Allegations of corruption by inefficient, ineffective, and non-performing Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials have caused mounting calls for its abolition from various sectors and officials, including no less than President Benigno Aquino, Jr. himself, and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Ironically, the very author of Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code (LGC) which created the SK in 1991, is also pushing for SK’s demise. Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, on his last term, filed a bill proposing its abolition. Former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla filed a similar bill in 2004.
But the SK National Federation (NF) and the SK Reform Coalition are not taking this sitting down, making a last-ditch effort to salvage what’s left of the youth organization.
SKNF president Jane Censoria Cajes, for instance, has been doing the rounds of TV shows, defending SK. SK Reform Coalition convenor Marlon Cornelio also sought a dialogue with Sec. Robredo.
Fortunately for the SK community, the dialogue resulted to a change in Robredo’s stand, from that of abolition to reform.
During the meeting last Tuesday, Robredo and the SK Reform Coalition have agreed on the necessary reforms that should be undertaken.
As of presstime, the barangay and SK elections in October will push through, but Cornelio says DILG hopes to have its proposal on reducing the number of SK officials from eight (one chairman and seven kagawad), to only one youth representative, approved in time for the elections.
The Philippines is so far, the only country in the world which has given its youth the opportunity to take a participative role in government through the SK. An offshoot of the Kabataang Barangay of the ‘70s, the SK is a governing body where youth, aged 15 to 18 years old, may register to vote and be voted in the SK.
The SK chairman gets a salary while the seven councilors (kagawad) that form the council have no salaries but are required to serve voluntarily for three years. They approve resolutions of the Sanggunian and appropriate the money allotted to the council. Marinelle Formentera, SK City Federation president of Paranaque says the SK gets 10 percent of the budget of the barangay.
“Pag malaki ang barangay malaki din ang budget ng SK. Tulad namin sa NCR, P2.9 million ang budget ng barangay namin, so 10 percent nun ang sa SK. Pero nakalaan naman ang parts ng budget for our programs, like 10 percent for green brigade, 10 percent for infrastructure, and so on,” explains Formentera, 19.
PRONE TO CORRUPTION
Due to loopholes in the system, the SKNF is calling for reform.
One major loophole, Cajes says, is the 15 to 18 age bracket for those who can vote and run as SK officials.
The original age of those who can register and vote used to be 15 to 18 while candidates for the SK posts were from 18 to 21. She says for those who can run for SK posts, the COMELEC lowered the age bracket in 2004 from 18 to 21, to 15 to 18 years old.
“We felt that this was a bad move. Masyadong bata yung mga SK officials, nasa high school pa sila at madaling maimpluwensiyahan ng pulitiko. Kadalasan nagagamit kami ng mga barangay captains at pulitiko kasi may boses kami sa council. We cannot sign contracts because we are minors, so it’s the barangay chairman who does it for us. Pag yung kapitan may gustong pabor, iniipit yung SK at hindi magbibigay ng budget. Kawawang SK walang magawa kundi pumayag na lang,” laments Cajes, 20.
Both SKNF and Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino says electing only one youth representative in the barangay would make them prone to engage in corrupt and anomalous activities because of the absence of a check and balance mechanism provided by the kagawads.
“It doesn’t solve anything. The single youth representative, who is now not accountable to a youth council, can be more easily seduced by corruption practices because he is now alone; and most likely he/she could still belong to a dynasty. Since the youth representative will be voted at large by barangay residents, we will force that kid to adopt the campaign tactics of adults in order to garner enough votes to win in the election,” Rep. Palatino says.
On the allegation that SKs are doing nothing but hold sports activities, Cajes says that is because sports is part of their mandate.
Then there is the issue on the SK representatives neglecting their studies.
“I believe that all SK officials are mostly academic achievers. When they run in the SK they know the responsibilities that go with it. Usually, we sacrifice our studies to be able to serve our constituents. ‘Yung school andiyan lang yan. Hindi kami iiwan. Pero yung SK tatlong taon lang kami magsasakripisyo para matulungan ang kapwa naming kabataan,” says Cajes, a senior European Studies student at the Ateneo de Manila University. She has taken a leave of absence from AdMU to concentrate on her task as SKNF president, but is taking courses at the UP Open University.
Despite the change of heart of President Aquino and Sec. Robredo on the issue, former Sen. Pimentel is still firm in his position.
“While I was in the Senate I received hundreds of requests complaining about the SK, na walang silbi, walang concrete (project, law) silang nagawa. Most of them are even studying far from their barangays, so in effect they can no longer do their job because they have to be in school most of the time,” reveals Pimentel who is in favor of only one youth representative.
SK IS A UNIQUE SYSTEM
The SKNF strongly deny this, stating that many SKs are actually implementing projects that benefit both the youth and adults.
For instance, Formentera has authored an ordinance in her barangay, allocating P500,000 for an educational assistance program. The program provides P1,200 weekly allowance for poor students. More than 40 bystanders, meanwhile, have graduated from the Alternative Learning System program for out-of-school youth.
In the SKNF, Cajes says they give P100,000 to 20 pilot provinces that implement environmental projects.
“There is an SK who rehabilitated their river. In Lucena, the SK bought a multi-cab to use for collecting garbage. In Cagayan de Oro, they regularly hold debates and dialogues during the Youth Week. In Paranaque, they planted mangroves in the river. In my province in Bohol, 10 day care centers were built by youth groups of the Volunteers Club through our funds. We also provide health and medical assistance to both young and old people.”
In 2007, a study was commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund and DILGILGILG to determine SK’s impact in the local government process. The study, made by researchers of the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies Program on Psychosocial Trauma revealed that “abolishing the SK will not serve the best interest of children and young people nor will it shield them from the negative influences of politics and politicians. It will only destroy a unique system and a mechanism that has great potential for youth participation in governance and community service.”
Among the reforms proposed by the SK Reform Coalition and Akbayan Youth to Sec. Robredo are the need to increase the age bracket of the youth who can vote and be elected from 15-18 to 15-25; the election of a youth representative who will serve as a councilor in the barangay council, from ex-officio to regular membership; the creation of a youth development council composed of youth organizations in the barangay to serve as civil society partner and substitute for the SK kagawads, to ensure greater participation and check and balance; the incorporation of an anti-dynasty provision to limit politicization of the youth rep; fiscal autonomy and accountability on the youth fund; and incorporation of accountability mechanisms and ground for removal from office.