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Youth Leadership and Empowerment

11 March 2010

Address of Rep. Bongbong Marcos
E-Lecture Series
AMA Education System
11 March 2010

It’s an honor and a pleasure to take part in this lecture series of the AMA Education System. And it is thrilling to learn that from this classroom and campus here in Quezon City, I am able to speak to students in 200 campuses all over the country in real time.

President Obama has said that his greatest fear for his country is not really the terrorists. He is more afraid that the United States is sending “young Americans into a 21st century economy through the doors of 20th century schools.” Because then his country would be overtaken and even left behind.

Here in your institution of learning, it is comforting to know that I stand face to face with a 21st century school. And it is Filipino.

A Timely Lecture Topic

I am asked to speak here on the subject of Youth Leadership and Empowerment.

It is a subject that I personally find very timely and apt for two reasons. First, youth leadership is a historic tradition of our people and our country.

Our nation was born of the vision and struggles of very young men and women. Beginning with Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, Mabini, and others, the heroes of our awakening to independence were only in their 20s, sometimes no more than teenagers. Rare in that dramatic and historic time were reformers and revolutionaries who were already past 30. Yet they gave shape to the Filipino nation and our destiny as a people.

Similarly, in World War II, it was young men and women – like my own father the late Ferdinand Marcos – who took the challenge and the burden of fighting the Japanese invaders, not only during the period of the invasion, but during the three trying years of occupation.

Secondly, the subject of youth leadership is very timely because we are a young country -- young not in the sense of young historically; but young in the sense of population.

Applying the definition of youth as those people who are 15 to 30 years old, about one-third of our 94-million people – or million -- constitute the youth of our country today.

That is a very large constituency. And it is only fitting that your generations should have a voice in our country and in the shaping of the national future.

The creation of the National Youth Commission by an act of Congress, which I helped to author, is only one step in this direction. The bigger steps are for you – the youth – to take on the challenge and the burdens of leadership.

Can-do Mentality of the Young

When I speak of youth leadership, I do not believe we necessarily mean here the conventional idea of young people running for elective office, though that has happened sometimes.

I think it means more broadly the idea of young people harnessing their talents and energies to create positive change in our society. The work can be in civic action, political action,

entrepreneurship, fellowship. At the end of the day, the object of leadership is to create change that will make life better in our society.

In graduate business school, we talked about leadership in terms of building futures – the future of companies and organizations, and the enterprises and projects they are engaged in. They don’t devote their time to laying schemes for negative change, like say destroying the competition. Companies don’t prosper in that way.

I think it’s timely and important for us to emphasize this idea of positive change because it is election season again in our country. And we are witnessing again a flood of attacks and counterattacks in our public life.

I think this paradigm for political success is overrated and oversold. Our people are weary of the politics of bombast, of attack and destroy, of incessant heckling. They look for something more in the candidates and in our local and national politics. I believe they yearn for candidates to talk of what they can really contribute and build should they be elected.

This is especially true of the attitudes of young Filipinos today. When I look at our young people, I see young men and women who don’t care much about the fevered headlines in the newspapers and television today. They are turned on rather by the new things that are happening in the different aspects of modern life – in the arts, in entertainment, in sports, in business and technology, and in lifestyles. They yearn to create something of their own – and to contribute to the sum of good in their society.

There is a different mindset among the young. Where the older generations are inclined to say that something cannot be done – like taking our country to the front ranks of nations, or ending corruption – young people say readily, “Yes, we can.”

This positive outlook, this sense of empowerment is part and parcel of the age of change we live in, when what we once thought was impossible has come to pass.

Knowledge Is Power

Whence comes this sense of empowerment of the youth?

I believe it comes from the acquisition of education and learning. In our country, it is education that allows our children to hope for something better in our lives.

In this new century, the biggest challenge to Government is how to make real this hope - to meet the new challenges of a global economy.

We now live in a world where the most valuable skill a human being can offer is knowledge. Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere in the world where there's an internet connection. And today, we compete for jobs not with our fellow Filipinos but with thousands in India, China, and the West, who are being educated longer and better than ever before.

Our primary concern is to be in the game. This is why an institution like AMA Education Systems is so important to our educational system.

This is why I attach such great importance to the improvement of basic education in our country, including adding more years to the preparation of our young for studies.

When we have a shortage of classrooms, as well as classes that sometimes have 100 students, we are failing the challenge. Relieving this shortage and turning our attention to improving educational quality must be of the highest priority to the next Administration and Congress.

Facing Global Competition

The relative strength and resiliency of our economy today owes in great part to our young human resources, and our early efforts to educate and develop them.

We have only begun to understand and feel the full impact of the technological revolution that happened in the last decade. It means walls between countries have been torn down and the global community has become more connected through the internet, cell phones, video phones, and other advances in communication.

We cannot stop globalization and global competition. To cop out from the contest means we will wind up like North Korea or Burma.

So we must be prepared and trained for global competition and engagement. Studying here at AMA is the first step. In this new world, knowledge really is power.

But beyond the diploma, we will need something more to succeed in the years ahead. We will the need the spirit of creativity and innovation. We will have to keep learning the new rules, solving the new mysteries, and discovering the new answers of this new century we live in.

Consequently, there is no more important policy for our country to pursue today than the education of our young. As Tony Blair has said: “Education is the best economic policy there is, and it is in the marriage of education and technology that the future lies. The arms race may be over, the knowledge race has begun.”

Some may think that this is a competition where we Filipinos cannot compete with the world. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Consider. Filipinos are among those who are driving the Internet forward. Our young people today are making their own contributions in terms of software and innovations. Poor as we are, our young people who are in school are tuned in to the Internet, using it for their studies and research.

Consider. Upon the introduction of wireless telecommunications in the ‘90s, we Filipinos led the way in expanding the possibilities of text-messaging and in introducing innovations like the pre-paid cards and pasa-load for cellphones. Today, because of the engagement of our lower-income groups in telecommunications, business has been revolutionized many times over. And I believe it has enhanced the so-called informal or underground economy.

Consider. In Business Process Outsourcing, we are now second only to India as a favorite destination of companies in America, Europe and Japan. The highest growth of jobs in the country today is in BPOs and call centers. There are now over 400,000 Filipinos employed by BPO enterprises.

Consider. Philippine education is a vital backbone of the economy. For all its shortcomings, our educational system – both our public and private schools – is a major pillar of national life. As we continue to improve on it with timely reforms and better infrastructure, Philippine education will take us to the forefront of international economic competition.

Finally, consider our Overseas Filipino Workers. This program, born during my father’s time and much criticized at birth, has become the veritable backbone of the Philippine economy. Our over 10 million workers abroad are much valued in almost every country and region of the world. Wired Magazine, the premier voice of the Internet age, has called us Filipinos “the leader and pacesetter of the distributed economy” of contemporary times.

New Politics of Transformation

All this has convinced me that the best policy for the nation to follow is one of innovation and modernization as we enter the second decade of this new century.

The politics of the past will not do for the challenges of today. Though we will always value the achievements of the past, we cannot answer today’s questions with yesterday’s answers. And still less can we answer them if we indulge in the quarrels of the past.

It is in this light that we must exchange the politics of negativism for the politics of positive change. Negativism is easy because all you have to do is say No, No, and No. Positive change, however, demands that you apply yourself to problem solving.

Our problems in infrastructure, corruption, inefficiency, slum communities, local governance – all are susceptible to solutions if we apply ourselves to the tasks, and not to just talking about them.

In business management this is elementary because you cannot blame your competition for your problems. You either solve them or you perish.

I believe it is this orientation to problem-solving that will be most appealing to our young people and will enable our country and our people to grow out of poverty.

If we harness this resource properly, I believe the energy and fearlessness of our young people will carry us to the front ranks of the nations of the world.

I have seen this energy and fearlessness in the faces of young OFWs going into the world for the first time – with no fear of the new lands they will be living in and determined solely to make the best for themselves and their loved ones during their time of exile.

I have seen this in the faces of young students when I visit campuses across our country – faces that are hopeful, eager, and unafraid to explore new knowledge and new ideas in their quest for learning.

Finally, I see this in you – the students of the AMA Education System all over our country -- who exemplify our people’s hunger for learning and their capability to learn the new technologies of this exciting century we live in.

We are all called to this work of change and transformation in order to make our country a better place to live and work in. This is why you are in school, trying to develop to the fullest your God-given talents. And this is also is why I am in politics today, seeking to serve in the Senate in order to serve all our people and our country.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. More power to you all! And mabuhay!