Development starts at the barangay

Just as high school councils can spearhead small but significant impacts in the community, the Sangguniang Kabataan is an undermined resource for development through the barangay.

Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) councils across the country are now about three years past their welcome with yet another postponement of the Barangay and SK Elections. That’s tough luck for those itching to retire already and wonderful for those who reap benefits from staying in office. If this happened to the higher-ups in the local government unit (LGU) or, worse, the national government, there would be more public outrage than just the previous Supreme Court challenge against the constitutionality of the postponement. But it’s just the barangay, anyway. Who cares about the barangay?

That’s probably where the problems start. Very little attention is given to the smallest unit of government—the implementing end of all national policy—let alone the kids playing politicos in SK councils. If not indifferent, people despise the barangay because it is their closest and clearest vantage point for all the corruption and dirty trades of governance. SK councils are seen as nothing but breeding grounds for “trapos” who will continue this local chain of corruption. 

The frustration is understandable, though. Imagine your taxes going to nothing more productive than basketball leagues and beauty pageants; surely you can’t exhaust the budget on those alone, so whatever is left goes to only God knows where.

But it would be a waste of potential to just scrap the SK council altogether, much like throwing stained clothes instead of washing them. What is wasted on leagues and pageants could be used to mobilize capacitating projects that the higher-ups usually don’t have time to implement. Think literacy drives, skills training, youth empowerment programs, or counseling services. These are basic yet crucial projects that even an underfunded high school student council can pull off; they should be doable at larger scales by an SK council financed by taxpayers.

I imagine an ideal LGU has an SK council run by politically conscious youth, focused on rolling out local programs that create fertile ground for big-ticket policies. Let us take the Barangay Micro Business Enterprise (BMBE) Law as a case study.

Microenterprises make up the bulk of our economy, so it is imperative to make sure that they are sustainable. Yet, the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported a business discontinuance rate of 12.6 percent for the country, meaning Filipino businesses are more likely to fail than those of our Southeast Asian neighbors who share an average of just 4.8 percent. This comes amid the existence of the BMBE Law, a fiscal attempt to pump incentives and benefits into the microenterprise industry. Apparently, some BMBEs that responded in a 2020 study in Banna, Ilocos Norte have never availed of the law’s incentives because they never heard of it. That could have been a chance to give crucial support to these businesses, especially after the same study found that poor access to finance and the high cost of doing business are also challenges to sustainability.

Banna’s SK councils could be disseminating information on opportunities for potential microentrepreneurs. They could be providing guidance and counseling on how to access and manage financing, including how to avail of the BMBE law’s incentives. Moreover, they could be the ones to address another obstacle to the municipality’s microentrepreneurs—poor financial management and marketing skills—through training projects, so as to fill in gaps that render well-intentioned policies ineffective.

SK councils can be productive beyond policy implementation as well. These leaders can enable a well-oiled democracy by being galvanizers of support for good governance and deserving candidates in national posts. Imagine barangay-sanctioned groups of youth going around neighborhoods, giving house-to-house talks on national candidates and their backgrounds and platforms, and even exchanging insightful perceptions of these candidates.

Youth councils have potential to be indispensable to good governance by being agents for implementing small steps in development. A functional SK team should not only breed future good leaders but also push the higher-ups in the barangay to do better. Take one functional barangay, build more, put them together, and you have a thriving city. Thriving cities make for thriving countries. A change in the national administration will not magically bring development; it has to start with small steps through the LGUs, most especially the youth.

Tia Mozelle Medalla

By Tia Mozelle Medalla

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