Young Turks go to Silliman

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
Monday, August 18, 2008

In February of this year, I received a text message from my friend, Atty. Adel Tamano, president of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, spokesman of the Genuine Opposition, and a fellow alumnus of the Ateneo de Manila University.

He was asking me to join a group of new and relatively young political leaders. Our mission: to talk to the youth and listen to why they only see hopelessness on the horizon. I signed on, along with San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, Bukidnon Rep. TG Guingona, former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla, and Quezon Rep. Erin Tanada. We had two subsequent meetings, where we drew up a list of other people we wanted to invite to our group, and to focus on what our core message would be. Hope, we all said, it is going down, down, down, especially among the young.

Our first media appearance was on ANC, and then to tilt the scales, we also had a radio gig at DZBB over at GMA-Channel 7. Our first campus tour was held last July 10, at Silliman University in Dumaguete City.

“Are you ready to talk to a group of students in a big church?” asked UP professor Liling Magtolis Briones, chairperson of the board of trustees of Silliman University, former national treasurer, and our fairy godmother.

“Of course,” I answered, “I am a good Christian soldier.” Adel, who is a Muslim, as well as Gilbert and Erin joined the first campus tour of the Young Turks.

Nestled in a bowl of land between the mountains and the sea, Dumaguete City is a perfect place for the first campus tour. It is home to the 107-year-old Silliman University, which has taught and trained some of the country’s best minds. I first went to Silliman after graduation in 1983, as a writing fellow in the famous Writers’ Workshop led by the formidable husband-and-wife team of Edilberto K. Tiempo and Edith L. Tiempo. I returned a decade later, as a workshop panelist myself.

And I was back a few weeks ago, with my friends, to talk turkey with the young in Silliman. We woke up at 4 a.m. to be at the airport by six, for the 7 a.m. flight. Groggy from lack of sleep, we were fueled by sheer adrenaline, and the kindness and graciousness of the administration, faculty, staff and students of Silliman.

First we talked at the Udarbe Memorial Chapel, before a group of feisty political science and history students. One of them asked us, in a tone plaintive yet inquisitive: “What makes us sure that you won’t end up like the politicians before you, who talked to us and later abandoned us?”

Adel, Erin, Gilbert and I spoke, telling them of our individual choices to stay here in the Philippines when we could have stayed in the US after we got our graduate degrees. We spoke of working for the government with its starvation wages — if you never dipped your fingers in the pie of public funds. I told the young and earnest crowd that I’m proud to be with this group of bright and hardworking young men, achievers all, the finest assembly you could find ever, who would put the country where it belongs — in the forefront of the Asian renaissance.

After lunch at the lovely Residencia del Almar, with its Spanish-inspired architecture, we hied off to talk to the business administration and economics students at the audiovisual presentation room of Silliman. This time, we were asked about our thoughts on pump-priming the moribund economy. I said the government has money, but it is not allocated wisely and well, and much money is lost due to a lot of leakages. So in this time of economic crises, we must focus on fixing first the infrastructure destroyed by the recent typhoons, thus providing jobs for the countryside and making the infrastructure usable again. I also batted for food security, in the sense that we should put agriculture back on track, by funding irrigation and fertilizer needs, and making sure the money does not end up in the campaign kitty of some dirty hands in the 2010 elections, the way it did in 2004.

Our last stop was at the grand Silliman Church, where we held the all-university convocation/town hall meeting, complete with orchid leis and a recessional hymn. We spoke briefly and listened to the questions, ranging from politics to economics, from local government units to the Sangguniang Kabataan, from lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender concerns to the Law of the Sea. Whew! And we were treated like rock stars — the whole church rocking with the screams, shouts, and cheers of the students when our names were called. Goose pimples ran over my skin when I saw the warm welcome and — yes — wild reception we all received from the young people.

When a well-scrubbed girl in ponytails asked if there is still hope for this country and why do we continue to live here, I said: “Look, look outside this grand church and there is the sea. More than one hundred years ago, our national hero, Jose Rizal, walked on the same boulevard in Dumaguete that we now see. From Dipolog he visited Dumaguete and walked there, deciding whether he should stay here in the Philippines, or leave. We all know what he did. When in doubt,” I added, “read what Lolo Pepe did.”

But let us now listen to what Ma’am Liling wrote about us, to round off this piece.

“The Young Turks belong to different parties, faiths, and lifestyle preferences. Nonetheless, they respect and celebrate each other’s differences. They are united in their advocacy for a New Politics and their eagerness to engage the youth and invite them to be active in the movement for reforms and political activism. Silliman University, (on the other hand), is steeped in Christian tradition. The conduct of university convocations always include the opening and closing prayers led by the university pastor. Nonetheless, the organizers agreed to dispense with the other features associated with convocations. The talk-show format was adopted instead. Dr. Cecile Genove acted as the talk-show host and moderated, with the student government president Stacy Alcantara assisting.

“Full support was provided by president Ben Malayang III, vice-president Betsy Joy Tan, dean Carlos Magtolis, Jr. of the College of Arts and Sciences and dean Tabitha Tinagan of the College of Business Administration. Most nearly everything was discussed: GMA, corruption at all levels starting with the Sangguniang Kabataan to the highest levels, exploitation of the environment, gender equality, the role of media, governance problems with national and local leaders, and yes, alternatives. The oft-repeated concern was about loss of trust in the present leaders and lack of hope for the future.

“Those who believe that the students from the provinces are different from those in Manila are in for a surprise. The questions were just as intense and well-informed. And the depth of despair just as disturbing.

“The sharing of hopes for change was touching. Even with his political disappointments, Gilbert urged the young not to lose hope. Erin who is now carrying the torch for his grandfather and father, called for a redefinition of nationalism. Danton urged inclusion of the marginalized. Adel called for a place for everyone at the national table. He advised the young to be part of the political process.

“Pres. Malayang commented admiringly, ‘They are so different from their fathers!’ Yes, they are different in a wonderful, contemporary way. But they are also the same in that they honor the trails blazed by their fathers.”

The next campus tour of the Young Turks will be on Aug. 26, at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance, 1 to 5 p.m. Be there.

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