Michael “Mike” Francis Acebedo Lopez
Commissioner-at-Large, National Youth Commission
It was only a month after my college graduation as an Advertising major from Cebu’s University of San Carlos when I made a life-changing decision to apply for a government position where I felt I could make some difference as a young Filipino. Armed with unwavering idealism, support from fellow leaders from the youth, the Cebu government, the Church, and the private sector—along with experience as an active student leader and volunteer—I applied as Commissioner-at-Large of the National Youth Commission (NYC). Having been a volunteer of the NYC for several years, I was encouraged to see so many young people who had a passion for the future and thought that a job at the NYC would put to good use all the energy and ideas that come with my youth.
I was told that it was going to be difficult applying for a position that was highly coveted especially by sons and daughters of politicians. But I knew that I was up for the challenge; even before I was sure to receive my appointment, I was already so convinced by a personal belief that it isn’t always true that when one is in government, one has no choice but to be corrupt. Wanting to prove this has consumed me and has framed my actions and decisions ever since.
Today, two years after being appointed as Commissioner of the NYC by President Macapagal-Arroyo, I have to admit that while I am pleased by my personal and professional accomplishments, there have been factors and events, many beyond my control that are difficult to reconcile with what I believe in. The scandals that have rocked this government are shocking, to say the least, and it isn’t easy to hold your head up high as a part of that government. Indeed, these are difficult times to be in government. (Note that the operative word is difficult—not impossible.)
While other people rally in the streets asking for the President to step down, other government agencies such as the National Youth Commission suffer from having leaderships that also warrant our attention and corrective action. Those who think that replacing the President will answer all our problems are missing the point. After all, it’s not just the presidency that makes up this government or any other government—it’s every department, appointee, local government unit, legislator, and employee.
Look at the young leaders, too
After two years in the Commission, I have become so frustrated, desperate. The National Youth Commission, an agency under the Office of the President, is the sole national policy-making and coordinating body on youth affairs. It is a relatively small national government agency, but its potential is great and its role critical. In my opinion, the answer to the deeply-rooted, multi-faceted problems our country is facing is investing in long-term solutions, and not just focusing our energies on a President who would be stepping down in 24 months. This can be done through investing in human capital with the most potential to create lasting change—this means nurturing the right values in our youth and children. The good economist that we have for a President would know how critical it is for our government to invest in agriculture to ensure food security, as it is even more crucial to invest in human capital, particularly the dynamic and supposedly productive youth sector. Doing so would ensure that we would have a good supply of leaders in our future to make the right decisions and to inspire citizens to do their share. This would address cycle of underdevelopment that has plagued us for decades. Sure, the NYC might be too small to be able to address all the concerns of the youth and empower them to become globally competitive and value-centered Filipinos, but this isn’t reason for us to just disregard altogether the central role it is plays in Philippine youth development.
But what happens when the agency that’s supposed to look after the youth is the first to alienate and ostracize them? The youth become more frustrated and start shifting their energies from productive efforts to non-productive efforts. What a waste of energy that could otherwise be put to good use! The last thing we need in our country is a frustrated youth. I join the countless young people in their frustration; but, being in government, I take my frustration as something positive—it only means that I have kept my idealism despite the many challenges. Apathy would be more alarming because it means resigning to the fact that nothing more can be done.
There is a war—one that is not fought with guns or bullets, but one that is fought with integrity, conviction, and hope.
Sham after sham
I am constrained to report to the Filipino people, particularly to my fellow youth, that the Officials of the National Youth Commission have not served the greater interest of our people, for the following reasons:
1) This is a Youth Commission whose Leadership has cases at the Ombudsman, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) and the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), along with a severely damaged reputation, being subject to numerous complaints from various youth circuits and circulating in e-groups across the country and abroad. This Youth Commission has ganged up on me for my opposition, insisting that we are a collegial body and should therefore be united and agree on everything. But I believe in unity in diversity (there is a reason why the NYC was created to have several commissioners) and upholding truth and justice over everything else. They do not understand that I oppose only those decisions that I know will tarnish our individual and collective reputations, ultimately affecting the credibility and integrity of our agency. They do not understand that we each represent the NYC and our government, and our actions can and will affect the credibility and integrity of the Office we represent. At a time when corruption and hopelessness pervade, our credibility, I believe, is the best gift we could give our country and our fellow young Filipinos.
2) This is the same Youth Commission that has bullied the alumni association of the SSEAYP (Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program), an organization of passionate and dedicated alumni of the Japanese Government’s SSEAYP program. (The NYC is mandated by law to implement the SSEAYP in the Philippines). The NYC Leadership supported the creation of a different alumni association to divide the current SSEAYP leadership in the Philippines, apparently to get back at them because the group pressed charges against the Officials of the Commission. These cases filed emanated from the Commission’s decision to choose one of its own as National Leader of last year’s SSEAYP delegation (the first time its ever happened) to a two-month all-expense paid cultural cruise across Japan and the ASEAN region. Worse, the Commission went through the motions of a search for applicants even if the NYC’s Leadership had already promised the position to the interested Commissioner. So what initially was just an issue of delicadeza became an issue of deception, a betrayal of public trust.
Genuine leadership seeks to unite, not divide the efforts and convictions of young people. When it does, it's apparent that it is for no other reason but to perpetuate one's stay in power or to secure an otherwise insecure position in society or government.
3) Many youth leaders across the country perceive NYC as using every crisis in the Arroyo Presidency as yet another opportunity to “kiss ass”. This has lead to the moro-moro and incompetent management of our international programs. Slots for foreign trips, scholarships, and exchange programs are given to friends of the officials, with an unwritten, internal arrangement that only those who are pro-administration will be chosen. Take the SSEAYP for instance: its guidelines, which have been in place for several years, were unilaterally changed last year to accommodate an alleged relative of the President. In fairness to the President, I do not think that she is aware of these happenings, nor has she given such order. The irony is that the alleged relative did not apply last year, but the damage has already been done against the integrity of the SSEAYP selection process. And all this after we require applicants of our programs to accomplish so many difficult requirements and submit long essays. These officials have no respect for the efforts of the young people whose interests we all swore to uphold and protect.
4) We’ve all heard about issues concerning our national procurement law, discussed in length at the Senate’s hearings on the NBN-ZTE issue. Unfortunately, corruption in the bidding process is nothing new—not even to the NYC. In the middle of 2006, during an Executive Session in our Regular Commissioners’ Meeting, and in the presence of our previous legal officer, I was so shocked when two of our Commissioners started accusing each other of securing kickbacks from their management of the agency’s BAC (Bids and Awards Committee). The NYC Leadership did not even conduct a formal investigation on the matter.
5) The NYC Leadership ordered for the delivery of computer units despite the advice from our Admin and Finance Division (AFD) that the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) had already denied the release of funds for the project. The project was supposed to be funded by the Presidential Social Fund, but Malacañang denied the release of funds after discovering that there were violations in the bidding process that the NYC leadership approved. For over a year, the supplier of the computer units were not paid and they almost resorted to legal action had it not been for the steps taken by our AFD Division. (I hope the NYC Leadership did not use the computers for an election bid as president of an association of law students, the computers having been distributed to the law school beneficiaries before the association’s election. It’s too much, really, to sacrifice the agency’s reputation for that.)
6) There are fresh reports of a certain Commissioner who allegedly falsified a DILG Memo Circular, forging no less than Secretary Ronaldo Puno’s signature to endorse his SK seminar cum business venture. The falsified DILG Memo Circular endorsed this Commissioner’s training of SKs, an activity unknown to the NYC and its staff. Maybe he preyed on the SKs knowing that they have the funds to participate in his seminars and falsified/forged the signature of the Cabinet Secretary to make sure that they are obliged to join (according to reports, these cost at least Php 5, 000 per participant; with possibly over a thousand SKs in that province who can participate – well, you do the math).
Despite the humiliation and indignity caused by them, many of these Officials still have the nerve to seek reappointment; worse, one is even starting to lobby for the Chairmanship of the NYC. To reappoint or promote anyone from this crop of NYC officials is like sentencing young people in our country to a fate worse than death.
Look who’s talking
There is a long litany of issues (Yes, there are more) that I hope can be resolved in the proper forum. While there is an ongoing debate for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, what about looking at the activities of the National Youth Commission and the apparent failure of its officials to protect its credibility, having been embroiled in scandal after scandal? How can the SKs look up to the NYC as a guide when the Commission has lost the moral ascendancy to lead them or to even propose reforms in the SK?
To whom much is given, much is also expected. But how can the NYC live up to the high standards young people expect of them when, adding insult to injury, some of its officials have been reported to engage in scandalous sexual and amoral behavior in some of the NYC’s official programs? Complaints from some youth volunteers allege that, in a number of instances, a Commissioner asked them to look for prostitutes for him. Our young people are talking about these debauched activities of a highly decadent Youth Commission, an agency that could have been considered the final frontier, the bastion of integrity and righteousness in the government.
The Officials of the National Youth Commission have failed our country’s youth. Even the hardworking staffs of the agency appear to be demoralized. (The agency’s staff’s turnover rate in the past year is the highest in the NYC’s history)
A war for integrity
As I said, there is a war—and we are all hope warriors who must fight the good fight. As a great American leader once said: If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness. Despite my frustration—and though I’ve contemplated on quitting many times—I refuse to resign from government and would stay for so long as I must, for so long as I can. I gather strength from other young people, from those without any position to make them even care. They are in a serious battle to see a better NYC, one that the youth deserve, because however little their individual effort may be, it will help change things for the better.
Even if I have been able to prove that one can serve in government without compromising his principles, character, and integrity, this isn’t about me. This is a cause larger than myself, but I commit to do my part. Even if it is frustrating to attend the commissioners’ meetings (where one gets the feeling that many things are pre-arranged), I will continue to do so and register my protest when it is called for, and cooperate when good projects are undertaken. Boycott is not an option, it just serves to silence our voice and we end up watching from the sidelines. We must confront every challenge where we find it. For there is a value even when we lose, if we use it to strengthen our resolve to make things right. This does not mean that we should not explore other venues to expose wrong and seek redress for our grievances. All of these efforts are needed.
If, indeed, we Filipinos have a good grasp of right and wrong, then we must also choose what is right. I am sure the President, having publicly declared (repeatedly) her quest to curb corruption and abuse in her government, would appreciate it when people come out and fight to right the wrong that they see.
I urge the President to look into what is happening in the NYC and to listen to the sentiments of the youth. She should know how the acts of her people affect her government and her image among the youth. Yes, the cases are in the courts but it has been almost a year since the cases have been filed and things are getting worse and more damage is done by the day. Surely there is a more expeditious way to address the issues—NOW—before it is too late, before nothing is left of whatever little credibility the NYC still has.
Even if have to give up the one year that’s left of my term for the President to realize how important this is for the youth of our country, than so be it. If that’s what it takes para mapalitan lahat ang dapat mapalitan, palitan na lang rin niya ako—because we are no longer effective and we cannot exist only for ourselves. We have come to a sad and sorry state where the NYC needs to go through fire to be purified. This exposé needs to be made and, when proven in the proper forum, heads surely have to roll to send a strong message that these abuses will not be tolerated. More importantly, we need to restore the faith and the trust of the youth in the NYC. It is imperative.
I also call on my fellow youth—the student council leaders, the SKs, the youth organizations from all over the country—to join in this war. Every Independence Day, we commemorate the youth-led revolution of 1898, when young Filipinos succeeded in passing on to us the freedoms we enjoy today. In every revolution thereafter, young people have always played a central role in their success. But it doesn’t always have to be a revolution against foreign aggression or an oppressive regime—let the Youth Revolution of 2008 be one that is fought by Hope Warriors, young people who want a better future for themselves and for our country, and one that has sent a message, loud and clear, that whether you are President of the Republic, a Senator or Congressman, or Chairman of the National Youth Commission, we will not tolerate any abuse of authority.
I also call on other concerned sectors of society, the Church, our schools, the Senate and Congress, and the Media, to help protect the integrity of young people, and nurture with care, their hopes and dreams and their convictions towards helping our country. To the Senate and Congress, after more than a decade since the establishment of the NYC, maybe it is high time we revisit R.A. 8044 (the Youth in Nation-building Act; the law that created the NYC) and evaluate how effective, or ineffective, it has been in developing the Filipino youth.
The stakes are too high to waver. I am ready to fight this battle. It’s terribly difficult but I know this a defining moment for all of us. Like in any war, the risk of getting wounded in battle is ever-present. Am I afraid? Sure. Uncertainty almost always guarantees fear. But like a friend and mentor once taught me, courage is not the absence of fear, but it is the knowledge that there is something more important than fear itself.
I would rather go down with my integrity intact and my head held up high, than keep up the pretense of integrity where there is none. And I call upon each young Filipino to help me wage this war. Mayday, mayday… I need back up. Let us seize this moment, fight the good fight, and define our generation - and we will soon discover that for our country, and ourselves - the best is yet to come.
* * *
Mike, 24, is a proud Cebuano youth leader who, after starting purely as a volunteer of the NYC, has gone a long way as its Commissioner-at-large.
You may email him at email@example.com.
His blog is here: http://mikeacebedolopez.blogspot.com/
An idealistic young city councilor sent this email to Randy David. Published with permission.
Dear Sir Randy,
I'm [name] from, an alumna of the AYLC program from year 2002. I got so moved by the challenges you posed upon us during the congress that it prompted me to define my sphere of influence and work my way towards contributing what I can to achieve what when then termed active citizenship. Five years after, inclusive of my abandoned three years from a lucrative work, I ran for public office and got elected as 4th city councilor.
Though not monumental, I try daily to make a mark in this field I chose for myself. Recently, I tried to block a proposed ordinance allowing land conversion and granting of special use permit for motel operations in a particular barangay. Not needing to even discuss morality issues, I was certain that the barangay concerned greatly opposed to such proposal for several reasons. Upon knowing that a committee hearing has already been conducted by the chairperson, without even ensuring my presence there (as chairperson of the committee on women and family), I became concerned about the proceedings of the motel's approval.
Come the next session, the said committee calendared and put the committee report in the agenda, furnishing all members of the City Council a copy of their recommendation. Since the chairperson was absent during the said session, it was never discussed. Based on the report, the committee is recommending for the motel's approval, citing that there is no apparent reason to deny its establishment. It was apparent as well that the concerned Barangay Captain has concurred with the chairperson, and acted by issuing a clearance (a public hearing in the barangay was never conducted).
At this point, I deemed it proper to share a copy of such report to my mentor who belonged to the barangay where the motel was applying to be established. Upon learning of such recommendation, he immediately convened the community members and launched a signature campaign to protest the same. He even mobilized people to attend our next session, wherein the committee chairperson felt pressured to withdraw said committee report and cited he needed to further study the matter. Needless to say, the barangay chalked a victory, at least on that date.
It was however during the next session where a member of the said committee, through his privilege speech, lambasted my actions of furnishing a copy of the committee report to my mentor. He called such action unethical and demanded that I be subjected to disciplinary actions. I responded by questioning our internal rules and regulations, on wheter such has been explicitly stated that no member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod may furnish a copy of the committee report to the public. That the IRR being silent on such matter, it is therefore logical that a public proceeding conducted by a public official will eventually produce a public document for the consumption of the concerned individuals. I further stressed that such document, being officially calendared, stated in the agenda and distributed to the members of the council, meant that it is being publicly presented for open debating by the members of the council--who are in fact just representatives of the x number of constituents who voted for them.
In this regard, and considering you as a highly-esteemed polical analyst, insignificant as my question may seem compared to the issues you tackle in Public Lives, may I know of your take on the said debate?
Being a 25-year old neophyte in politics, I try my hard to be a team player yet keep my integrity intact. I shall humbly submit myself to asking for apology should my actions indeed prove unethical. But I want it to come from an unbiased and credible observer, from one (who) devotes his time annually to inspire new generation of leaders.
Thank you very much for reading my inquiry. And thank you for being instrumental in my taking a leap of faith towards the direction I am headed now...
Thank you for your letter. I am glad to see that a young person like you is in politics. I think you did the right thing in passing on a copy of the committee report to a citizen of the barangay concerned. In the absence of any explicit prohibition against making public such committee reports, you are not liable for any breach of confidence. You are not part of a private management group. You are not sworn to secrecy. But to be on the safe side, I would advise you to seek the counsel of a trusted lawyer on this issue. The essence of public office is precisely transparency. As an elected councilor, you represent a constituency. and you are obliged by your office to participate actively in debates such as this and to mobilize public support for your advocacies. Good luck, and never be afraid.
The last three years of my career was spent in one of the most prestigious heavy equipment companies in the Philippines. I was one of the managers of the company. Aside from dealing equipments with the private and government institutions, I have to oversee the delivered equipments, facilitate trainings for operators and mechanics. Usually, I talk to significant people to transact my business (congressmen, Governors, and Mayors the vice governors and vice mayors), who are usually in-charge of contracts and projects.
One of the episodes in my selling career that I will always remember was when I deal with a local government in Mindanao. The heavy equipment requirement involved a multi million peso government loan. If I remember it exactly, the loan amounts to PhP80M. The purchase requirement was to buy a fleet of various heavy equipments for construction.
After some times of requesting an appointment to talk with the person authorized to facilitate the transaction, I finally got an appointment to face him. The guy was a high ranking government official. He was young, brilliant and looks respectable. I feel good that the person I was going to talk to looks calm and descent. But to my surprise, just when I sat in front of him, handing to him my book bounded proposal, he directly asked me without hesitation.
"How much do you offer to us? Your competitor offered us 30% on Bulldozers, 20% on Graders and Rollers, and also with the back hoes..."
I was shocked!
During that time, a medium size brand new bulldozer fit for their needs costs around to 8 Million pesos the lowest. Backhoe that time costs around 4 to 5 Million. Twenty (20) % of 5 Million is P1, 000,000.00. Setting commission straight at Twenty percent of 80 Million loan, total kickback would be 16,000,000.00 PhP.
Unbelievable but that is true.
Who will pay the overpricing?
You must know that the heavy equipment company will not give what is asked by the buyer. Instead, the heavy equipment company will add 20 or 30% over and above the selling price. The moment the equipment is purchased, the public will be paying the cost and overpricing of the purchased equipments in forms of high taxes. That is the reason why the E-vat is imposed. E-vat will help expedite payment of the surcharges and overpricing. Do you realize why current prices of commodities are soaring high? Election is near. Next year the heavy equipment market will be in frenzy. I tell you...
Today, our government, even the president pledged to weed out corruption, but you will wonder why corruption on heavy equipments is not solved. When I researched the internet, I even learned that the guy that I was dealing with became one of the president’s trusted guy after his term in his region. He was promoted maybe because he was "doing his job well" during his term.
- We are too passive
We don’t care what’s going on. Purchase of new equipment in your area does not necessarily mean progress. You need to explore and know the implication behind it. Always think that before government officials shows care, they care their pocket first.
- We refuse to see the bigger picture
We sold our votes during election. How do they get back the money they gave to the voters? Of course by corruption. How can a candidate get back of his millions expenses during campaign with the limited number of years in service? We should elect people to the post who can bring us to the right vision for the Philippines.
- We are too contented, No vision for a better Philippines
We need to rise-up, we need to awaken ourselves. We need to realize that there are still generations behind us. We need to convince ourselves that the kind of Philippines we’ll be leaving to the younger generations depends on our assertion and our labor. Yes, God will always help us, but how can he defend us if we refuse to protect ourselves?
We need to join together; we need to join our hands, our minds and effort.
The Petition for Philippine Access to Information Law is a good move for All Filipino citizens to be adequately informed about the operations and policies of the Philippine government. Freedom of Information laws promotes transparent governance by ensuring access to information or records. Join NOW!
Dear Friends and Fellow Filipinos,
Good day to you! :)
In light of the recent spate of scandals and allegations of corruption in our government, we at Team RP believe that the call for Truth and Accountability in our government should not stop in the investigations that are being conducted by our Senate, Ombudsman and our Judicial System but this should also be complemented with a push for a Philippine Access to Information Law that would help prevent future graft and corruption practices by many of our government officials from happening again. By enacting this law, ordinary Filipinos will now be able to access public documents which would narrate what kind of agreements our government enters into on behalf of the Filipino people and at the same time show us how our public funds are spent. This will increase transparency in our government and will further hold our government leaders and officials accountable for their actions.
In line with this, we are launching a Signature Campaign to help convince our lawmakers towards prioritizing the immediate passing and implementation of this law. Here is Team RP's petition on pushing for a Philippine Access to Information Law:
"Secrecy breeds irregularity, fraud and crime. It allows chicanery, graft and corruption. A democracy based on ignorance, on misinformation, on conjectures, on suspicion is doomed to fail. The more enlightened the people have, the more guarantee there is for their success in their collective enterprises, and in the fulfillment of their social aspirations and purposes."
From the de Venecia-Lozada expose, the Hello Garci scandal and the Spratlys mind-boggler to the North and South Rail questions, events of the recent past clearly highlight how very little we know about the workings of our government, how much difficulty is involved in getting truth to come out and how, albeit fundamental in any republican and democratic state that the government is accountable to the public, we Filipinos are in reality denied direct access to our government institutions and our public servants. As a country that prides itself with democracy, it strikes us with a disquieting reality that we Filipinos have no real access to information to empower us to properly and actively participate in governance.
We in TEAM RP believe that in order for there to be a responsible citizenry that can actively and meaningfully craft the future of the country, there is a need to give teeth to the policy of full public disclosure and the right of the people to be informed as contained in the fundamental law of the land. Moreover, we are aware that if people, especially those who have been bypassed by development, are unaware of laws and procedures for availing themselves of their entitlements or of mechanisms they can use to remedy their plight, then they will always remain poor.
Let us call on our lawmakers to make top priority the passage of a Philippine Access to Information Law which, subject to reasonable and clearly outlined conditions, ensures unfettered access of the people to information of public concern, including government transactions involving public interest.
We urge our lawmakers, let us not delay this any further.
If you support our petition and call for the passage of a Philippine Access to Information Law, you can join and help us in any of the following ways:
a.) Sign our petition online by emailing "I Support the Campaign for a Philippine Access to Information Law" together with your complete name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org
b.) Forward this email to your friends and post this email in your website, blog, friendster, multiply or facebook account for all your friends to read.
c.) Volunteer for our campaign and help us get more Filipinos to sign our petition. If you want to volunteer and help, you can email Karen Naranjo at email@example.com or you can send her a text message at 0918-9183685. We will send you copies of our petition so you can also help gather signatures in your school, office or organization.
Thank you for your time in reading this email. We hope that you will consider joining Team RP's movement for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our country.
May you have a pleasant day ahead! :)
Harvey S. Keh
Team RP is an organization of youth leaders and young professionals who working together for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our country. We are part of the Buong Bayan Isinisigaw Tama Na, Itama Na (BUSINA) Movement. We believe that complaining and lambasting our leaders is not enough but we should proactively work towards finding concrete ways to help solve our present problems. As such, Team RP believes that issues should always take precedence over personalities thus, our programs and activities are always geared towards helping build our democratic institutions and furthering the development of every Filipino. If you want to know more about Team RP or join Team RP, please email us at