Speakers during the voter education campaign of the Commission on Elections urge Thomasians of voting age to register for the 2010 polls: former ambassador Henrietta de Villa of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections or Namfrel and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and spokesman James Jimenez. UST Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa looks on.

YOUNG people can bring change to a corrupt government, and the first step is to register as voters.

Election officials and voters’ watchdog groups called on the youth to make their voices heard in the 2010 elections as they launched a national voter registration and education campaign at the Quadricentennial Park last Dec. 2.

The campaign, “Bagong BIDA, Be the change, Botanteng Pilipino – Magpalista Ka!” was launched in the University by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), together with the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

“A new breed of voters could bring about new breed of leaders,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told the Thomasian community.

Pabillo said an empowered youth could salvage the country’s “endangered democratic process.”

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento noted that if “the three million votes of first-time voters will be added to (the youth) who voted on the past elections, “we can accumulate 11 million votes, which is a big percentage that could make a big difference in the coming elections.”

In his welcome remarks, Rector Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa O.P. challenged the youth to make their voices heard and tell “imbecile” public officials that their days are numbered.

“In the recent US election, the youth’s overwhelming vote made a big difference in the outcome (of the election) and the slogan, ‘Change has come to America’ became a reality. Change can also come in the Philippines if you — our youth — will begin to move now,” De la Rosa said.

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“Number is power. You, our youth, has the numbers. Use it. Let it remind us that you are the hope of our motherland,” the Rector added.

De la Rosa also noted how the youth is “engulfed in a sense of helplessness” amid all the crises and controversies in the country today, reminding them of how collective action works best in dealing numerous challenges.

The Rector has made voter education a major advocacy, publicly shunning early this year calls to bring down the government through extra-constitutional means.

“We have become habituated to use People Power before and after election time,” De la Rosa said. “It is about time that we reminded ourselves that the best manifestation of people power is the power to vote.”

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the voter’s registration and awareness drive is a way for the youth to get their acts together in choosing the next leaders of the country.

“We depend on you, young people, for the change the country needs in this coming election,” Melo said.

Former ambassador to the Holy See Henrietta de Villa, who heads both Namfrel and PPCRV, encouraged the youth to be “movers of change” and elect a different “breed of leaders” to Congress and even the presidency.

“Let us change corruption (of the mind) to consciousness. And let your every ballot be your conscience. Vote responsibly,” De Villa said.

As part of the campaign, Comelec set up a satellite office at the Civil Law lobby, where more than 220 Thomasians and residents from Sampaloc area have registered.

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Power in number

Comelec spokesman and UST alumnus James Jimenez said the University, which has a student population of 40,000, was a strategic place for Comelec to call for a clean and honest election as well as launch information dissemination and youth voter registration projects.

“UST is a focal point of the university belt. So, it is for us to reach out to other schools in the university belt from here,” Jimenez told the Varsitarian.

Comelec is planning to extend its campaign to other campuses to encourage more youths to register and vote in the 2010 polls, he said.

The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) will help the Comelec in its mission to “replicate in other schools (this kind of event) so that we can have (more) people become interested (in voter registration),” he added.

CEAP has more than 1,200 member-schools nationwide, including UST.

“The people tend to queue during the last month (of registration). Since there are many people who want to register during those times, not all of them get accommodated,” Jimenez said. “What we are trying to do now is to try to increase the monthly rate of registration (so there won’t be long queues anymore).”

Cristina Cabral, assistant to the Rector for student affairs, said the campaign will help “make the youth intelligent voters who will make intelligent decisions.”

“We can contribute to the change (this nation needs),” Cabral said.

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