Only The Young

by Jess Pacis

General Trias Sports Complex, Cavite during Leni-Kiko election campaign rally | Photo by Patrickroque1 via Wikimedia Commons

The look on your face when you hear the news keeps me awake. You’re screaming inside and frozen in time; you did all you could do. You were outnumbered this time. The game was rigged, the ref got tricked, and the wrong ones thought they were right.

So goes the first verse of Taylor Swift’s Only The Young, a special single released in 2020. But this May, two years after releasing the song, it found new life as the anthem of Filipino youth as they watched Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – son of the country’s former dictator – get elected as president.

I started writing this article the day after the Philippines’ national and local elections. Its original title was The Kids Are Alright. Then I inserted the word “not.” Then I deleted it. Then I put it back. I honestly didn’t know. Are the Filipino kids still alright? They were the ones who bore the brunt of the Duterte administration’s incompetence in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years. They are the ones who will spend the prime of their lives in a nation governed by the very same family it ousted from power years ago, and the rest of it paying off our government’s outstanding 12 trillion-peso debt.

And yet. I see no defeat in the Filipino youth. Disappointment, yes. The early stirrings of cynicism, maybe. But not defeat.

During Leni Robredo’s campaign, young volunteers blew the Philippines away with their ardor and creativity. Volunteer groups all over the country sprung up on their own. Artists painted murals, musicians wrote songs, small businesses created their merchandise items, and the pink movement was born. It was not enough to beat the Marcos-Duterte tandem, of course. After all, it was decades of a strategic effort to revise history and alter our collective consciousness they were up against.

I know this space is supposed to be a lifestyle and culture column. A political reflection might seem off-topic, but isn’t culture what catapulted the Marcos back to power?

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of the arts (especially those in emergent forms, like Tiktoks and vlogs) in the face of crisis. Still, these things wholly altered the Filipino psyche and corrupted our values as a people. But culture – and I am mustering every last bit of optimism left in me to say this – might also be our best bet at taking back democracy.

“It’s easy to dismiss the importance of the arts (especially those in emergent forms, like Tiktoks and vlogs) in the face of crisis. Still, these things wholly altered the Filipino psyche and corrupted our values as a people. But culture – and I am mustering every last bit of optimism left in me to say this – might also be our best bet at taking back democracy.”

The days immediately succeeding the elections tell the kind of resistance we must sustain in the next six years or more. When the national intelligence chief red-tagged publishing company Adarna House for their Martial Law-themed children’s storybooks, sales for the duplicate titles immediately skyrocketed. The incident, along with news of Vice President-elect Sara Duterte being eyed as Education Secretary, caused fear that books relaying the truths about Martial Law might be banned to further the Marcoses’ campaign to revise their image and clean their family name. And so, a lot of attention these days has been focused on making sure that these books, movies, and other cultural artifacts are preserved and that the Filipino youth would live to see the truth. Another volunteer group has organized a series of Martial Law Museum tours at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. Clearly, the battle to reclaim our nation’s history and secure our future is in culture and education, and our youth are at the forefront.

One of my favorite memories of the campaign period was attending KFiesta for Leni-Kiko, an event organized by Kpop Stans 4 Leni at Amoranto Stadium in Quezon City. Upon entering the open-air stadium, one could’ve easily mistaken it for an ordinary K-pop festival. There were food and activity booths around the area and a massive stage. At one corner, some fans were doing a “random play dance,” an activity common in K-pop events where random songs are played, and anyone is free to enter the designated area and dance. The catch? There were no K-pop acts, and the organizers did not earn from the event. Instead, in a rare display of solidarity, dozens of fandoms came together to support the Leni-Kiko candidacy and most of their senatorial slate.

“The Marcoses may have taken decades to build a culture of lies, but it’s clear to me that our youth are building a culture of hope. As Taylor sings in the pre-chorus of her song, they think that it’s over, but it’s just begun.”

It was a sight to behold. As a millennial, I’ve only actively participated in the past few elections, but I was aware that this was not your ordinary campaign. It was a campaign of the youth, for the youth, and from it, we can see a glimpse of the kind of electorate we will be having a few years from now. That makes me a little bit hopeful.

The Marcoses may have taken decades to build a culture of lies, but it’s clear to me that our youth are building a culture of hope. As Taylor sings in the pre-chorus of her song, they think that it’s over, but it’s just begun.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jess Pacis is a regular columnist for Know Your Philippines in our Lifestyle section. She is a writer and development worker based in the Philippines.

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