A Letter to the Filipino Youth of Today (Jovito Salonga, 2005)

(Reposted from the maiden issue of Living News and Good Education. June 1, 2005, a fortnightly publication for teachers and students in Philippine public high schools.)

This letter, which can easily be translated into Filipino, is written in simple, basic English so many who read it can understand it.

You will probably ask me— who are included among the “Filipino youth?” And by what right do you presume to speak to the youth of the land? The Oxford Dictionary says youth is “the period between childhood and maturity. ” Other dictionaries have similar definitions. But this particular letter is addressed to high school and college students up to age 40 and fellow Filipinos in remote villages who did not have the fortune of studying beyond elementary level and have not reached age 40.

I am your elder, frequently called “a senior citizen, ” and about to reach 85 during this month of June 2005. I was born in Pasig, Rizal. I was a young man of 21— a senior student at the U.P College of Law—when Japanese planes suddenly arrived around noon of December 8, 1941, and bombed Clark Field Airbase in Pampanga and other U.S. military installations, such as Nichols Field, Cavite Naval Base and Camp John Hay in Baguio, where Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon was then vacationing. Classes were suspended indefinitely.

Later, Japanese troops landed in Lingayen, Pangasinan, and in several places in Luzon. Filipino-American troops in those places fought back but had to retreat to Bataan and Corregidor. On December 26, 1941, Manila was declared an open city, which means the Japanese could enter freely without armed resistance. On January 2, 1942, Japanese officers and soldiers were swarming around Manila and surrounding areas, such as Pasig and Marikina. Because of the abuses committed by the enemy, especially against Filipino women and children, I went underground and joined the fight against Japan. During the Holy Week of 1942, I was captured by the Japanese military police (kempeitai), was tortured, jailed in Pasig, then to Fort Santiago, transferred to the City Jail on San Marcelino, then to the Old Bilibid on Azcarraga, and eventually sentenced by the Japanese military tribunal to a prison term of 15 years of hard labor. By a stroke of good luck, I was released from Muntinglupa one year later (1941) on the occasion of kigen setsu the Foundation Day of Japan. In 1944, I was allowed by the Supreme Court to take the bar examination and I passed it with a good rating. I joined the guerrillas in Rizal. US forces landed in Leyte; in the second week of January 1945, they landed in Lingayen, Pangasinan and Manila was liberated by American GIs, guided by Filipino guerrillas, in February 1945. Other places were also liberated in quick succession. The atomic bomb was dropped by US Air Force on 2 Japanese cities: Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Japan surrendered to the US in August 1945.

I practiced and taught law, was appointed Dean of Law of FEU, was elected Congressman representing the 2nd district of Rizal in November 1961 and was elected to the Senate in 1965, 1971 and 1987. A brief summary of my bio-data is found in the footnote below. I humbly believe I have earned the right to write this letter to you.

There are three points I would like you to remember:

The main problems of Philippine Society, in my view, are massive poverty, rampant corruption, and uncontrolled criminality. They are interrelated. Our grinding poverty, the result of the concentration of too much wealth and power in the hands of a few — the so-called elite leads to graft and corruption, a double standard of justice (one standard of justice for the poor and another standard of justice for the rich) and ever rising criminality. Thefts, robberies, drug addiction, murders and assassinations are what we see and read in the media everyday. There are flaws in our cultural traits, such as utang na loobpakikisama, the kanya-kanya syndrome and a lack of sense of community that tend to worsen the twin problems of corruption and criminality.

In a sense, poverty has been with us since the Spanish colonization — it continued during the half-century of American occupation, which also saw the rise in our population growth. But what we witness today, apart from the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the elite, is the never ending migration from the rural areas that began in the late 50’s, and continue to jack up the number of slum dwellers and squatters in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces and in such cities as Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan de Oro. Our high officials, fearful of the stand of the Catholic Church against family planning through artificial methods, cannot seem to agree on what should be done with our rapid population growth. But the point may soon come when the aggrieved and the disinherited may constitute the majority of the population in the cities and the urban areas. It may then be difficult to ignore their pleas for a radical change in society.

Second, my generation, led by Ferdinand Marcos in 1965, and the generations that succeeded us, particularly the one led by Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 1998, have only complicated the unsolved problems of Philippine society. The EDSA I revolution of 1986 and the EDSA II event of 2001 gave rise to expectations that have not been fulfilled.

I repose my hope in the youth of today who now have the chance to answer the question and invitation of Jose Rizal, our national hero:

“Where are the youth who will dedicate their innocence, their idealism, their enthusiasm to the good of the country? Where are they who will give generously of their blood to wash away so much shame crime and abomination? Pure and immaculate must the victim be for the sacrifice to be acceptable. Where are you, young men and young women, who are to embody in yourselves the life -force that has been drained from our veins, the pure ideals that have grown stained in our minds, the fiery enthusiasm that has been quenched in our hearts? We await you, come, for we await you. “

From Rizal’s El Filibusterismo
English Translation by Leon Ma. Guerrero

Third, throughout our history, it is the youth that has led our people in our struggle for freedom. Jose Rizal, at 26, wrote his first novel Noli me Tangere, Marcelo del Pilar helped lead the Propaganda Movement at 32; Andres Bonifacio led the Katipunan at 26; Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was 29 when he was inaugurated First President of the Philippine Republic; Apolinario Mabini, the brains of the Revolution, was 34; Antonio Luna was General at 29; Gregorio del Pilar gave his life for his country at 24.

Under American administration, the youth led the nation in our parliamentary struggle for independence. Sergio Osmena was Speaker of the House at 29; Manuel L. Quezon was Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C. at 32; Jose P. Laurel was Secretary of Interior at 32; Manuel A. Roxas was Speaker of the House at 29.

During the dark years of the Japanese occupation, many young men and women in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao joined the resistance movement against the invader. When Marcos declared martial law; the cream of the nation’s youth went underground and gave their all for the sake of freedom and democracy. Many died without seeing the dawn of freedom.
Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples, mostly obscure, unlettered fishermen, were all young men in their early 30s, who left their fishing nets to become fishers of men. Those who succeeded them were also in the prime of youth when they heard God’s call. History records that in the course ot time, they shook the Roman Empire and turned the world upside down.

Today, the challenge is for the youth of this nation, beset by the worsening problems of poverty, corruption and criminality, to consecrate their lives to a cause bigger than themselves, to ”dream the impossible dream” and “reach the unreachable star.”