This is how most Filipinos would respond when asked about the problems they face. Not minding the uncanny way Filipinos respond to questions, there is a kernel of truth hidden within this brow-raising answer.
Load. Girlfriend. Boyfriend. Grades. Allowance. Break-ups. Professors. Tuition. School. Family. Traffic. Stress. Thesis. Quizzes. Exams. Papers. The list goes on so why bother asking? Literally, marami. The same holds true with our government: marami. Unceasingly, the issues that we and our government have to face are stacking exponentially.
While it is true that these problems are unavoidable and they come bundled even with the positive changes every society has to go through, it is not true that we cannot do anything to at least decrease the rate at which these problems emerge. We have to set priorities. The problem is that we find problems in even the smallest of things, and we forget to ask what really matters to us.
I have spent quite some time thinking about the question, “What youth issue should be given priority by the government today?” Again, marami. I managed to fill half a coupon bond with my list, yet I can’t seem to pick one which I could write about without the others being jealous.
Just how do we set priorities? How could any government set aside one and focus on another? Let us compare the government with a typical teenager. Both end up having a gargantuan list of issues, but in the end, both remain without any impetus unless priorities are made. Thus, a grown-up remains stuck in a teen-aged world and a free government remains bound to chains created by indecisiveness.
The late Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that activities can be classified into a time management matrix using two factors- urgency and importance. Since we have already been comparing the government with a teenager, we might as well borrow a principle from a self-help book to get us out of our dilemma.
Using these two factors, we can classify issues into four quadrants: quadrant I (urgent and important), quadrant II (not urgent but important), quadrant III (urgent but not important) and quadrant IV (not urgent and not important). To draw the line between these two factors, urgent means something that “requires immediate attention” while important means something which contributes to one’s mission, values and goals. Both are not dichotomies; an issue or activity can be placed in a continuum with important or urgent on one side and not important or not urgent on another.
I would demonstrate how this paradigm can be applied to government issues. Consider the following examples. A quadrant I activity would be preventing the increase in the death toll due to the Sabah stand-off. To most youth, quadrant I would be cramming over a major exam. Covey describes such activities as “crises” and people (or governments) that are fond of reacting to them as “problem-minded” or “deadline-driven.”
On the other hand, quadrant II would be a careful study of the Sultan of Sulu’s claim to Sabah by the government (which, if done years ago, could have prevented our tragic quadrant I example) or doing something with how our countrymen are able to cross the Philippine-Malaysia border without much effort (if not freely). To most youth, quadrant II would be advance reading or outlining notes. People (or governments) that deal with such issues are “opportunity-minded.” They feed quadrant II activities in an effort to prevent crises.
Quadrant III would be the brouhaha happening months before the elections (being time-bound delineates it from quadrant IV), while quadrant IV could be represented by the mudslinging between politicians (which happens come election or not). The line is somewhat blurred between these two. What matters is that these two quadrants deserve to have the money and labor dedicated to them diverted towards quadrant I and more importantly, quadrant II.
Just how important are quadrant II issues? Dealing with these issues is like investing money in a bank. I strongly believe that these are the issues which our government should prioritize. Quadrant I cannot be prevented nor ignored, but much like in school, those who are fond of cramming soon gets burned out with stress. Often, the government’s popular answer to oil price hikes are memorandums stopping the companies from doing so. Soon, the bubble bursts and the government cannot do anything but to allow them. If only we could invest more in gas explorations or in harnessing natural energy, then we could at least decrease oil demand and eventually, keep the prices at bay.
To cut it short, I have managed to narrow down my choices into three using Covey’s quadrant II paradigm: education, health and the environment.
Let us deal with the environment first. As a resource-rich country, a lot of our countrymen depend on jobs like mining and logging to earn their living. Other countries depend on us to supply their manufacturing needs. Such activities come with their toll. It is evident that our environment is suffering much from abuse. Even the day-to-day activities of man contribute to nature’s burden. Here in Baguio City, smoke spewed by cars and jeepneys are ruining my hometown’s once awe-inspiring ambience. Mountain sides are being cleared because of uncontrolled urban development. Designed to accommodate a population of 25000, Baguio is now jam-packed with 250000 residents and counting, contributing further to the destruction of the city’s environment.
We cannot stop development. We can only start developing in a sustainable manner. We cannot immediately stop using lumber for our homes, but we can start developing technology that utilizes alternatives. We cannot shove away all cars from the streets, but we can start using cleaner and greener fuel. The environment becomes an issue of the youth since it is us and our children who would suffer most if the status quo continues.
Health issues distinguish themselves with the same magnitude as environmental issues. Productivity is directly tied to the health of a person. For the youth, being healthy means better schooling, having higher chances of good employment and making most of our time as youngsters. With less people getting sick, there would be more funds available for other issues, such as education and the environment.
Our times are changing, and new health issues are emerging. Decades ago, man was plagued by infectious diseases, such as polio and smallpox. With the advent of vaccines, these diseases began to be a thing of the past. However, other diseases have started to take over. To make it worse, the notion that cancer, heart diseases and obesity were just diseases of the old is now proving to be false. Adding to these emerging health problems, Filipinos are still plagued by tropical diseases, such as dengue and malaria. We cannot stop bacteria, viruses or other pathogens in evolving. We can only evolve faster in terms of preparedness. Our dreams of having universal health care in the Philippines should also be realized sooner or later for us to cope up with heath issues.
Last but not the least is education. If the government is an investor, then education is the strongest and highest-paying currency to which any investor could stake all his money in. Education shapes the youth and prepares them for the future. Yes, we have already started with the K-to-12 system. Still, people scratch their heads when they think of whether our country is already prepared for such. Unless we upgrade our teaching facilities and train more competent teachers, the more years that students have to deal with in school might all just go down the drain.
These three youth issues are intertwined. For example, if we invest on upgrading health facilities, we improve health care, decreasing hospital stay and decreasing the days a child needs to be absent in school due to dengue. If we invest on cleaner emissions, we reduce air pollution and decrease the cases of pulmonary diseases. If we invest on free tuition, there would be an increase in the number of professionals in the country who could bolster our healthcare industry.
If we ask our kin the question posed by this essay, again most would answer you back with another question: “May magagawa ba ang gobyerno natin? (Can our government do something?)”
Needless to say, a lot of us have lost faith in our government for the past years. I believe that this is a perception that we need to change. The government can still do something about the issues we now face as the youth! The government just needs our help. It needs a fresh start, and the driving force to deliver such change can only come from us. I am hoping that someday, when all the Filipino youth are asked of what they do and can do for the Philippines, the resounding answer would also be: