Ten-year-old Filipinos, 91% of them, cannot read and write well and cannot grasp instructions. They have barely stepped into Philippine society and are already on the way to becoming a lost generation.
There are wonderful statistics on the Philippines’ demographics that will place our population in the next several decades as among the youngest in the world. Indeed, if life were about humans as the prized assets of earthly existence, this trajectory toward youthfulness would be wonderful. But life today and what it is building up to be in the near future is dangerous for a budding generation unless it is rich and intelligent.
Our new generation, who will be around for the next 60 years, is neither rich nor intelligent. I am talking about the general rule, not the exception. The general rule says that 91% of ten-year-olds are not proficient in reading and writing and are not capable enough of understanding instructions. This is a disabling foundation for a wannabe smart generation. Add another general rule for 80% of Filipino families compromised by food poverty and/or afraid of being food-poor. Not smart is also not rich.
Poor and semi-illiterate are mean gullible, and vulnerable to disinformation, a ready-made generation for continued exploitation by the greedy or power-hunger. In other words, a lost generation is well on its way.
And, by the way, it will not be the first lost generation. The only difference is in the quality of the leadership of the country. It is expected that the elite, meaning the most powerful, wealthy, and learned, have traditionally governed societies, not just ours. If the quality of the elite’s leadership is cultured and rule-oriented, the rest of society is heavily influenced to follow in the same way. The opposite is just as true if the leadership is dishonest and unjust.
The previous lost generations were conditioned by history and tradition. However, a series of reasonably honorable leadership had driven the transition from blind obedience to the birth of aspirations for improving collective life. Thus, a steeply hierarchical leadership structure slowly morphed towards the ideals of democracy, calling for equitable representation.
The impact of that transition expressed itself in more resources for mass education, social services, and regular elections. Never enough, but bigger than what it had always been. The series of leaders who believed in experimenting with a greater voice for the vast but poor majority actually managed to bring democracy closer to being felt and appreciated.
Until authoritarianism crept back to being the dominant influence under martial law, it was a painful backslide considering it awakened what was the deepest embedded memory of governance from the pre-Hispanic datu system. Fortunately, modernity had penetrated the wall of ignorance effectively enough for the people to seek freedom again. It helped that the dictatorship bankrupted the economy and the Philippine government. Hunger, abuse, and frustration produced a people-led rebellion. Freedom and democracy found a second chance.
There should be no more reason for a lost generation to emerge. The reality, however, is quite harsh. The combination of corruption and disinformation, or disinformation driven and funded by corruption, has established a strong foothold in blinding the intelligence of our young generation. It is no more blind obedience; it is a blighted intellect in an atmosphere of false and fake news with an agenda.
I should take heart, though, with a few examples from the emerging generation, two in particular. The first is Coby Santos Lim, a Filipino who chose to be the student speaker in a commencement exercise of a graduate school in the United States. An engineer who pursued higher studies at the University of California Berkeley stood before the faculty, parents, and guests in a recent graduation exercise to say that he will strive to be an ethical engineer and use his learnings to fight disinformation afflicting Philippine society. He especially decried the use of computer-driven election results after a massive disinformation campaign.
Just a few days later, another commencement speaker in Ateneo de Davao, Gwyneth Marie Vasquez, spoke of her achievements having been made possible, not only because of her intelligence and personal diligence but by the support system made available to her by her parents and the privileged institutions she studied in. She mentioned a friend from a lumad community who expressed her deep wish even to finish schooling because higher-learning opportunities for lumad children were rare. Gwyneth asked us who are part of that privileged strata to re-examine how we can share our blessings.
I know that I speak of exceptions with Coby and Gwyneth. But something in their spirit told me that others, among the tens of millions who are neither rich nor smart, must also be carrying the same seed. There may be a thick crust of manipulated darkness covering that seed, but there must also be some millions of Cobys and Gwyneths feeling and seeing a dream they must pursue.
I have believed for so long in the idealism and purpose of every new generation. Now, I wonder at times if I am already fooling myself. I wonder, too, if my parents had also wavered in their faith that the new generation they had given birth to could remember that facts, truth, and honesty were the main features of their operating system. I hate to tell them that many of us had forgotten and compromised, and the evidence is in the kind of society we built in our lifetime.
At this juncture, I have to hold more strongly to the faith of a greater force out there, of a greater purpose for all of us, and the constancy of divine parameters that human deviants cannot simply disregard without grave consequences because life must have a deeper meaning, not only for me but for humanity as a whole. And because we must not have more lost generations even beyond our watch.