that of ex-Los Baños Mayor Caesar Perez. Prior to his assassination, Perez vocally denied any involvement with drugs (READ: Bumagsak na ang Narra: Los Baños mourns Mayor Perez’s death).

Joining Colmenares was Kabataang Kasama sa Pagbabago Movement’s (KAKASAPA) Dr. Glenn Almera, International League of People’s Struggle in Argentina’s Emiliano Calcagno, Parul University’s Faculty of Management Studies Dean Bijal Zaveri, US National Organizer for World Student Christian Federation’s Erin Hancock, and De La Salle University (DLSU) Student Government Chief Policy Advisor Calvin Almazan.

Health is wealth

Other highlights from the event included the government’s incompetent militaristic pandemic response, unorderly vaccination, and the salary problem of healthcare workers, courtesy of  Nicole Picart’s talk. She is the President of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges-Student Network.

She also noted the unspent Php 67 billion of the Department of Health (DOH) that can supposedly purchase personal protective equipment (PPEs), vaccines, and can be added for the cash aid of millions in the third stint of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in the country’s regional capital.

“With the questionable distribution of aid for vulnerable sectors, the poor continue to starve as they lose their jobs and source of income,” Picart said.

She also said that the hospitals that cater the COVID-19 patients are now running out of capacity, and the overwhelmed healthcare system of the country could not keep up with the rising number of cases.

“If this is the situation in the hospitals, imagine the situation in communities where these patients come from. There is [a] lack of support from the national government for the empowerment of LGUs and local communities to capacitate them to handle COVID cases and implement public health measures,” Picart added.

Growing resistance

Colmenares also said that the ‘growing resistance’ against tyranny is proof that standing up typically results in victories that are not impossible to achieve, citing the ICC Prosecutors’ decision against President Duterte’s war on drugs, dropping of charges against activists, instituting 1Sambayan and the ‘unified opposition’, and other milestones.

“All of these are victories that can be considered [achievable] despite the intimidating presence of Duterte,” the NUPL Chairperson said.

Colmenares then once more called for the youth to take a stand, saying that “the youth and the students must continue in exposing and opposing tyranny, not just in the age of COVID [pandemic] but in the age of new technology where you [youth] have the [expertise in] handle of this technology, and you can expose all of these issues.” [P]

Screengrab from NUSP’s livestream

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