MANILA — A youth group has asked the government to soften its stand in abolishing the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) while urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the registration for the upcoming SK polls.
Marlon Cornelio, Akbayan Youth secretary-general, hit the government for using a “flawed assumption” in dealing with the problems of the SK and for the lack of consultation among the youth.
“We are confronted with the fact that the government did not set consultations regarding the abolition of SK. They should have consulted the youth sector and listen to their views,” Cornelio told Sun.Star.
Allegations of corruption and inefficiency hobbled the SK for years, prompting even Local Government Code author former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. to push for its abolition in the past Congresses.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo also proposed for the repeal of Section 423 to 439 of the Local Government Code, which will totally abolish the Katipunan ng Kabataan or the SK.
Robredo also batted for the amendment of Section 387 (a) and 390 of the same law to include a youth representative in the barangay who shall be elected at large by the youth aged 15 years old but less than 18 years old during the barangay elections.
“The youth will now have a direct voice in the barangay unlike before when they only sit as an ex-officio member of the barangay council,” said Robredo.
In abolishing the SK, the government will also save at least P3.5 billion on election expenses. However, the youth group found the cost-cutting plan unacceptable.
“If the government wants to really save its resources, then they should train their guns on the State’s inefficient tax collection, burdensome debt payments, and unwarranted spending of some government agencies,” said Cornelio.
Instead of abolition, Cornelio said the government should push for SK reform measures that will strengthen the existing structure through the following:
* educating the SK about its roles and responsibilities, as well as barangay officials in dealing and supporting their SKs;
* strengthening of the Katipunan ng Kabataan assembly to assure participatory planning and greater accountability;
* autonomous fiscal mechanism with accountability measures should be put in place to train young people to manage and allocate resources subject to government auditing rules;
* a pilot of anti-dynasty provision; and
* adjustment of the age range to allow young people to have more freedom in arranging their workload without limiting participation of children age 15-17.
Cornelio said these proposed amendments are encapsulated in the House Bill 468 filed by Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao, which the group said will give “a comprehensive reform of the SK.”
Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino also echoed the same view, adding that the problems of the SK will not be solely addressed by abolition.
Section 1 of Republic Act 9340 states that “subsequent synchronized barangay and SK elections shall be held on the last Monday of October 2007 and every three years thereafter.”
With only two months left before the barangay and SK elections, the Congress would still need to pass a law amending the current measure to allow the preferences of President Benigno Aquino III.
President Aquino earlier said he wants the barangay and SK polls to push through in October despite proposals of some to postpone it to 2011.
Aquino, however, prefers to synchronize the next barangay and SK polls with the national and local elections in May 2013, therefore shortening the term of the barangay and SK officials by five months.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, meanwhile, got the assurance from Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that there are funds for the conduct of the elections this October.
Belmonte also agreed with the administration that the polls should be held as scheduled.
In the meantime, the House of Representatives committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, chaired by Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. (fourth district, Cavite), is set to conduct hearings on proposals to postpone the barangay and SK elections on April 18.
The SK Reform Coalition, through its spokesperson John Tobit, called on the Comelec to extend the registration for the SK election.
“As such, it is reasonable and of the highest urgency that Comelec extend the period for voters’ registration, and if necessary to set up satellite registration offices in the schools,” he said.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in an interview that only 1.6 million out of the expected 3.8 million new voters have registered as of Saturday. The registration ends today, Sunday.
The Comelec official has blamed the low turnout of voter registrants to recent pronouncements from lawmakers to put off the holding of the barangay and SK elections.
“The hovering possibility of postponement of the October 25 polls could have discouraged a large number of our kababayans to go out and register,” he added.
Comelec also calls on the public to help them identify flying voters who have applied for registration to participate in the upcoming barangay and youth elections.
“If you see people who are not residents in your barangay, report it to your election Officer so that they may be excluded from the voters list, if necessary,” said Jimenez.
The Voters Registration Act of 1996 states that any voter, candidate, or representative of a registered political party may challenge, in writing and under oath, any application for registration. The last day to file opposition to the applications is on August 18.
Opposition to contest a registrant’s application, said Jimenez, will be heard by the Election Registration Boards for approval or disapproval.
Comelec offices nationwide are set to post on Monday, August 16, a list of voters who applied for registration. (Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)