Ninoy Aquino, youth, farmers and fisherfolk
On the 32nd death anniversary of Ninoy Aquino, we remember his commitment to support youth, farmers and fisherfolk. We should now put into practice this precious legacy he left behind.
Aquino always showed full support for the youth. They have two advantages. First, the youth have almost no vested interests. Second, they can break out of their elders’ traditional thinking. Instead, they can offer innovative and creative alternatives.
In 1968, there was a Senate bill about to be passed in two days that would have effectively stifled student organizations’ initiatives.
To protest this action, we could not do the usual student demonstrations because there was no time to secure the required permit.
I was then the outgoing president of the Ateneo de Manila University Student Council, while martial law martyr Edgar Jopson was the incoming president. We told Aquino of our desire to stage a demonstration, but could not do so because we had no permit.
Aquino suggested a unique solution. We would leave our buses parked a distance away, then go to the Senate building two at a time. Upon arrival, we would assemble at Aquino’s Senate Office.
Safe in the sanctuary of his office, we would tie our hands with black bands. Again, two by two, we would silently march around the Senate Plenary Hall for all the senators to see our opposition.
Since there was no grouping and no loudspeakers, our action did not need a permit.
Aquino’s recommended action was much more effective than the traditional demonstration. That same afternoon, the proposed oppressive Senate bill was withdrawn.
Aquino knew that Jopson and I were volunteer workers for the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).
Motivated by Aquino’s desire for us to have a global perspective, the two of us co-founded Ateneo de Manila University’s Association Internationale des Étudiants en Économiques et Commerciales (AIESEC).
This is the largest student organization in the world.
It is noteworthy that in the area of community development (which also involves the youth, farmers and fisherfolk), it is this chapter that recently ranked fifth out of more than 2,000 AIESEC chapters around the world.
Today, we are not giving as much attention to the youth as Aquino would have wanted. For example, in the committees of the legislated public-private sector Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), most of the private sector members are between 40 and 60 years old. We are therefore missing the youth perspective.
Aquino also told us that we should develop a nationalist ideology that would be suited to our unique needs, threats, and opportunities. He wanted a program for Filipino farmers that would not blindly copy a foreign ideology.
Dante Buscayno, the son of one of Aquino’s farmers, had just joined and subsequently headed the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). This largely subscribed to the Chinese Maoist ideology. Aquino felt this subservience was a big mistake.
Since Jopson and I were farmer organization volunteers, he wanted us to encourage our farmers to think independently. They should advocate programs suited to their actual needs, and not blindly follow foreign prescriptions.
Several Maoist ideologues supported the traditional communist thinking “that people should give what they can, but only get what they need.” This would decrease individual motivation and initiative. On the other hand, the capitalist system should not encourage profits alone, but should include social responsibility.
Consequently, farmers and fisherfolk should be included as partners in a business enterprise. They should not be exploited just to maximize profit. Instead, they should be given just wages and an opportunity to share in the business enterprise’s benefits.
Aquino’s vision involved what his son, President PNoy, is currently advocating: inclusive growth. PNoy himself believes this kind of growth is sorely lacking today.
How should we act to implement more fully Ninoy Aquino’s commitment to the youth, farmers, and fisherfolk?
In the public sector, the Department of Agriculture (DA) should encourage increased youth participation in its decision making bodies. The youth should be harnessed, especially in the Council for Agriculture and Fisheries at the national, regional and provincial levels.
In the private sector, a similar arrangement should be made so that the youth is properly heard. With youth’s absence of vested interests and their innovative creative ideas, inclusive growth can be better attained.
Aquino died 33 years ago. For this, we owe him our freedom. We must now exercise this freedom by giving substance to his commitment to youth, farmers, and fisherfolk in concrete actions to achieve inclusive growth.
The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email [email protected] or telefax (02) 8522112.
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