But nah, that's for the comic book. We're in the real world where the most that superheroes do is have us enjoy a couple of hours in the theater watching their crime-fighting moves to save the day and make the world right again. In the real world, it is we -- not caped crusaders or science-lab-accident-products -- who act, influence, improvise, defend and fight (if necessary) to uphold the good. In other words, the promotion of truth and the pursuit of justice are in our hands.
Recently, though, I couldn't help but think of a bunch of young dudes as a Justice League of sorts. That a Marvel Comics-based flick is abuzz boosts the comparison. And how can one not think of them as some kind of heroes when they're going against the current, speaking out with a message that is -- at the moment -- not the popular one in mainstream culture, and doing so in a nation where keeping quiet is the default setting when there's the risk of ruffling a few feathers?
The "reproductive health" bill or RH bill has enjoyed "ooohs" and "aaahs" from either misinformed or lacking-in-love-for-country fellows for years, and the bill's proponents and supporters have been the noisier party in the culture of life / culture of death equation. But the tide has been turning in the United States, and whether we like it or not, when the US sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. Add to that several incidents and developments happening on our own shores that have prompted more and more Filipinos to have a say -- actively -- in what's happening as far as the RH bill is concerned. And now we have the future of the nation speaking out -- the youth... not to say that birth control is a right that ought not to be denied young people, or that it is useless to expect teens to be interested in other things besides getting laid so might as well go by low standards and feed their minds with more provocative materials for six years -- and make it super-easy for them to get their hands on condoms, OCs and every other pregnancy-prevention drug and device there is. No, none of them even implied that an RH measure would propel the Philippines to catch up with the rest of the modern world and hopefully achieve economic progress, too.
The two ladies and four gentlemen who represented a youth coalition during a press conference on May 7 showed precisely what the youth are capable of -- capable of understanding, of doing, of achieving, even of blasting when it comes to stereotypes that portray young people as cynical,self-focused dudes who couldn't care less about the future of their generation and their country. Here's what one of them said, reading from the statement of the organization he represented:
“This is a call to solidarity. The youth now calls upon the entire nation to rally behind us and demand that the Reproductive Health Bill… be laid to rest once and for all. The bill must never be passed, not just because it is uneconomic, not just because it is unhealthful, not just because it is impracticable, not just because it is flawed, but, most importantly, because it divides our people. A nation divided is easily conquered. Indeed, we face the threat of being conquered by the motives of larger, more powerful nations who dangle the promise of aid and support in exchange for the shifting of our mindsets, the erudition of our values, and the degradation of our values as Filipino families and individuals. Against this, we must stand united.”
Engineering student Kiboy Tabada is the head of UP for Life -- a system-wide alliance of students, faculty, staff and alumni of the University of the Philippines -- and it was also he who read out loud the manifesto titled Our Voice, Our Vote after all the groups had read their statements.
"Why the haste to force uncertainty into reality when you have in your hands the opportunity to give the Filipino people what they really, direly need: quality education and employment opportunities, genuine rural development, and the protection of the integrity of the Filipino family and society? Opposition to the RH bill would not have lingered if the arguments against it were not valid, if the chances of detriments were slim, and if the strong need for it were justified," he continued.
The five other youth leaders representing CFC-Singles for Christ - Youth for Christ (Raymond Ibarrientos), Youth Pinoy! (Eilleen Esteban), Federation of National Youth Organizations (Lea Dasigan), Columbian Squires (Allen Paolo Guballa) and National Capital Region Youth Ministry (Peter Pardo) delivered their respective groups' statements, after which came the open forum. Expectedly, there were questions about the validity of their claims, especially after other noisier groups who enjoyed more mainstream media mileage had been giving the impression that the youth sector is unmistakably behind the birth control measure. Singled out was the National Youth Commission, the youth office of the government, whose programs and direction are all geared toward promoting the coercive RH bill and all that it stands for.
The replies from the youth panel were candid and simple:
“The National Youth Commission–opisina lang ho ‘yan ng gobyerno, and what we all know is [the government supports the] RH bill, kaya po [‘yang bill ay] nandoon at hindi naibabasura” (The National Youth Commission is only an office of the government, and what we all know is [the government supports the] RH bill, that is why that bill is there and is not being junked), said Esteban of Youth Pinoy!
“We are here on our own volition. We have the blessing of the CBCP but we have come here representing our organizations, wala po kaming pera, wala po kaming funding mula sa malalaking institusyon (we have no money, we have no funding from big institutions). At naniniwala po kami na kaya kami nandito ay malaki ang stake ng future namin dito sa bill na ito, na gusto naming maibasura (And we believe that we are here because our future has a big stake in this bill, which we want to be junked)."A lot transpired during the press conference, and you can get the lowdown on what happened from this article (links to the statements of the different youth groups can be found there as well). The Our Voice, Our Vote Youth Manifesto can be read here, but allow me to quote from it:
We are for population management and development and we, too, dream of progress. However, genuine progress can never be achieved until our government genuinely invests in our people. Our population is an asset. Government must treat it as an asset... While the RH bill posits itself as a comprehensive attempt to relieve itself of a particular ill, it is this very claim of comprehensiveness that blinds it from its cons. We cannot afford to gamble our future. We cannot afford to legislate what constitutes harm to our people.
It's no coincidence that the day these youth decided to declare their stand against the divisive measure that is the RH bill was also the resumption of Congress. Much depends on the legislators, which is why the youth who believe in the capabilities of the Filipino people and are asking the government to have the same faith and to empower the people, are working to have their true sentiments known.
Then on the eve of the resumption of Congress, some brilliant lights shone on a part of the UP Diliman campus. No, there was no UFO in sight, but the flicker of candles on one side of the sunken garden that for some minutes showed why there is indeed hope for this university that has been dismissed -- until recently -- as simply "going with the flow" as far as RH legislation was concerned.
A group of students quietly but firmly expressed their rejection of a proposed measure that ignores the real needs and the capabilities of the Filipino people and which yields to the subtle demands of foreign powers. And while such quiet demonstrations of protests and while more and more young people speak up just as the youth alliance's representatives did this week, there will be no need for caped crusaders or gravity-defying superheroes. They can simply stay on the silver screen (or the comic book page) and let us humans carry out the pursuit of justice and the promotion of truth. With allies like the six young fellows who stood quietly strong as they made their pronouncements, the job can undoubtedly be handled without superheroes.