Changing the conversation
- Margarita Buenaventura (The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The truth is, they look ordinary. Cramped around a tiny table in a popular café chain dressed in plain clothing as they weigh in on the value of the educational system and youth empowerment, one could easily assume that they’re nothing but a bunch of university-age students discussing a group project.

Yes, it’s true. They are young. And they look ordinary. But they are also organizing this year’s Philippine Model Congress — and when they do, it’ll be the first one in the history of the country.

While they may or may not end up bidding for seats in the government, the fact remains that these self-confessed idealists have a lot to say.

At 18 to 19 years old, friends Leandro Leviste, Lance Katigbak, Thomas Rosal, Tricia Peralta, and Alonzo Virata make up the nucleus of the entire operation: as the Model Congress’s executive board, they get to make the decisions on matters such as accepting applications to deciding on the typeface to be used on the website.

So is it a challenge for people to take them seriously? Not at all, apparently. “I think it’s because we’re really relentless,” says Thomas.

Tricia adds that she has spoken to school administrators with ease, and doesn’t think that their age has formed any bias against them. “We’ve had more than 600 applicants, and they’re still coming in.”

With an event that only expects to accommodate 400, the potential turn out isn’t shabby at all.

One then wonders, then, what it is about the event that has sparked the same enthusiasm that kids have for a YouTube video gone viral. The Model Congress hopes to encourage young people to have a deeper appreciation for legislation by having the opportunity to create bills themselves. They will be separated into committees, whereupon the bills that come out of them will be submitted to the actual Congress for review.

If anything, the whole process sounds like homework. But beyond the Model Congress’s promising full attendance, it is also worth noting that some of those who are attending have coalesced in the event’s online forums, forming coalitions and alliances way before the actual committee meetings have begun.

The one-day event seems like the perfect avenue for anyone who has designs on a political future. The opinion is split on this regard, with some like Lance and Alonzo saying that public service and politics are mutually exclusive.

But Leandro, the son of Senator Loren Legarda, thinks differently. “My exposure to politics has also made me a believer that government can be part of the solution. While other people my age see running for Congress as the least likely way to make a positive impact in society, I see its huge potential to make a difference every day.”

While they may or may not end up bidding for seats in the government, the fact remains that these bright-eyed, self-confessed idealists have a lot to say about a number of issues that pervade society today. Lance and Thomas say that education is a starting point of progress, and Tricia is of the opinion that sustainable energy is a very important advocacy that is often neglected.

It’s easy for one to forget that this bevy of teenagers is what it is: a bevy of teenagers. They may be coy and self-effacing about the work that they are doing, but that doesn’t undercut the passion that they have for an event that they don’t stand to gain any monetary compensation from (application is free of charge). Call it an illusion of grandeur, but most great ideas usually are. Perhaps it is true, what Alonzo says. Politics and public service can be mutually exclusive.

Sure, these kids look ordinary, but they are kids, and they seem to be set on changing the Philippines. What’s your excuse?

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