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10,000 youths volunteer to stake Kalayaan claim

/ 04:36 AM November 06, 2015

Will the voices of 10,000 youths convince the world of the Philippines’ united stand on its claim over the West Philippine Sea?

Some 10,000 volunteers have signed up to conduct a month-long campaign at the Kalayaan Group to support the country’s claim to the disputed territory.

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The youths—mostly college students and young professionals—will be representing the Philippines’ 81 provinces in the peaceful protest, called “Kalayaan Atin Ito.”

According to the organizers, the protest is not aiming its message at China, which is claiming the entire South China Sea region, but at the rest of the world to show how united Filipinos are.

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“We are not doing this to make China see our efforts. We are doing this to make the whole world see the unity of our nation,” said Nicanor Faeldon, a former Marine captain who is one of the movers behind the campaign.

Appeal for donations

The Kalayaan Atin Ito held a press conference in Quezon City Thursday to appeal for donations to sustain the month-long stay of the youth volunteers at the Kalayaan islands.

The “Freedom Voyage,” to last from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30, will involve 10,000 youth volunteers conducting activities in support of the Philippines’ claim to the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from activities supporting Philippine sovereignty over the disputed area, the volunteers will be engaging in leadership and environment protection activities during their stay there.

The protest is not funded by government or any particular group as the volunteers are asking the general public to finance it.

Financing the stay, food, travel fare and other expenses of the 10,000 volunteers for a month is projected to reach at least P1 billion, Faeldon said.

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The group is asking manufacturers of food and beverages, owners of transport firms and other Filipinos to help their cause either in cash or kind.

Civilian initiative

“This is done by civilians and not the government. What we intend to attain is to get admiration from the world that we can be united as a country. We might be able to move countries to help us,” Faeldon said.

In particular, the volunteers are asking for donations like canned goods, biscuits, bottled water, ready-to-eat meals and help with transportation since they don’t have the money to fund these themselves.

“We also ask transport firms to help ferry us to the Kalayaan Group, may it be by land, air or sea travel, since we don’t have money for these,” said Jervin Bendian of the University of Baguio.

Donors may deposit their aid through the Kalayaan Atin Ito bank account with the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (account number 0102006756, account name www.pilipino.org.ph Inc.)

“We already sent letters to corporations and firms, although there is no update so far,” said Jasson Rivas Labao.

 Missing school

The volunteers are appealing to the Commission on Higher Education to help them find a solution to the problem of missed classes.

A female student from Batanes, Verby Czarina Bala of the St. Dominic College of Batanes, said some of the volunteer students are temporarily not enrolled but most have enrolled for the semester.

Bryan Paolo Castillo of the De La Salle College of St. Benilde said the volunteer students and their parents signed a waiver before they were allowed to join the campaign.

They do not consider it a sacrifice that they will be away from their families for one month during the Christmas season, they said.

“Sacrifice is not the right word for it, but love of country. Patriotism. Some of us stopped school for a while, while I resigned from work,” said Mariel Ipan, a young professional from Misamis Oriental.

Before Thursday’s press conference, the group went on a six-month campaign throughout the Philippines, gathering volunteers from each of the country’s 81 provinces.

Palawan base

Palawan will be the base of the 10,000 volunteers but they will go around the Kalayaan islands for a month to carry out their programs.

A fun run has been set for Nov. 8 at the Rizal Park to drum up more support for the program, particularly in Metro Manila.

While the action is not government-funded, Faeldon said they met with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to help secure the safety of the volunteers while they are at the Kalayaan islands.

“We will continue this because this is in support of the government’s position. We won’t do something that may jeopardize the arbitration proceedings,” he said, referring to the Philippines’ case against China before an international arbitration tribunal.

Asked if the government approved of the activity, Faeldon said: “They did not stop us. The AFP has partnered with us before in limited ways to ensure the safety of youth in this activity.”

He also urged Filipinos not to be daunted and instead help the youths in this protest activity.

“In case we cannot raise enough funds to finance the requirements of 10,000 volunteers, then that shows how ready this country is for a call like this. I think this is not ambitious for millions of Filipinos,” Faeldon said.

He pointed out that the West Philippine Sea issue cannot be resolved militarily and that it has to be resolved by peaceful means.

Too much to handle

According to Bala, when the project was launched in Batanes six months ago, they also heard similar sentiments—that the campaign may be too much for the youths to handle.

“We’ve heard that before. But we ask, if not me, then who will carry on this campaign? Let us not limit ourselves. Filipinos give up even before it has begun,” she said.

Castillo said a parent who allowed her child to join the activity said, “Go on child, because I was not able to do that during my time.”

Another student, Jasper Niel Cruz of the Philippine Normal University, said he was not afraid of any danger that they may face, adding: “I am ready to die for this country.”

Asked on the possibility of China blocking the volunteers on their way to the disputed territory, Faeldon said he did not think China would resort to such actions.

“It will be their loss if they block us. I don’t think China will do that,” he said.

He added that the military will not be escorting the volunteers to Kalayaan as they want it to be a civilian activity.

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