The Explainer: Voting for the first time

In about a month and a half, the registration of voters will come to an end. One experienced politician privately said this: there is no youth vote; the reliable voting population is the senior citizen demographic.

Tonight, we’re going to look at the possibility of the youth vote actually mattering in the 2010 elections. But only if young voters take the first step –and register. And then, only if they follow that first step with many other steps, such as understanding the issues.

I’m Manolo Quezon. Tonight’s First Time Voters night on the Explainer.




And now, the end is near. And as the President faces the final curtain, constitutionally-speaking, at least, the country is preparing to elect a new president.

Even as we ponder the place the present administration will occupy in history, most citizens are wondering whether a new chapter in our political life will finally open up.

You’d have to go back to 1986, or as far back as 1953, or even 1946, to find a period dominated for so long by a single ruling coalition.

Then, as now, there was a generation gap in politics where tried and tested elders, as they liked to think of themselves, faced questions and challenges from young people too much in a hurry, according to those elders.

One thing’s sure –since the 1960s, the youth have been portrayed as hot-headed and so much against everything, their elders wonder if they’re actually for anything.

The hotheads of the 1960s, now grey-haired elders today, have also asked if today’s youth care for anything at all, since they don’t spout the dogma of the past today.

Young and old alike carry a heavy burden on their shoulders: the long list of super-achiever, super-patriots of the past, who did so much by the time they were still so very young. Rizal published Noli Me Tangere at age of 25.

Bonifacio helped establish the Katipunan when he was 29.

Aguinaldo was egregious dictator of the Philippines by the age of 29.

Gregorio del Pilar died heroically, already a general, at the age of 24.

Sergio Osmena became Speaker of the First Philippine Assembly at the age of 29;

And in their teens and twenties were the heroic generation that fought so gallantly in Bataan.

Ninoy Aquino was arguably the youngest politician who vied for a seat in local government, becoming a mayor by the age of 22, governor when he was 29, and then a Senator at age 34.

But these figures on the ages of our heroes and statesmen doesn’t take something into account. And that’s people before Ninoy’s generation as a rule didn’t live very long.

A bibliography on life expectancy compiled by James C. Riley points out the period 1875-1905 was one of “recurrent crises caused by epidemics and war, “ and that population growth for the Philippines didn’t resume until around 1905. At the same time mortality rates didn’t start to  decline until the 1930s, “albeit slowly for some years” though some studies suggest people started living longer around 1910.

So Riley says, “the beginning of rising life expectancy cannot be dated more precisely than the 1910s to the 1930s.” And what was life expectancy in the 1930s, for Filipinos, a full generation after the time of Rizal and Bonifacio and del Pilar? 40 to 46 years!

So even by 1930s standards, Rizal and Bonifacio were already past middle age when they became heroic achievers!

And today’s definition of the youth –up to 45 years old- would have included yesterday’s very old men and women.



And here’s something else to bear in mind. Ask yourself how much harder it is to rise and shine when there’s so very many more of you.

F.P.A. Demetrio, in a paper on the Philippine Church and Population in 2007, points out that not only are we much more numerous than ever before, we’re far more crowded than ever before too.

Demetro’s paper lists some interesting facts about the Philippines, as of 2007. How we’re 14th amongst the world’s most populated countries.

And the 4th most densely populated country. We add 1.4 million individuals a year!

We have 269 individuals per square kilometer when the world average is a density of 48 individuals per square kilometer.

5th fastest growing country in terms of population.

Take a look at this chart of our skyrocketing population –and we live longer, too.

So think of the pressures facing us as a people. We’re living longer –our life expectancy is now 71, or a full 30 years longer than seventy years ago- but crammed like sardines in a can.

And our population’s overwhelmingly young. And of these, over thirty percent are at the age when they’re probably going to be voting for the first time in 2010.

And consider how that thirty percent, if broken down like the rest of the population, has over half its population consisting of the D Class.

So when we return, we’ll take a closer look at a project to get first time voters not only registered, but focused on the issues that should matter to their generation.




The United Nations, for statistical purposes, defines “youth”, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Republic Act 8044 however, set the definition of youth in the Philippines as those who are 15-30 years old. This covers the periods of puberty to adolescence, and is of course a time that’s critical for the growth and development of any person; it’s also a time when people are inclined to be rebellious. It’s not a time, when, when it’s easy to convince people of their obligations –such as citizenship.

The First Time Voters’ Project (FTV) is one of many movements is attempting to lobby young people to take their citizenship seriously, by getting them enrolled as new voters. In 2001, some youth camped out of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office to protest the disenfranchisement of 4.5 million 18-21 years old first time voters. The failure of the eligible new voters to participate was due to lack of awareness on the ongoing registration and the incapacity of the Comelec to register efficiently all the first time voters. Reform-minded groups then formed alliance to never let disenfranchisement of large scale happen again.

In its fourth engagement to call for higher youth participation in the elections, The FTV Project conducts electoral education and registration awareness campaigns in every part of the country with high youth concentration. In-school and community-based organizations take part in the effort to let all qualified new voters practice their right to register and vote.

In election figures, the National Statistics Office is projecting nine million First Time Voters in the next election, an addition to the total 27.6 million young voters aged 18-34 who will participate in the polls. And as of June this year, 2.6 million new voters have been added on the voting population, and the figures are expected to increase significantly before the registration ends on October 31.

A figure large enough to elect a president? A strong nine million FTVs can be a powerful change-advancer in the elections, but the numbers have yet to be tested. Some studies suggest that up to 78% of the youth aged 7-21 are not concerned about politics. 70% say they distrust the politicians.

The Philippine Constitution has clearly detailed the youth’s importance in our country. And I quote,

“The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.”

But despite this mandate of the Constitution, how come some studies show that politicians keep on ignoring youth agenda in their list of priorities? Well, some argue it’s because the youth simply don’t participate in the elections.

As mass media now aggressively call for the youth to engage on 2010 polls, not to mention the so-far-so-great result of the new voters’ registration figures, should politicians think again? As FTV Project works on the new voters’ State-assured rights,

advocates lobby to institutionalize the FTV Project as their
generation’s response in changing the socio-political culture of the youth towards alternative politics and transformative governance.

FTV proposes four words for the politicians: “Listen, it’s our turn.”  FVT says the youth have high expectation for the next seating government. This is in the form of a youth agenda which includes education, health care, employment and poverty are expected to be on the list of the politicians’ platforms this time.

To date, one of four youth voters live below the poverty line. And if you look at the regions with the highest incidence of youth poverty, they also include areas in which violence accompanies politics and elections.

Education, which is supposed to be of highest budget priority, receives even less from the government. Decaying education policies haunts the schoolchildren’s future.

Consider this recent article in the New York Times, by Seth Mydans. He quotes the World d Bank, which said the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Mydans reported,Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000.

Take a look at some other statistics, in particular, that 78% of the youth aged 16-20 are out of school, with only half of kids finishing elementary actually qualified for high school.

Unemployment among youth continues to be on the rise, particularly domestically; on the other hand, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are, by the way composed largely of the youth aged 25-29.

Nearly half of the presently unemployed belong to the ranks of the youth. Take a look at the percentages: about a third of those aged to 15-19; almost 45% of those 20 to 24, or who should be freshly out of college; and a quarter of those aged 25-30 who face a growing problem that as they get older, even if they’re skilled, they won’t be hired.

Another issue is health care, which arises particularly in industries that employ young people, like call centers.

There are statistics that cause concern in terms of HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and even psychological and other problems from overcrowded conditions and broken homes.

All these issues tie in to the broader issue of civic participation. Are you born caring about your country? No, you have to be taught to do so; but how can you teach children the elementary basics of civics, if they don’t even finish school?

FTV says studies portray the youth as generally centered on work, studies and need for social and emotional security. Only negligible numbers of the youth identify concrete ways of attaining their vision.

There is a growing apathy and indifference among the young towards issues that affect the country:

Only 10% of the youth are concerned about politics in the country. 78% of the 7-21 youth seldom or never discuss national issues with their families.

Seventy (70%) of the youth say that their trust in Filipino politicians ranges from very small to uncertain.

Sixty-three percent (63%) of the young people admit not completely reciting or singing the Philippine national anthem.

And this brings us in turn, to what we know about the voting behavior of young people in our elections.

Based on NSO data, a high estimate of First Time Voters in 2010 is pegged at 9 million, so far, as of June 2009, there are already 2.6 million new voters.

According to the Pulse Asia Survey in March 2007, registered voters aged 18-34 years old  thought that national leaders ought to be hard workers, can relate well to others and can inspire hope.

Furthermore, the monitoring group also said that about 79% to 90% of registered voters below 55 years old were aware of political ads in 2004 and there was a slight increase to 88% to 94% in 2007

In addition, they said that FGDs conducted in July 2007 indicate that the youth:?can recall more ads?; can recall more endorsers; have a more positive attitude toward ads; tend to view it as a source of information?as well as source of entertainment

But they still based their votes on the candidates’ track records.

Research by the Institute of Philippine Culture on the vote of the poor, the largest demographic in our society, lists being corrupt as the most frequently mentioned quality of a bad leader, for the youth, followed by selfishness, greediness, and lying.

On the other hand, youth from the ranks of the poor, hold up being God-fearing as the most frequently mentioned quality of a good leader; followed by being helpful and loyal –the first may come as a surprise, but the next two make sense, as a sense of belonging is a central preoccupation of young people.

And it’s no surprise, either, that even though the family and churches are two of the highest sources of influence on voting decisions, the Institute of Popular Culture reported that the biggest influence of all, is media. At a time of rebellion, the youth look for answers outside the usual authority figures in their lives.

All of these different facts, findings, and statistics, makes for a picture of potential political strength; that is, young people could be quite powerful as a voting demographic, provided they have a sense of their own power, and the means to harness that power by participating in campaigns and then going to the polls.

You can reach the First Time Voters Project by means of the url and e-mail address on your screen.

And join us later tonight when we’ll ask the FTV volunteers how they’re coming along with their advocacy –and we’ll explore, with a youth leader from UP, what we might realistically expect from young voters come 2010.

I’m Manolo Quezon. This has been The Explainer.









Manuel L. Quezon III.

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