Edmar Delos Santos

Published: April 18, 2024

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines — Julianne Navarro, a 21-year-old from Laoag City, has not participated in any climate change initiatives undertaken by her Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) despite her province’s vulnerability to the climate crisis and the youth council’s role in addressing it. 

Under the SK Reform Act of 2015, youth councils across the archipelago must execute projects and programs on climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction and resilience. 

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of any activities [on climate change] done by our SK. I don’t know if [it’s] mere ignorance or [there’s a lack of] information dissemination [on these activities],” Navarro said.

Navarro believes more young people in Ilocos Norte, including herself, are interested to participate in climate action. However, the lack of programs by their youth council limits their involvement.

Lack of youth participation

Ilokano youth volunteers repack relief goods on September 13, 2018, after Typhoon Ompong (International Name: Mangkhut) hit Ilocos Norte. (Sirib Express/ Ilocos Norte Youth Development Office)

Ilocos Norte, located in the northwestern part of Luzon, faces multiple climate change threats, according to Angelo Benedict Ragunjan, a climate scientist and meteorologist from Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU).

These include sea level rise, high flood hazards, intensifying cyclones, landslides, and droughts. 

Shyrille Agtani, a 20-year-old SK official from Barangay 57 Pila in Laoag City, said the youth council is willing to launch programs on climate change. However, youth participation hinders their initiatives. 

She noted a majority of youth members do not participate in initiatives, particularly during community youth assemblies. And even if they launch activities, they find it challenging to maintain the same level of youth participation in all activities. 

“Because when we had community sports contests, there were lots of youths who participated, but during cleanup drives, they were nowhere to be seen,” Agtani said. 

This reflects a broader national concern: the 2021 National Youth Assessment Study (NYAS) by the National Youth Commission (NYC) identified that only about half of their youth respondents participated in environmental-related initiatives. 

In the consultation workshops by NYC, youths raised their lack of participation and awareness in climate change adaptation and disaster risk and management. 

This is due partly to a lack of active environmental awareness promotion and training in disaster preparedness and response at the community level. 

Obstacles beyond enthusiasm

Ilokano youths participate in a coastal clean-up activity spearheaded by the Ilocos Norte Youth Development Office on September 17, 2022 in Bacarra town in celebration of the International Coastal Cleanup Day. (Sirib Express/Ilocos Norte Youth Development Office)

Bacarra Eldritze Callejo Viernes, president of SK Federation in Ilocos Norte, highlighted another hurdle in implementing green initiatives: the burden of paperwork and limited budgets.

With program creation depending on barangay budgets, Viernes emphasized the need to include climate change and DRRM activities in annual plans. 

“It also depends on the advocacy of leaders. It is hard to insist that they create climate action [activities],” he said.

Agtani also said that limited funding might necessitate focusing on other pressing concerns of young people.

Willie Jake Sib-at, a youth development officer at the Ilocos Norte Youth Development Office (INYDO), said the usual programs by youth leaders often focus on cleanup drives and tree planting. Youth participation is primarily limited to relief good repacking and distribution.

“There is still that stigma that youths are not yet prepared [during disasters]. People will not be expecting them—that’s why some local government units (LGUs) only see the youths doing little things [for the environment],” Sib-at said. 

A strategic paper by Riolyn Manibog-Namnama of the NYC found the provincial government of Ilocos Norte lacks programs or plans for youth involvement in DRRM. 

She noted the order on the composition of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council excludes youth representatives.

Weenter Ventura, a youth development officer at INYDO, said the office has had its youth volunteer desk, established in 2017. This desk includes youth disaster responders and psychological first aiders. However, they are still awaiting formal approval from the provincial council.

Another challenge identified in Manibog-Namnama’s paper is the lack of sufficient training for SK members on using social media for disaster information dissemination.

Youth action vital in climate fight

Shyrille Agtani and other SK officials and youth volunteers participate in a cleanup drive at Brgy. 57 Pila, Laoag City, on January 27, 2024. (SK Pila)

No youth organizations in Ilocos Norte with main advocacy on climate change are registered under NYC’s Youth Organization Registration Program (YORP), and most registered groups have general objectives.

Sib-at said youth groups likely do not prioritize climate change advocacy due to the notion of a healthy environment in Ilocos Norte, which climate scientist Ragunjan refutes.

According to Ragunjan, youth participation is vital as climate change has long-term effects.

“[If] we have an action today, we cannot immediately feel the effect of whatever we are doing… It’s not the future of the older generation. We are preparing them [younger generation] for a better future,” he explained.

Kevin Conrad Ibasco, president and founder of the Pangasinan Youth for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (PYDRRM), suggested that SKs implement programs on climate literacy and involve youth in hazard mapping to identify community vulnerabilities. 

PYDRRM educates young people on environmental and climate issues through school visits, a model Ibasco said SKs can implement. The organization also uses social media to disseminate information on disasters, weather and climate change within their province. 

“SK officials can also lobby environmental laws and ordinances. If there is no ordinance, the community will not participate,” he added.

However, as an NGO, limited funding also remains a challenge. Ibasco hopes SKs can provide financial support and promote PYDRRM’s initiatives. 

Ibasco also suggested that SKs and NGOs can also forge partnerships to encourage greater youth participation. 

“I also want to propose a network of environmental organizations in the Ilocos region,” Ibasco said, noting this could serve as an opportunity for NGOs and SKs to promote their programs and have a regional congress among climate and DRRM advocates.

Navarro, the youth member, still hopes in the future that the youth council will create more programs inclined toward the environment in general so she and her community members can participate. 

“I see it [climate change] as a phenomenon aggravated by individual actions, social factors, and institutions,” Navarro said.

“I believe that the younger gen[eration] has become more socially responsible in rallying different causes like environmental activism and preservation,” she added.

 

This story was supported by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines