This letter features reporting from “Chased And Jailed: No Rest And Much Danger For Asia’s Young Revolutionaries” by David Pierson

Dear Mayor Gorriceta,

Our town’s concrete walls echo the cries of youth activists. Yet, the streets should not be the only place where these voices are heard.

As a community filled with young individuals coming from diverse backgrounds, the town of San Miguel has always given utmost importance to the youth. The collective of adolescents and teens make up nearly 45% of our population, and their talents continue to amaze people within and beyond our home. When I stroll across the plaza, I often see posters of the awards that young San Migueleños have earned from sports, dance, journalism, and art. But along with these posters, I also see vivid streaks of graffiti on the streets’ walls, etching a mark of rebellion.

“More affordable tuition and fees for public school!” “Safe spaces for young women!” “Break mental health stigma!” These recurring words are spray-painted on the walls every week, only to be covered with a new layer of white paint the next day. I have to ask myself: Are these sentiments written for the mere purpose of complaining? Or are these words a reflection of a society that turns on the youth whenever they become vocal for the changes they want to see?

In his Los Angeles Times article "Chased and Jailed: No Rest and Much Danger for Asia’s Young Revolutionaries," David Pierson wrote about the dangers faced by young activists in Southeast Asia, and how democracy is slowly being stripped away from the younger generation. In Thailand, the Prayuth administration severely punished advocates for speaking out against the country’s political instability, including student Benja Apan, who is facing a 60-year sentence for “insulting” the flawed policies of Prayuth, who held the office of prime minister until August of this year. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters like 22-year-old Ivan Choi are in exile after fears of being arrested by Chinese officials who are against any form of public rallies. And in Myanmar, Ei Thinzar Maung, a female activist who speaks for minorities and ethnic groups, is currently hiding in mountainous outskirts just to escape the government who issued a warrant for her arrest.

The common denominator among these three cases is that they are all youth who are afraid to speak up, knowing that their words can lead to torture, incarceration, or punishment.

But honorable mayor, activism does not mean direct opposition to any ruling administration; it’s simply a constructive criticism of existing policies and a way to raise our pleas to the government when we feel ignored and neglected. This is most especially true for the youth, who have greater literacy in navigating the Internet and social media platforms for information dissemination and communication. Because of the vast learnings we acquire online, we can see flaws in the status quo and we want to propose changes, as we trust that the government will be receptive to our suggestions.

I can personally attest to this, being a journalist and student activist myself who pushes for greater action for the environment, mental and physical health, and freedom of speech. I have always used my writing skills to post articles in various local and national publications, such as our town’s newspaper The Archangel. I have also debated in public speaking fora to lobby for causes—and this is no different from the graffiti we see on our sidewalks. They all emanate from the same source: the youth’s desire to have a voice. To take away this right is to undermine the capabilities of youth to initiate change in a society in which we also belong. After all, if we only paint over the pleas of youth, how long will it be before we also persecute them like what’s currently happening in Thailand, Hong Kong, or Myanmar?

Resultantly, I would like to suggest three concrete steps on how we can strengthen youth participation in our local community.

Firstly, immersion programs will allow our adolescents to take part in government initiatives by opening positions for them to work as either volunteers or interns. They will also get exposed to the realities of public office, as well as work closely with some of our town’s officials. These programs are already implemented in Manila, the country’s capital, and adapting this in the local context would surely be beneficial.

Secondly, I suggest forming a youth advisory council who could relay the concerns of the young population to the older officials of our town. This will allow us to bridge the intergenerational gap in the community, and our officials could benefit from the solutions and proposals that the youth may put forward via this council.

Lastly, we need to integrate civic education in the primary and secondary curriculum. Specifically, I would like to recommend adapting the civic curriculum of UNICEF Serbia, which focuses on diversity, human rights, democracy, and social responsibility as core values. Through this, young students will be educated on avenues to express their grievances and complaints.

In summary, I would like to ask your good office to open immersion programs in the town’s executive branch, issue a Municipal Executive Order forming a youth advisory council, and lobby for civic education in meetings with the Vice Mayor and the Sangguniang Bayan (Board Members). Through these, we can restore peace in our community and strengthen the cohesive bond between our leaders and our youth.

“Our generation grew up under democracy and this is our strength,” said Ei Thinzar Maung, the aforementioned activist from Myanmar. Honorable mayor, let us continue to uphold democracy as the cornerstone of our youth’s future. Because our voices should not only be heard in graffiti, protests, or rallies, but inside the political chambers where decisions are made.

Respectfully yours,

Carlos Manuel Eusoya

Carlos Manuel Eusoya is a senior at Philippine Science High School, where he is serving as Editor-in-Chief for the school publication Sci-Link. He has advocated for greater student representation in school discussions through the publication of newspapers and magazines that express learners' opinions. Carlos has also been a part of national science communication organizations in the Philippines, where he simplifies complicated scientific jargon for the youth.

Last summer, Carlos was chosen to be a part of his municipality's internship program, allowing him to work under the Mayor's Office. During this time, he learned that youth have very few opportunities in the community, mainly due to the discouragement of activism. Carlos is thankful to share these experiences through his letter, and hopes that his passion for journalism and advocacy-building reaches new heights in the future!

Read more winning entries from the 2023 Local Letters for Global Change contest!