“THE youth is the future” is often a catchphrase thrown in speeches, but seldom fully realized, let alone institutionalized in governance.

The story of Cagayan de Oro City digressed from the typical narratives and took it to heart to empower the youth.

A handful of Kagay-anons started 9 years ago a movement that ignited the desire for stronger youth participation in local governance.

After over four years of lobbying and discussions, Cagayan de Oro passed the Oro Youth Code in 2018, a landmark legislation — considered first in the country.

One of the salient features of the approved Oro Youth Code is the creation of the Oro Youth Development Office (OYDO) which serves as a leadership platform, training hub, and network all in one.

In celebration of its humble beginnings, Oro Youth looks back on its major achievements with proud conviction and renewed commitment to continue what it started in this part of the Philippines.

A path to good governance

Using the data-driven governance approach, Oro Youth led the creation of the Oro Youth Development Plan 2019-2021, participated in by various youth sectoral representatives in the city. The plan articulated the priority programs and policy recommendations of the youth program of the city government.

Cagayan de Oro was one of the first LGUs in the country with an approved 3-year development plan amid the dragging threat of a global pandemic.

The recently-publicized CDO Youth Agenda 2022 will be used as the main data in crafting another 3-year youth development plan.

The Oro Youth Development Office has made leadership training programs more accessible to the youth, particularly for the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials in the city and other youth sectors.

“In the past years, the Oro Youth has, in a sense, placed several seats around the LGU’s decision-making table for the youth to sit on and assert their vision for the community,” said Atty. Ernesto Neri, founding chairperson of Oro Youth Development Council.

“This space for participation carved by the Oro Youth then allowed the various youth organizations to craft and co-create their own programs and services and advocate for progressive ordinances, and in the process, enrich their experience of citizenship and deepen democratic values,” Neri added.

The Youth Profiling revealed that close to 80% of SK officials in CDO do not have strong leadership experience prior to being elected and around 70% of the barangays identified the lack of leadership training among their youth.

To address these challenges Oro Youth Leadership Academy (OYLA) was born, a six-month youth leadership development program for emerging youth leaders across sectors — SK, in-school, out-of-school, and young professionals.

OYLA has produced 72 graduates who have undergone modular workshops on Bridging Leadership, project management tools, and communication strategies, in partnership with the Office of the Vice President - Angat Buhay Youth, Xavier University School of Education - Arrupe Educational Center, and e-Education.

OYLA is the first LGU-led youth leadership development program in Northern Mindanao. Since the inception of OYLA, OYDO has invested in other capacity development programs in other thematic areas: Oro SK Academy for leadership and good governance for our SK officials; Bayanihan sa Agrikutlura para sa Kabatan-onan, Kaumahan, ug Katubigan (BAKA) for agricultural leadership and food security; Barangay Youth Empowerment Program (BYEP) which focuses on how to create, capacitate, and sustain a community-based youth organization, with the long-term goal of creating barangay youth development councils.

Just recently, OYDO launched the Young Leaders for Health Program which focuses on public health governance.

Innovations and initiatives by the youth

The integration of youth programs in the city government means youth-led initiatives can take form.

In 2020, Oro Youth successfully lobbied and passed the Cagayan de Oro Diversity and Equality Ordinance. The team continues to lobby for the passage of the Students’ Rights and Welfare Ordinance.

One awarded youth-led flagship program of Oro Youth is the Search for the Most Child-Friendly Police Station, the first youth-led social audit of police stations in the country where their Women and Children Protection Desks are evaluated by a multi-sectoral body based on their case handling, facilities, and community engagement to ensure child protection and participation.

OYDO also aims to organize the out-of-school youth of every barangay with their Pag-asa Youth Association of the Philippines (PYAP) Program. The program was innovated to bridge the out-of-school youth towards employment and education opportunities, in partnership with City Public Employment Services Office (PESO), Technical Vocational Institute, and City Scholarships Office.

Just this year, an ordinance was passed creating the Out of School Youth Development Alliance (OSYDA), a convergence of national and local agencies for employment, education, skills training, and livelihood opportunities for OSYs.

“Oro Youth has provided us with an effective system in local governance and at the same time it serves as a representative of the youth here in our city,” said Gerryca Maagad, former PYAP focal person and current SK chairperson of Barangay Bulua.

“The office is not only limited in implementing projects and programs but also in assisting the Oro Youth Development Council in crafting youth policies.

At present, the OYDO is working with the USAID Opportunity 2.0 Program in developing a referral system for employment, education, and skills training programs for the out-of-school youth.

Leader behind the Oro Youth

The leader behind the OYDO is a believer in empowerment and sustainability.

The herculean task of developing youth participation in the city fell unto the shoulders of James Patrick “JP” Santos. He was the chief lobbyist of the Oro Youth Code of 2018, a legislation that revolutionized youth participation in local governance.

OYDO’s best practices have inspired other youth development workers in the country to follow suit. Twelve (12) LGUs have conducted benchmarking sessions with a strong interest to replicate the Oro Youth Code, Oro Youth Development Plan, and the Oro Youth Leadership Academy, and other best practices. Four LGUs have successfully replicated the Oro Youth Code.

“I'd like to thank JP and his group and his co-organizers for having thought about this Oro Youth Leadership Academy,” said CDO Mayor Oscar Moreno during the OYLA Graduation Ceremony in 2019.

“I'm glad that we are doing it here in the city to help prepare our youth as you take on a more, shall I say, sensitive role in nation-building,” Moreno added.

Maagad remains hopeful that JP’s leadership of OYDO will benefit more youth in the city.

“His vision does only benefit the youth but also the local government,” Maagad said. “His ideal programs and projects for the office are not only about the quantity but the quality to ensure that they are sustainable.”

Despite their limited resources, JP and his team have thrived because of their partnerships and collaborations with private and public organizations. OYDO has partnered with 14 orgs from the public and private sectors for program implementation, research, manpower, and funding support.

“JP’s strength lies in his ability to translate grand visions into workable, office operations,” Neri shared.

“This has been shown through Oro Youth’s professionalism, streamlined services, and quality outputs where other LGUs have set as a benchmark and good practice.”