Defying the odds: How youth volunteers conquered campaign challenges

by Mary Antonie Joan E. Alberto

From left to right: Dasmarinas Volunteers preparing for the Leni-Kiko Cavite Grand Meeting De Avance last April 30, 2022, at the Leni-Kiko Volunteer Center Dasmarinas and the Dasmarinas City booth during the Cavite Grand Meeting De Avance last May 1, 2022 at the New Dasmarinas Football Center. (Captured by Mary Antonie Joan E. Alberto)

Amid beads of sweat from long, exhausting walks under the sun, the youth volunteers of Dasmariñas City, Cavite carry on with their campaign in hopes of safeguarding their tomorrow.

The May 2022 elections fueled the spirit of volunteerism in the vote-rich city with young volunteers braving alleys and streets, even crossing bridges over rivers, to defy what seems like a neverending roallercoaster of campaigning for their election bets.

Desire for the Future

For first-time voter Miguel Raguero, his determination to join the campaign as a volunteer was the urge to reach a bright future.

“I just felt the need to volunteer because I wanted a brighter future for myself and for the people around me, especially for the kids,” he shared.

Migs is a 21-year-old student and full-time volunteer of the Youth Vote for Leni-Kiko Dasmariñas (YV4LK) since December 2021, almost two months after the filing for the presidency of Presidential bet Leni Robredo.

He heads the Social Media Committee of YV4LK Dasmariñas. He manages all posts and publication materials on their Facebook page as well as managing engagements.

Similarly, 24-year-old volunteer Jam Gomez shared that campaigning this year lifted the pressure of lobbying for a particular candidate. Hence, she felt light on volunteering as a service to the country.

Ngayon, it doesn’t feel wrong. Kasi may mga tao na feeling nila ‘yong ginagawa nila is para sa isang candidate. Pero ako, noong nag-volunteer ako, feeling ko ginagawa ko siya para sa bansa. So, it doesn’t feel wrong nung nag-volunteer ako. I was happy kahit pagod ako,” she explained.

(“It doesn’t feel wrong now. There are people who feel like volunteering revolves around a particular candidate. For me, when I volunteered, it felt as if I was serving the country. So, it doesn’t feel wrong that I volunteered. I was happy even though it was tiring.”)

Jam has been volunteering for various initiatives as a member of a Christian-led youth organization in Dasmariñas. Her last volunteer mission was way back before the pandemic when they assisted a community of handicaps and homeless people in Davao.

However, Jam shared that this is her first in volunteering for an election campaign, let alone a political event. Like Migs, joining the volunteer community was her own decision. Jam was one of the volunteers who designed the booths of the different municipalities in Cavite for the Leni-Kiko Cavite Grand Miting De Avance last May 1, 2022.

Conquering Challenges

As the campaign highlights the dynamic energy of the youth, challenges in managing personal responsibilities and volunteer work, together with budget and funding, are ever so present.

Migs shared that a common problem of youth volunteers was how to manage their classes and volunteer work. He shared that most volunteers were studying and working and had to juggle their duties while campaigning on the ground.

“I can say that time management is one [challenge]. We are students while some are working, and volunteer work takes a toll on our time. There are times that we are attending classes and/or taking our quizzes or exams, at the volunteer center, some are attending their classes during events or house-to-house campaigns,” he said.

On the other hand, Jam mentioned their struggle on money and water where they chipped in to lessen expenses and accommodate everyone. She added that another challenge was the timidity during the days they volunteer which increases their thirst.

“Nagtipid kami talaga ng mga kaibigan ko kahit sa transpo. Nagpedicab kami para makapunta. Naghati kami sa transportation namin kaya ayon. Then water. Kasi ‘yong food, we can survive a day without food. Pero ‘yong water, grabe kasi ‘yong init. Halos lahat. Mayroon ngang instances na naghahanap na talaga ng water,” she explained.

(“My friends and I really saved our money even for transportation. We rode a pedicab going to the venue. We split the fare. Then water. Because we can survive a day without food. But water, the heat was really intense. Everyone was thirsty. There were instances that everyone was asking for water to drink.”)

Both volunteers said that volunteering was never an easy task, especially since they were not expecting anything in return for the service that they passionately fulfilled. What seems to be the most challenging part of volunteering during this campaign is the negative feedback they occasionally receive – dismissed and ignored efforts, sometimes even ridiculed.

“Pinakanaging struggle ko ay ‘yong freedom. May mga kabataang mga hindi nabibigyan ng pagkakataon to express their beliefs, their morals, opinions, emotions, and everything. Basta ang daming hindi nabigyan ng pagkakataon to express,” Jam said. Most of the time, she added, she felt how her parents repressed her political views.

(“I struggled most on freedom. There were young people who were not given the opportunity to express their beliefs, their morals, opinions, emotions, and everything. There were just so many of them who were not able to express.”)

Likewise, Migs also felt small as some Dasmarineños mocked their group during house-to-house campaigns. Though he considers having conversations during the activity his best-liked among his volunteer duties, the disparaging feeling persists.

“Another struggle is how the people see you as a volunteer, many people made us their laughingstock for volunteering, but we stood firm with our stand. There are some who actually listened and were convinced but there are some who are really firm to their stand and that’s okay,” he shared.

Despite these, the fire within the young volunteers continues to ignite. They launched various campaign activities on and off the internet to engage with other Dasmarineños: multiple caravans to give out campaign collaterals, online live podcasts, flash mobs, mural paintings, and of course, house-to-house initiatives.

Kindling the Movement

Youth volunteers cheer and celebrate during the Leni-Kiko Cavite Grand Rally last March 4, 2022, at the General Trias Sports Complex. (Photo from Mary Antonie Joan E. Alberto)

The climactic season of campaigning for the national elections was not seen any more as merely campaign endeavors. It was widely dubbed a “People’s Campaign”, indicating a large volunteer movement.

And by this movement, we mean an immense, nationwide movement.

In an interview with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Political Science Assistant Professor Jeorge Alarcon, this year’s campaign accentuates the differences in scope, degree of involvement, and intensity compared to past election campaigns.

“For instance, in 1992, the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago ran for the presidency. And that campaign was something that can be categorized as ‘youth driven’ Marami siyang volunteers, maraming youth participants sa bawat rally niya, at sa mga mismong bumoto sa kaniya. In 2004 and 1998, the same went for Raul Roco. Dati, we volunteer for a political party. Or we volunteer in the machinery created by the political candidate. This year, marami ang nagvolunteer na gawa ng sarili nilang initiative. So that is one basic difference,” Prof. Alarcon explained.

In traditional campaigning, strategies are shaped by different political parties at the national level. Contrary to this is what happened to this year’s volunteer-driven campaign. The chief campaign team organizes and adjusts their strategies based on the trend they see on the ground.

Prof. Alarcon also mentions how this year’s campaign provides greater ownership for the volunteers to maneuver the movement. Evidence of this is present on the numerous faces of the campaign – from tarpaulins to shirt designs, to flyers and other collaterals, and even to campaign songs and themes of sorties.

“There is greater freedom on the part of the volunteers to input whatever they want to input. Mayroon silang ownership noong campaign. Whereas before, kung mayroon man it’s because they support the candidate. This time, they support the candidate plus may ownership sila ng kampanya,” he said.

Aspirations Fuel Transformations

The vital participation of young people in the national elections presents their role as the largest number of registered voters. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) reported that 52% of the total number of registered voters for this year’s election was from the youth sector.

Youth participation is an important ingredient in nation-building in such ways that their generation powers creative ways of civic engagement and empowerment. Volunteerism during the campaign season is their vehicle in heightening the invitations for social change.

“Mas naging aware sila sa rights nila. And mas namulat sila na, ‘ah puwede nilang gawin ito doon sa taong pinili nilang iboto,’” volunteer Jam Gomez shared.

(“They became more aware of their rights. And they realized, “oh I can do this to the candidate I am voting for.”)

What turned the election campaigns around in Dasmariñas was the aspirations and expectations of the youth. According to Prof. Alarcon, insufficient government responses in addressing the pandemic crisis reflected the kind of leadership that the country has had – and what the country needs.

“Sa aking palagay, the fact that we experienced the pandemic coupled by the fact that the people realized the ineffectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic, and compare it to what the OVP is doing, or has been doing, for the past 2 years in terms of addressing the COVID-19 crisis is not enough,” he explained.

In a project led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – together with Youth Co: Lab PH and Citi Foundation – good governance, post-COVID recovery, and education topped among various social concerns that the youth sector expects the candidates to address if elected.

On top of these, another factor to consider in the pivotal trend of the campaign is the collective anxiety of the youth over a possible Marcos presidency. Prof. Alarcon explained that these sentiments could be traced back decades ago and are especially valid for those who have family members victimized during the Martial Law.

“I think there is a genuine fear, genuine concern, there is an anxiety over the possibility of a Marcos presidency. I think that is a very important factor to consider kasi ‘yong anti-Marcos sentiment, hindi lang naman ‘yan this year. There has been an anti-Marcos sentiment for a very long time and valid reasons. Especially for those whose family members are victims of the Martial Law regime,” he stated.

Prof. Alarcon also mentioned how there is always an increase in public participation during presidential elections than in the senatorial. He explains that Filipinos are more tuned in with the presidency than senatorial races.

“Andiyan din ‘yong fact na it is a presidential campaign where generally, there is a higher tendency of people to be interested in politics. Kung titignan mo ang election cycles natin, every election year na may presidential election, mas mataas ang interes ng public in the election. For some reason, Filipinos are more interested in the presidency than in the senatorial campaigns,” he said.

What’s Next for Volunteers? 

By this time, the election had already concluded and front-runner candidates had been declared. This also commences the transition from the previous administration to the newly elected – or does it?

In the case of the volunteers, the prevailing question of continuing the movement remains. There is no clear picture as to what the next six years will be, yet the youth believes that volunteerism will carry on.

“Iniisip ko na magcocontinue talaga siya kasi election lang ‘yong natapos. Hindi ‘yong willingness ng mga tao na tumulong. Or ‘yong willingness ng mga kabataan na i-angat ‘yong bansa natin,” volunteer Jam strongly said.

Prof. Alarcon agrees with this sentiment, explaining that the inauguration will not have a big impact on the voluntarist spirit especially if those who volunteered were not forced to volunteer. However, he expresses his thoughts on how the actions of the incoming regime would affect the intensity or scope of the movement.

“Kasi by itself, I don’t think that will have a very big impact on volunteerism spirit. Assuming, ang assumption ko, those who volunteered, volunteered because they feel like volunteering not because nakita nila kaibigan nilang nagvolunteer, not because napressure silang magvolunteer. But I think would affect the intensity or scope of voluntarist spirit would be actioned by this particular regime that will enter,” he explained.

Even after the elections, rampant are the efforts to divide the nation through the spread of disinformation and trolling. The predominance of red tagging, which may instill anxiety among volunteers, may worsen the problem.

“Kahit hindi totoo iyan, kahit ipagpalagay mong chismis, “dito sa barangay natin, nawawala ‘yong ibang mga volunteers [were caught].” Syempre matatakot ‘yong mga, lalo na ‘yong mga batang volunteers. That would affect whether they would continue volunteering or not. That would affect as well ‘yong, hindi lang ‘yong whether they would volunteer or not, kundi kung gaano kalawak, kalalim ang kanilang involvement in the volunteer efforts,” Prof. Alarcon adds.

A Glimmer of Hope

Despite their efforts being possibly periled and jeopardized, these youth volunteers continue to firmly place their faith in volunteerism. For them, it is just the elections that happened. But volunteerism will stay.

Their one big message to their folks? Don’t lose hope.

“The campaign period just ended, same with the election season that is ending soon, but the spirit of volunteerism will push through, it will always be there,” says Migs.

Jam agrees, “‘Yong bilangan lang ‘yong matatapos. Pero ‘yong tutulungan natin, sobrang dami pa. Kaya ‘wag kayong mawalan ng pag-asa.” 

The fear of uncertainty wraps us tightly, especially the youth. The young people still have a long road to go and dreams to reach.

But if hope comes from them, who are we to deny it?

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