Demystifying the Filipino millennial

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In the CNN Philippines special presentation "Meet the Millennials," sociologists Nicole Curato of the University of Canberra, Jayeel Cornelio of the Ateneo de Manila University, Mike Labayandoy of the Lyceum of the Philippines University – Laguna, and Badz Calamba of the Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology get to the bottom of who millennials really are and what the generation stands for. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Hating on millennials, it seems, has become a global past time.

A viral YouTube video, describes millennials as self-entitled and narcissistic. A magazine feature describes this generation as one that feels ‘cocky about their place in the world.’ It is more of a Generation Me, than a Generation We, as an influential psychologist puts it.

This, however, is only one side of the story.

The CNN Philippines Special Presentation "Meet The Millennials" goes beyond these stereotypes and takes a closer look at what it means to be a millennial in the Philippines today.

Hosted by Nicole Curato, the roundtable discussion features some of the country’s leading sociologists of youth, including Septrin (Badz) Calamba (Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology), Jayeel Cornelio (Ateneo de Manila University), and Michael Labayandoy (Lyceum of the Philippines University-Laguna). 

In the atrium of Enderun Colleges, they engaged in conversation with students and addressed a range of issues, from the perceived entitlement of millennials to the importance of using one’s privilege for the common good.

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Curato, Calamba, Cornelio, and Labayandoy after the roundtable.

Here are the highlights.

Millennials: A questionable concept

The term millennial is a concept often used in market research and advertising. Academic journals rarely use the term, Labayandoy says, because the concept is “problematic.”

While the typical definition of a millennial is anyone born between 1980 to 2000 (some call this the generation between the arrival of Walkman and the creation of Google), what unites this generation remains questionable.

For Labayandoy, technology plays a major role in shaping the lives of millennials. Almost sixty percent of Filipino millennials today, for example, are into online dating or have online dating apps, compared to earlier generations where meeting someone through the internet is taboo, if not a source of embarrassment.

Meet the Millennials Michael Labayandoy of the Lyceum of the Philippines University – Laguna. "One fascinating concept is the characteristic of millennials to give respect where respect is due," he says. Photo by JL JAVIER

Labayandoy explains that “the prominence of the use of apps and the internet in general is changing the way we experience traditional dating, how we relate with others, and how we see and present ourselves.”

He adds: “The internet can offer freedom to express oneself but it can also exacerbate existing social inequalities because the online world can make someone feel more insecure about his or her personal appearance.”

Curato shares the same observation. While technologies shape the experiences of this generation, technologies are experienced differently. “Going online through piso-net versus iPhone X are vastly different experiences,” she says.

This observation, Curato adds, is an example that stark economic inequalities continue to define this generation. “While some millennials have the luxury of quitting a job after four months because he or she wants ‘to find one’s purpose,’ others have no choice but to leave their jobs because they are subject to ‘endo.’”

“Our generation will be judged based on what we did to put an end to vulgar levels of inequality,” she adds.

Meet the Millennials Nicole Curato of the University of Canberra. "Our generation will be judged based on what we did to put an end to vulgar levels of inequality," she says. Photo by JL JAVIER

Calamba echoes this observation. For him, leadership is key.

Drawing on his experience teaching in Mindanao for eight years, he finds young people who have huge potential, those who received education from top universities in the country and now have wonderful careers.

“But I also engaged with millennials who have the same passion but are not as fortunate.” Calamba says. “They are ones displaced because of war and conflict.  Think of young Lumads who are victims of militarization, those who have no access to social services, particularly proper education.”

“I always tell my students, check your privilege.”

Cornelio adds that in the Philippines, one shared experience of this generation is growing up with OFW parents. Cornelio finds that migrant labor changes the patterns of family life in the country, shaping the ways in which young people view the world.

Young people are not apathetic. They practice politics differently.

“If you think about it, many millennials join rallies to save Lumad schools, march against the Marcos burial. In the US, it is young people leading the march against gun control. The youth are not apathetic.”

This was Calamba’s response when asked about accusations that millennials are apathetic with political issues.

Meet the Millennials Badz Calamba of the Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology. "I always tell my students, check your privilege," he says. Photo by JL JAVIER.

What’s important to remember on this topic is that young people are not necessarily apathetic but practice politics differently.

“Young people are looking for avenues where they feel they are effective,” says Cornelio. “You can actually say that there was martial law generation because there was a common enemy. Today, enemies are fragmented. There are so many struggles, from climate change to gender equality.”

Curato recalls her conversation with public sociologist Professor Randy David, where she asked him about his thoughts on millennials attending protests to take a selfie. “I remember Prof. Randy said, ‘What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t bother me.’”

“He recalled his days as a young professor in UP. After a protest, his students wanted to eat a hamburger in one of the first branches of McDonald’s in Morayta. He did not call them out. ‘They are the children of their generation, he said. ‘I think that’s pretty powerful.’”

“We engage in our struggles in a way that is meaningful to us, but we also pursue other curiosities outside politics. The challenge, of course, is how we pursue politics that builds bridges, especially to those that disagree with us.”

Cosmopolitan, passionate, creative, owning it: Celebrating useful stereotypes

There are, however, stereotypes that millennials should embody.

Being nomadic, for Calamba, is worth embracing. Travel and adventure are examples of millennials asserting the importance of work-life balance. Taking photographs and selfies may be criticised as acts of narcissism, but they can also be examples of documenting life journeys that money cannot buy.

Meet the Millennials "Young people are looking for avenues where they feel they are effective," says Jayeel Cornelio of the Ateneo de Manila University. Photo by JL JAVIER

Curato agrees. “Our generation is a mobile generation. We can travel the world, find work in other countries, and learn about other people from other parts of the world through the internet.”

She adds, “I think this can be a good thing if we interpret mobility as commitment to the world than commitment to the self. We have shared struggles of climate change, human trafficking, precarious work conditions. These are global struggles that demand global responses.”

Cornelio shares a similar sentiment. “I actually don't like the word,” he adds, referring to ‘passion,’ as the stereotype millennials should keep. Passion is about “pursuing what is meaningful for you.”

“I hope we can see passion in the pursuit of the struggle. We are working towards a goal, together, not just for one self. It's not just what makes you happy. It's what makes the world a better place.”

'Owning it,' is another stereotype.

For Labayandoy, stereotypes can be overcome by owning it.

“One fascinating concept is the characteristic of millennials to give respect where respect is due,” he says. “Respecting elders and those in power is, of course, desirable. But isn’t giving respect more meaningful because the person gained or worked hard for it? This means that the culture of mistrust among millennials can also be regarded positively because we need a generation that can weigh things and think for themselves.”

He adds: “Question the system. Think for oneself. I love that.”


Watch "Meet the Millennials” on CNN Philippines on Sunday, July 15 10:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday, July 16, 5:00 p.m. Tune in to CNN Philippines on Facebook, via live streaming at, and on free TV Channel 9.