Beyond bureaucracy: Assessing the Sangguniang Kabataan

After much controversy, the Filipinos will after all, elect their respective barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) leaders come Oct. Unlike the May national elections, this process will include those from the younger demographic, the Filipino youth.

The youth, aged 15 to 17, will have the chance to elect officials, who would represent them in the country’s government; however, this council of youth officials called the SK has been constantly casted doubt.

The SK has been criticized for being an ineffective institution and a breeding ground of corruption. Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., author of the Local Government code of 1991 that created the SK, and former Cavite Representative Gilbert Remulla have lobbied House Bill No. 185, seeking the abolition of SK.

Just last month, Secretary Jessie Robredo of the Department of Local and Interior Government Secretary (DILG) submitted a proposal to Malacañang, calling for the abolition of the SK. He is proposing to rescind Section 423 and 439 of the Local Government Code. These sections govern the powers of the SK.

In an article from balita-dot-ph, Robredo defended his proposal by arguing that the SK is ineffective and inefficient in serving their constituents under the provisions of the Local Government Code.

Conflict of interests

Jerome Cuevas, SK Kagawad of Barangay 791, Zone 86, District 5 of Manila shares how the SK in their barangay intentionally increase the price of goods they donate so their officials can get kickbacks.

He recalls how the price of a P5 ballpen was increased to P20 because of the markup the SK places. The illegitimate markup is used to speed up the project’s approval process with the contractors. He then asserts that these occurrences manifest how much the SK can become an avenue in learning the ropes of corruption.

Also in balita-dot-ph, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) sees the disadvantage of letting the youth participate in the SK since they get exposed at a young age to the bad side of politics, such as commission in government contracts and projects.

He adds that it is difficult to combine academics and a political career, referring to the priorities a usual SK officer would face. Sarmiento is one with the legislators who seek to abolish the SK.

In an article from the website of The Philippine Star, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) also expresses their support for the abolition of the SK since it is an easy venue for political dynasties to penetrate in.

PPCRV Chairperson Henrietta de Villa says that it is not good for the youth to develop too early on in their lives a mindset about politics based on wrong values.  She suggests a youth representative in village councils instead of the SK.

Robredo has a similar proposal to ensure that the youth will still be well represented in the barangays. Instead of the SK, which comprises of several youth representatives, he suggests that only there should be only one elected by the yourth aged 15-17, per barangay.

Each election year, persistent legislators continue to propose changes in the Local Government Code. Political Science professor Julio Amador shares that the SK receives approximately seven billion from the country’s annual budget. He believes that the benefits that the public receive from the SK are not equivalent to what tax payers contribute to the SK.

“The youth is an important sector of the society, but we should be clear that it is not the only sector that matters. Seven billion is a huge amount of money taken from Local Government Units (LGUs) to fund the operations of the SK. Shouldn’t that amount be put to better use like building schools and roads?” Amador points out.

Concretizing the amendments

The DILG recently had an agreement with the SK Reform Coalition to amend the Local Government Code of 1991, particularly the powers and duties of the SK. Some of the proposed reforms include increasing the age requirement of SK participation to 17 to 25 from the current 15 to 17.

Abby Generalia, former SK chairman of Barangay 845, Zone 92, District 6 of Manila, supports the efforts to increase the age requirement of hopeful SK officials to prevent unwise decisions brought by young age.

“I think this group is still young and immature to make decisions especially the ones that involve the barangay budget. Because of this, they easily become the targets of the senior corrupt officials to abuse,” Generalia continues

The SK Reform Coalition also aims for the creation of a youth development council in exchange of the present SK. The new council which will be composed of local youth organizations within the barangay.

Keeping the faith

In spite of all the criticisms, there are still those who believe that the SK could be used effectively as a means of creating change in the community, especially those who are just entering the political arena.

“The SK lets our voices be heard. I think that this is the best way to give the youth an opportunity to participate in nation building for it molds the youth to become more responsible and aware citizens,” says Mikee Rualo, a Lasallian currently running for SK chairman in Barangay. 406, Zone 42. District 4, Sampaloc, Manila.

Julian Roxas, director of the SK federation in District 1 of Manila believes the only reason that the SK does not have a good reputation is it is not given due attention. “Much like an underdog they [SK officials] only rise when given the opportunity. The media can cover only so much and if it does cover it, it doesn’t show any good sides [of the story],” he laments.

SK, not the only way

The SK was created in good faith yet it now has grown into an unexpected turn for the worse as corruption manifests itself early on the lives of the youth. Prof. Amador emphasizes the important role of the youth in nation-building, but according to him, there are other venues other than participating in the SK that will also mold the youth into better citizens

“I know of many young individuals who work in government as researchers, political analysts or staff members despite of the stereotype of low wages. They do that because they feel that they should give back to society through ‘behind the curtains’ public service,” Amador concludes.  There are young entrepreneurs who start their own businesses that give employment to their fellow Filipinos.

“In short, there can be better ways in ensuring representation in public service and nation-building,” he ends on a high note.

Jan-Ace Mendoza

By Jan-Ace Mendoza

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