From the streets to the parliament

The Kabataan Partylist, comprised mostly of militant youth organizations, is often seen fighting from the other side of the fence, whether in Congress or out in the streets.

Its decades-long crusades for a higher budget for education, no-tuition fee increase, and students' rights, do not always reflect the position of the government. Some of its reforms even seem to be anti-student and anti-poor, which form the majority of its constituents. Hence, it often finds itself critical of the government.

But this opposition, which sometimes leads to bloody mass actions, are perceived by many as violent, useless and even a nuisance. These stereotypes are exactly what Representative Raymond de Vera Palatino wants to change.

"Ang rally daw ay magulo, violent. Pero I've been an activist since 1997, never pa akong nabugbog, never pa akong nahuli. Rallies are peaceful. Ang hina-highlight lang sa TV, 'yung pukpukan because that is good for the ratings. Sa sampung ginagawa ng aktibista, isa lang dun 'yung rally. We talk to people, we educate, we study, we lobby," defends the 33-year-old solon.

For Rep. Palatino, militant nationalism is assertive, determined, passionate but not necessarily violent.

"In a democracy, we need militant engagement. If there is a sector or segment in our population na dapat maging kritikal, mapusok, makulit, nagtatanong palagi, I think that's the youth. Pero dapat ma-appreciate ng tao na yung pagiging kritikal, palatanong o nag-ooppose ay not necessarily against the government. Hindi siya dapat iinterpret na walang silbi o walang mabuting nagagawa. It is actually for the good of the government, and the country," underscores Palatino, who was formerly chairperson of the University of the Philippines Student Council and president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.

This brand of militant nationalism, he says, is the very same principle that revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio espoused during that time. This, and his ideals on national independence, collective action, civic consciousness and patriotism are the reasons for Palatino's proposal to include a course on Bonifacio in the college curriculum.

Acccording to him, Bonifacio is as relevant to the youth now as national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. In fact, if he was still around today, he would probably be also engaged in social media.

"I think if Bonifacio were alive today, he will be asserting his demands online and offline. He will be tweeting, blogging. He will be Facebooking but not for self-presentation. He will use technology to expose the conditions of our country and work out solutions," says the two-term congressman.

Aside from instilling the principles of Bonifacio in the youth, Palatino has been championing their rights in Congress. So far, Palatino has filed 36 House Bills and 63 House Resolutions which include the Anti "No Permit, No Exam" Bill which has recently been passed on the third and final reading in Congress.

In this 60 Minutes interview, the Students and Campuses gets a glimpse of the life of this activist-turned politician, the challenges he is facing in Congress, as well as his tireless efforts and passion in fighting for the cause of the youth.

STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): We just recently celebrated Andres Bonifacio's 149th birth anniversary. Next year is his 150th celebration. Is Kabataan Partylist preparing activities for this event, considering that he is one of the champions of militant nationalism?

REP. RAYMOND DE VERA PALATINO (RVP): Oo, may mga set of activities. May mga forum, play, mass actions diyan sa Liwasang Bonifacio. But for us, we are preparing for one year of celebrations. Di ba may mga "I Am Ninoy," ito naman gusto namin parang "We Are Bonifacio." Ano kaya ang gagawin ni Bonifacio kung nabubuhay siya ngayon? Ano 'yung Bonifacio brand of nationalism?

Sa tingin ko 'yun ang kailangan i-highlight kasi hindi naman nalalaos 'yung Bonifacio brand of nationalism. Iniisip ng iba si Bonifacio violent pero pag-aralan mo ang buhay niya talagang nag-aral siya. Umattend siya ng La Liga Filipina ni Rizal. Kaya nga hindi dapat pagbanggain silang dalawa eh.

Si Rizal, nag-aral, pacifist. Si Bonifacio, a man of action, violent. Pero hindi eh, may dynamics ang relationship nung dalawa eh. He attended La Liga Filipina which inspired him to found the Katipunan. Sa tingin ko hindi nakatulong 'yun na may dichotomy na kay Rizal na lang ako, mag-aaral na lang ako unlike Bonifacio. Kaya gusto namin ma-impress sa kabataan 'yung Bonifacio brand of nationalism.

SCB: What is that brand?

RVP: The brand is more than nationalism. It's more than displaying nationalist sentiments. It is asserting kung ano ang tama, ipaglaban ang nakikitang mali. Yes, it is the militant brand of fighting for one's principles. 'Yun ang sa tingin kong Bonifacio brand of nationalism.

SCB: But some people think that that brand is negative.

RVP: Unfortunately 'yan ang perception. But if not for the Bonifacio brand of nationalism, paano na ang independence natin? Paano 'yung 1896 Revolution? So hindi siya dapat tingnan na mali. Saka sa totoo lang nung first few years, Bonifacio was relegated as one of the heroes of the revolution. It took some time before we realized that this supposedly criminal or violent man was one of the founding fathers of our Republic.

We have to remind the people na kapag sinabi mong militant, kapag sinasabi mong ipinaglalaban ng agresibo ang ating prinsipyo, it is not necessarily violent. Maybe it is assertive, determined, passionate but not necessarily violent. In a democracy, we need militant engagement. Sa tingin ko, that Bonifacio brand of nationalism ang kailangan ire-introduce.


SCB: What's the update with your Andres Bonifacio Act?

RVP: Unfortunately, nasa Basic Education Committee level palang siya at hindi pa natatalakay. Kasi at the time when the late Rep. Sonny Escudero was still chairperson of the Committee, he was against curricular reforms through legislation. His position was that the competent authorities that should handle that are educators, the Department of Education (DepEd).

Pero ang sa akin naman, this is the time to propose curricular reforms kasi the K to 12 is being introduced. I think Congress can introduce and propose suggestions and DepEd can listen.

SCB: Are you getting enough support for the bill?

RVP: Nung nag speech ako nung Monday (Nov. 26) enthusiastic naman 'yung response ng Congress. Nag interpellate si Valenzuela Congressman Magtanggol Gunigundo at Parañaque Congressman Roilo Golez. Sabi ni Cong. Golez, wouldn't we renew division in the country if we unearth 'yung trial ni Bonifacio? Sabi ko, it didn't prevent us from teaching the life of Rizal despite some controversies surrounding some aspects of his life. Nag retract ba siya or hindi? Pinakasalan niya ba si Josephine Bracken o hindi? Kasi kapag kay Bonifacio, one aspect lang 'yan ng Philippine history. Pero 'yung kay Rizal, one course devoted sa kanya.

But we have to understand, the introduction of the Rizal course was not easy. There was opposition at that time, specifically from the Church. Ngayon kay Bonifacio, wala pa naman akong naririnig na malakas na opposition. I expect the National Historical Commission na mag provide ng materials. 'Yung DepEd, I don't know kasi sabi nila they want to decongest the curriculum. Paano nila tatanggapin ang proposal na ito?

SCB: How long do you think that would take?

RVP: Hopefully, with the renewed interest in Bonifacio because of his 150th birth anniversary next year, Congress will finally tackle the measure. At the minimum, sana 'yung 'pag introduce ng topics sa buhay niya at mga aral niya, maisama sa curriculum, kung hindi man as a formal subject.

SCB: Are you thinking of making it into special lessons?

RVP: Actually, we have a bill that proposes a one-day alternative classroom experience for students. The idea here is empower the student to choose a topic outside of the formal curriculum for one day or even more than one day. It's open learning. Sa University of the Philippines at Ateneo de Manila University ginagawa na 'yan.

With regards to the Bonifacio proposal, a part of that one year Bonifacio at 150 celebration should be devoted to activities that will introduce Bonifacio to the new generation.

SCB: How much do the youth know about Bonifacio?

RVP: Thanks to technology, young people are overwhelmed and bombarded with facts about Bonifacio but not necessarily the truth. Saan siya pinanganak? Sino asawa niya? Ano 'yung tinatag niya? If you google Bonifacio, you will be provided with these basic facts about him. It's the traditional way of teaching history. But the authentic Bonifacio, his legacy, that I think hindi 'yan na-aappreciate ng kalakhan. And then 'yung stereotype na Bonifacio is violent, 'yun ang tumatak sa isip natin. Kino-contrast siya kay Rizal at Aguinaldo. Pero sa totoo lang, next to Rizal, the only person that can be considered as a national hero without legislation is Bonifacio because he was the leader of the revolution. Kaya nga maganda yung statue niya sa Liwasang Bonifacio kasi tinama ang stereotype niya na nakahawak ng gulok. 'Dun dignified siya, nakatayo lang siya at may baril, hindi gulok.

When I talk to young people, they only know Bonifacio kung sino siya pero kung ano 'yung relevance niya sa kasalukuyan, hindi pa. Kung tatanungin mo sila tungkol sa relevance ni Rizal, madali nilang masasagot 'yan. Pero si Bonifacio, it will be difficult for them to appreciate the modern Bonifacio at kung ano 'yung lugar ni Bonifacio sa ating society ngayon.

SCB: Do you think the youth can easily relate to him?

RVP: Iniisip ng marami si Bonifacio kilos lang ng kilos pero nagsulat din siya, 'yung "Dekalogo," "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa." Alam niya 'yung value ng information that is why Katipunan published "Kalayaan." So, I think if Bonifacio were alive today, he will be asserting his demands online and offline. He will be tweeting, blogging. He will be Facebooking but not for self-presentation. He will use technology to expose the conditions of our country and work out solutions.

He will also be meeting with public officials and talking to people. He will not look down at the poor or see them as object of charity. He will show solidarity, he will fight with the poor.

For young people, I think hindi lang sa simpleng pagsusuot ng pulang panelo o paghawak ng isang gulok, dapat alalahanin si Bonifacio.


SCB: Why was Kabataan Partylist established?

RVP: We were established after EDSA Dos, at the time when the youth movements were very active. But we realized walang youth party. The last time we had a youth party was during World War II, 'yung Young Philippines ni Wenceslao Vinzons. So we thought of establishing a political party for the youth, by the youth, of the youth through the partylist system. We hoped to have a representation. Kaya nagsama-sama ang mga youth organizations like the National Union of Students of the Philippines, Alliance of Student Council, College Editors Guild of the Philippines and AnakBayan. So we established Anak ng Bayan. Pero nung 2004 ang daming "anak" eh like AnakPawis, Anak Mindanao.

SCB: So the objective was to enter congress.

RVP. Initially. We also wanted to prove that you can enter politics as a young leader and leave the parliament without being absorbed by the system. Kasi hindi maganda 'yung image ng Sangguniang Kabataan, 'yung representative ng youth leaders in politics. Ang popular perception ay nilamon na ang SK ng sistema.

So, I'm the first youth representative at nag introduce ng agenda ng kabataan. I was also the first blogger na naging congressman. I started blogging in 2004.

SCB: Did you have plans of entering politics when you were still a student?

RVP: Nung estudyante pa lang ako, aktibista na ko. Pero hindi ko naisip na pumasok sa politics noon. The decision to enter came long after I graduated from college. Naging aktibo muna ko sa mga NGO, youth organizations. Then siguro naging factor din 'yung emergence ng new media and how the public can influence leaders through it. Nagkataon lang na nandiyan na 'yung partylist so nag sama sama 'yung mga factors na ito.


SCB: How does Kabataan differentiate itself from groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers or those who are fighting for better education for all?

RVP: Sila specific sa teachers, mainly public school teachers. Kami in-school youth, out-of-school youth, working students, at pati youth with special needs. Ang maganda sa amin, walang away hindi katulad ng ibang partylist. Kasi may natural na pag-alis. Wala na ang mga founding leaders namin at 'yung batch ko naman ang aalis sa 2013. I'm the founding vice president. Ang legacy ko, we were the first youth group and we were re-elected in 2010. Hopefully, this 2013 also.

SCB: We also notice na you are also active not just in youth issues but also national issues...

RVP: Oo, kasi gusto namin ipa impress dun sa tao na ang youth hindi lang 'yan estudyante, hindi lang education 'yung kanyang issue, kundi good governance, health, and anti-corruption, gender education and gender discrimination practices sa schools.

SCB: How reflective are your advocacies of the entire organization? Do your constitutents feel represented?

RVP: Yes, meron namang encouragement at positive feedback. Pero may pagkakamali din kami at ina-admit din namin.

SCB: What are gains of the organization so far?

RVP:'Yung Anti "No Permit, No Exam" Policy Bill, naipasa na 'yan sa House. Nasa Senate na siya ngayon. 'Yung sa tuition, na realize ko na hindi na kailangan ng batas, you just need to engage the executive branch and that is faster. Kasi sa legislation, it will take some time. Dadaan pa sa Lower House, Senate, and then the President.

May iba ring technique. 'Yung tactic namin sa NSTP. The Military wants to revive the ROTC so may mga house bills to revive ROTC. Ako, I don't want to amend the NSTP law because it's just recent, 10 years palang. Why amend it? But if I don't propose a bill to expand the NSTP program, ang pag-uusapan lang sa committee 'yung revival ng ROTC. So when I filed a house bill deliberate 'yun. I realized na hindi 'yan simple matter of introducing a bill but also a tactic to prevent some legislation na sa tingin mo ay hindi makakatulong sa sector mo.

I'm also focusing on our Students Rights Bill namin, the BPO Welfare Act atsaka yung mga curricular reforms.

Wala pa tayong law on students rights. Marami sa mga rights ng students ngayon, ipinaglaban noon tulad ng student council revival, student paper revival, at yung pagbabawal ng military sa loob ng campus. 'Yung pagkakaroon ng student regent hindi naman batas nung una, inassert lang ng mga students. And then yung ROTC na naging NSTP. Inassert din 'yan ng students. So ngayon, recognizing that 80 percent of college students are enrolled in private schools, there is also a need for legislation on student rights.

Meron nga rin akong House Resolution investigating yung mga waiver na pinapapirma sa mga kolehiyo na I will not join this organization o kaya yung content ng mga student handbooks. May iba dun na talagang direct contradiction sa Constitution natin.

And then yung curricular reforms, napakadali niyan at napaka timely. Nasa period tayo ngayon na binabago ng DepEd yung curriculum. It is introducing technical-vocational courses in high school. Why not introduce yung ibang topics like good governance, the life and contributions of Bonifacio?

And then the BPO, kasi its bound to expand. It is the sunshine industry and the most popular career option of young people. But these young people have no labor experience and they need to be informed about their rights. The government needs to remind them na hindi lang usapin ito ng perks, bonuses. They need to be informed about their working conditions. Kailangan maensure yung safety ng mga bata. 'Yan ang mga priority.

And then, the cybercrime prevention law, kasi sa January mag-e expire na yung TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) ng Supreme Court. I'm supportive of cybercrime legislation kasi marami naman talagang cybercrimes like malware, hacking. But by introducing cyber defamation and cyber threat, the NBI will instead will be swamped with libel cases involving showbiz personalities (laughs).

Ang cybercrime legislation was introduced to defend national security, and domestic economy. Pero sabi ko nga hacking? We have the E-Commerce Law. Child porn? We have the Anti-Child Porn Law. Hayden Kho videos? We have the Anti Photo and Video Voyeurism Act. We have these laws. But cybercrime should tackle serious cybercrimes. So we have proposed amendments of the Cybercrime Prevention Act. Ito 'yung Internet Users Act.

But our main advocacy is the budget. Dapat six percent of the GDP should go to education.


SCB: The K to 12 Basic Education Reform was already passed in the third and final reading in Congress. But why are you still against it?

RVP: Siyam kaming bumoto against it. 'Yung mga questions ko during the interpellation simple lang. Sabi ko kailan ang pilot testing ng K12? Ngayong school year 2012-2013. So why are we legislating something na pina-pilot test pa lang ng DepEd? Why not wait for next year? Let us wait for the one year assessment. Why not wait for the review of the universal kindergarten program? Why the rush in passing this? I think introducing such reform without addressing the problems besetting the system might aggravate the problem. Kasi a school cycle is just one factor to determine quality.

SCB: But many people have seen the importance of this reform, even UNESCO...

RVP: Okay, if it's an important legacy of the Aquino government, bakit kailangan ngayong taon? If we introduce that, it will not only affect 10,000 students but an entire generation. Kung mag work 'yan okay. Pero paano kung hindi mag work? Naimplement mo na and then nag legislate pa tayo.

Sabi nila it will meet global standards. But in many countries, the K to 12 model worked for them because they have already addressed the many problems affecting their education systems. Sa atin, why not implement the global standard first of education spending. Mag catch up project tayo dun sa decades of underspending. Sabi ko nga, sa totoo lang 'yung K12 is a solution that we should have been discussing 30 years ago. But because of the declining budget for education, hindi na consider.

SCB: So you are not against it?

RVP: K to 12 as an idea, as a model, there is nothing wrong with that. But K12 as it is being implemented now by DepEd, I have many questions. Instead of being the cure, I think it could worsen the defects of the system. I am speaking not just as a legislator but also as a teacher.

SCB: Do you have a better alternative to the K to 12?

RVP: As an alternative to K to 12, what we could have done is to review the Education Act of 1932 kasi 30 years na eh. 'Yan naman 'yung batayan ng marami nating programs. Then, let's propose the alternative.


SCB: So kailangan may militant brand pa rin ng nationalism?

RVP: Oo, kailangan 'yung lobbying provocative. Na realize ko 'yan sa RH Bill. I receive letters from elementary and high school students from Catholic schools. I'm pro RH but there is this attempt to influence my vote and I appreciate that. Kasi they are my constituents. I even receive hate letters, they're saying that I do not represent them. At least, there is engagement. That is why I always tell students, don't always send solicitation letters or raffle tickets to your public officials. Do not assume they know what to vote and what to speak about. Kailangan mayroong effort to inform them and enlighten them. The power of the youth is not voting power or purchasing power but the power to influence. Our opinion will be respected by our peers, our community so let's use this for good.

SCB: How did you handle those hate letters?

RVP: Of course, binabasa ko lahat. 'Yung iba talagang misinformed. 'Yung iba, nagtre-threaten lang. Pero 'yung mga well-intentioned who are frustrated with my position, they remind me the core track of the partylist. Kaya as much as possible, nag rereply ako sa mga serious letters to explain my side. Sa ngayon, hindi lang letters pati na rin sa email, Twitter, and Facebook. Ang mahirap sa politican na tulad ko na part ng generation na gumagamit ng social media, I cannot just ignore it. For other politicians, they can do that. Ang kagandahan naman dito, malalaman mo agad kung paano naa-appreciate ng tao ang ginagawa mo. May mga personal attacks na masakit din, lalo na kapag hindi nila nakuha message mo. Kaya meron ka dapat attempt to explain your position.

SCB: Does the opinion of the youth matter now, especially sa matatanda? Pinakikinggan na ba?

RVP: Part ng culture natin 'yung respect the wisdom of the elders. Kaya nga nahirapan ako nung first few months ko sa Congress kasi there is this generation gap. I am a member of the Congress and technically colleague ko sila but I'm also a young representative and they are veterans. Not just veterans, they are senior citizens (laughs). If I will assert my stand for a particular issue, they might misconstrue it as a misguided display of youthful arrogance or youthful idealism.


SCB: May mga nagsasabi na bakit ang Kabataan Party-list laging against the administration, laging may criticisms...

RVP: Siguro not necessarily for Kabataan Partylist lang 'yan but for the youth in general. If there is a sector or segment in our population na dapat maging kritikal, mapusok, makulit, nagtatanong palagi, I think that's the youth. Pero dapat ma-appreciate ng tao na 'yung pagiging kritikal, palatanong o nag-ooppose ay not necessarily against the government. It is for the good of the government, and the country. Kasi in a democracy, 'yung opposition, dissent, essential 'yun. Hindi naman dapat lahat cheerleaders. Dapat meron ding balance, may nagtatanong. Hindi lang good news, hindi lang mga praises sa government. At kung 'yun 'yung naging role ng kabataan, I'm proud of that. Pero dapat hindi siya iinterpret ng tao na walang role sa democracy, walang silbi, o walang good na nagagawa.

I also have to tell the people, my constituents din, na sa napakaraming batas na pinapasa sa kongreso, ilan lang kaming beses nag no. Hindi naman lahat ng statement ni PNoy, may press statement kami kinabukasan na against it. Hindi lahat ng ginagawa ng DepEd o CHEd, ayaw namin. Paano mong masasabing anti-government ang Kabataan, we are part of Congress! You raise these views in order to help the government see kung ano 'yung nami-miss out niya. Di ba 'yun naman ang gusto ng government, for the people to share their views, to have conversations with our leaders through Twitter and Facebook? Pero hindi naman puwede na lahat na lang ng ishe-share natin eh puro papuri lang sa government.

SCB: Does Kabataan encounter the perception that all you do is rally and nothing else?

RVP: Una, we're working against that stereotype. It's not helping us na may ganyang stereotype. Ang rally daw ay magulo, violent, hindi ka nag-aaral. Pabagsak ka ng pabagsak. Kaya don't join rallies.

Pero I've been an activist since 1997, never pa akong nabugbog, never pa akong nahuli. Rallies are peaceful. Ang hina-highlight lang sa TV, 'yung pukpukan because that is good for the ratings.

Pangalawa, ang rallyista, hindi 'yan sigaw ng sigaw. Nakakapagod sumigaw! At 'pag aktibista ka, hindi ka rally ng rally. Napakahirap kayang mag-rally. Sa sampung ginagawa ng aktibista, isa lang dun 'yung rally. We talk to people, we educate, we study, we lobby.

SCB: How does Kabatan fight against that stereotype?

RVP: Of course, our best way is to recruit them (laughs). Para makita nila na ito 'yung ginagawa natin. Next, we deliver our message through all means, especially through new media kasi 'yun 'yung pinaka affordable at sensible sa constituents namin. 'Yung Facebook page ng Kabataan ang pinaka marami sa party list, 88,000 likes.

SCB: What would you consider Kabataan's biggest contribution during your term?

RVP: For me, hindi quantitative. We proved that a youth group can enter the bureaucracy and remain in the bureaucracy without abandoning your militant idealism, 'yung core principles na pinaglaban mo nung una. Pang balance siya dun sa perception na maraming kabataan nilalamon lang ng sistema. We've proven that a youth group can introduce these meaningful legislations inside parliament.

SCB: Have you inspired younger people to become activists as well?

RVP: Hopefully. The fact that we have this new generation of Kabataan Partylist leaders, siguro isa 'yun sa legacy ng batch namin. But there are many venues to articulate, ventilate our position. You have representation inside Congress and you have pressure outside Congress. That's the role of the youth movement in any country. Hindi puwedeng nasa loob lang ng government. Pero with our experience in Kabataan partylist, hindi rin puwede na nasa labas ka lagi. You need both worlds.