‘Let’s take advantage of the youth’s energy’ — FTVP Cebu

8 01 2007

By Rene H. Martel
Sun.Star Staff Reporter

Monday, January 08, 2007

THOUSANDS of first-time voters lined up outside the Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices last Dec. 31, the deadline for registration.

Registration started in 2005 yet, but only a few applied early.

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Re-launched in Cebu last September, the advocacy group First-Time Voters Project (FTVP) is not happy with how the registration went.

It accused Comelec of not doing its best to inform the first-time voters in particular, and the youth in general, of the schedule.

Because of their number, the youth is an important sector during elections. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago knew this when she banked on the youth’s vote in the 1992 presidential elections, which she lost by a narrow margin to Fidel Ramos.

The late senator Raul Roco, too, saw the youth’s potential. His wife Sonia is running this May for senator. She calls on the youth to help her.

Ernie Edralin, 21, Akbayan Youth and FTVP Cebu coordinator, talks about why the youth still believes in the electoral process and in their ability to help improve the country.

What is the First-Time Voters Project (FTVP) all about? What is its primary purpose?

We have been doing this project since 2000, when almost 4.5 million qualified voters, first-time voters, were disenfranchised because of the lack of information from Comelec.

Since then, it has been the major advocacy of Akbayan Youth together with various organizations to raise the level of consciousness of the people, from the time they register up to the day they will vote.

And we are also hoping that they will raise their level of involvement in the policy-making process of the government.

Basically, we are hopeful that there will be an increase in youth participation in governance.

Since its inception, what has it achieved, particularly in Cebu?

We formally launched this project in Cebu last 2003. Six municipalities and three barangays in Cebu City benefited. This is the second phase actually, the voters’ education campaign.

We have also gathered a lot of youth organizations, asking them to volunteer in various election watch organizations.

That is the third phase of the First-Time Voters Project, guarding elections.

For the year 2006, we re-launched this on a larger scale, not only in Cebu, but also in some other parts of the Visayas, particularly in Dumaguete City, Bacolod City, Iloilo City, and Antique and Bohol.

We have finished the first phase, which is encouraging our fellow youth to register. We will start the second phase, which is massive voters’ education from the schools to the communities, after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

By April, we will start the third phase, which is setting up networks of volunteers to guard the ballots in the elections.

In the second phase, what do you basically do? Will you do room-to-room campaigns?

That is part of the campaign. But it is mostly film showings, group discussions and forums. So we have already schedules from January to March in each school in Cebu.

Are the youth’s numbers enough to actually make a difference?

Yes, definitely. The conservative estimate is that there are eight million first-time voters for the year 2007.

And 72 percent of voters this May will be coming from the youth sector. That is 18 to 35 years old. You can just imagine how crucial the role of the youth is in the coming elections.

Are the youth turned off by politics or this is just a mere perception?Yes, we are turned off by politics. And this is one of the odds that we have to face since 2003 in Cebu. Many youths have asked: Sir, nganong mo-participate pa man mi sa election nga para ra man na pang-datu, para sa mga tigulang, ug hugaw man na siya (Why should we vote when the elections are just for the rich and grown-ups, and it is dirty)?

That is why we invested so much time in the second phase, which is voters’ education, in order for them to be convinced and to understand their roles as youth.

Where do the youth get their information to make informed political decisions?

We have been doing research and group discussions about the situation the youth are in and what their wishes are. I think, diha mi makakuha og (that’s where we can get) information.

The FTVP is also maximizing the media especially in your reports, documentaries on TVs, and many educational materials.

We are very thankful that media played a very crucial role in the first phase of the campaign in encouraging the youth to register.

How should the Comelec improve this year?This year, (it) has actually failed to utilize different opportunities in informing the first-time voters that the registration was going on and that there was a deadline.

That is the reason why on the last day of registration, Dec. 31, thousands were still lining up.

The Comelec must improve in information dissemination. As a matter of fact, when we launched this last September, the Comelec asked us to help them because they are also short on resources.

And traditional politicians take advantage by taking the role of informing the youth, to the extent of providing transport for them so they could register.

Have you found candidates worthy of the youth’s vote?

Naay mga pipila ka mga tawo nga dili perpekto. (There are some candidates who are not perfect). I think that’s the reason, or one of the reasons, of the FTVP to look for progressive individuals to vote for, especially in national positions.

We are still looking, we are still documenting, and we are still very hopeful to find candidates who will bring the voice of the marginalized.

Yes, there are young politicians.

But there is no assurance they will turn away from the traditional way of doing politics.

If no one is worthy of the youth’s vote, why encourage them to vote?

In order for the youth to understand the situation. That despite the seemingly hopeless situation, there is a very big need for us to look for persons and organizations that could bring our collective voices to the government.

And also, we are asking them to be very critical in choosing whom to vote for.

They say the young are idealistic. Do you see any idealism among those who are older?

There is a need for them to revisit their ideals and to reflect on the values that they have been advocating in their youth.

For us, we are taking advantage of the idealism, of the energy and the passion of the youth.

We are maximizing on this idealism, on what we believe is right, on what we believe is just for the society.

What do you think of those who have ceased exercising their right to vote because they no longer believe in its power to change this country?

They have to be reminded that an election is one of the fundamentals of democracy, and if a particular election is tainted with malice, anomaly and inefficiency, from registration, to voting, to counting, to the declaration of winners, there is something wrong with this democracy and our society.






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