Do we need a youth council?

The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) was created to provide the youth a means to improve their welfare and enhance their leadership skills.

In reality, however, it has been mired by controversies, prompting some groups to call for its abolishment. Among others, there are reports that the council is being used as a political tool by older government officials. Thus, it has become a breeding ground for corruption.

On whether the SK has met its objectives or not is, of course, still subject to evaluation. The call for its abolishment has gained more ground recently after Benigno Aquino III and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo expressed support.

Background of the council

The SK was established through Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991. It acts as the governing council for the Katipunan ng mga Kabataan (KK), a community-based youth organization created along with the SK.

Together, the SK and the KK replaced the old Kabataang Barangay (KB), a youth organization created during the time of President Marcos.

There are SK councils in every barangay or village in the country. Barangay SKs make up the municipal and city SKs, which in turn compose the provincial SKs. The national SK federation is made up of the heads of SK councils of provinces and chartered cities.

Each SK council is composed of a chairman, a secretary, a treasurer, and councilors. It gets a 10% share of the barangay’s income for its budget.

The most common projects undertaken by SKs are local sports tournaments, tree planting, community clean-ups, livelihood programs, and seminars and information dissemination to the youth on various matters such as health, waste management, drug awareness, and environmental consciousness.

For check and balance purposes, the SK must submit annually a documentation of their projects and activities to the barangay.

To qualify for an SK post, candidates must be from 15 to 18 years old. Elected members of the council hold office for three years.

To abolish or not?

Recently, Mr. Aquino, with the support of several lawmakers and government officials, proposed the abolition of the SK. Its proponents have three main arguments.

First, those who are 15 to 18 years old may not be mature enough to manage public funds. Second, the youth are in general susceptible to influence and manipulation from older politician. Third, the youth should concentrate first on their studies.

Proponents of the abolition also said that this would cut billions of pesos of expenses — a major source of savings, considering the country’s fiscal imbalance. Proponents of abolishment are instead pushing for a youth seat in the barangay council.

Some youth organizations, however, criticized the proposal. For youth organizations Kabataan and Akbayan party-lists, the current SK system must be reformed, not abolished.

House Bill No. 1963, or the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Bill filed by the Kabataan party-list, wants to raise the age requirement from 15-18 to 18-21 to allow elected SK members to sign and engage in contracts.

It also seeks to require SK units to deposit all funds in a bank, preferably a government-owned bank, and oblige each council to submit a financial report quarterly.

In addition, House Bill No. 468, or the SK Reform and Empowerment Bill filed by the Akbayan party-list seeks to raise the age requirement of SK council members. Moreover, the latter bill proposes to create a Youth Consultative Body or Youth Development Council to serve as youth development arm of the barangay.

These organizations stress that these reforms will not only strengthen the SK to become more responsive to the youth, but will also address loopholes such as lack of accountability and transparency.

As expected, the proposal to abolish the SK was met with opposition from youth groups and SK council members. While it can be argued that SK indeed has contributions to youth welfare, policy-makers have to consider if these benefits are not outweighed by costs.

If the financial, social, and political costs exceed the benefits, then the government should have the political will to push through with the abolition even with opposition from various interest groups. In any case, care must be taken to preserve the interests of the youth.

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