SK: on the verge of abolition

When we hear the words SK or Sangguniang Kabataan, things that come across our minds are basketball tournaments, waiting sheds, street names, and sign boards. These are the things tagged to the council that should supposedly empower the youth. People think that the institution for the younger ones has already been limited to those kinds of petty and insignificant projects. The agency was believed to be boxed in these kinds of projects that do not really involve and empower the youth on their roles in nation building.

The Office of the Baguio Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) City Federation President of Baguio said that 12 among 129 barangays in the city do not have SK officials yet. As of today, these barangays do not have representation of the youth to the barangay council. This problem can be a cause of other major difficulties that SK faces today. Some of these are multi-sectoral information drives on elections, effectiveness of SK, and the recent debate on the reform versus abolition of SK.

So what is the result of having no SK officials in a barangay? — Lack of projects for youth and in some cases, no project at all.

SK getting too old?

The huge drop of SK registrants last October 2010 SK elections and the statements of some barangay chief executives about the youth council’s ineffectiveness now question the relevance of SK.

Though there have been barangays standing firm for the youth council’s abolition, there are also people who still believe on what the SK can do for the youth.

Barangay secretaries Reynaldo Mogan and Jaime Lee of Kagitingan and Alfonso Tabora, respectively, believe that the SK should not be abolished since new generation of youth leaders will emerge. They also agree that governance in the barangay level is not yet totally politicized. With their hopes still high for the institution, they agree for the SK reformation.

Despite the hopes of people in the community who believes in the ability of the youth, there are also people inside the SK institution who say that it should be abolished. Baguio SKF President Yangot said that “all hopes are lost.” She blames the national officers of the SK Federation as the main reason why many SK chairmen and kagawad do not excel on their own barangays.

Baguio DILG City Director Ms. Evelyn B. Trinidad said that she is also for the abolition. She also said that in previous years, she is for reformation but through the years SK officials fail to do their duties. According to her, previous SK of Baguio have involved her in the issue of vote buying, they have become discourteous to her and her office. “Some are even filed with cases on act of lasciviousness”, she said.

Atty. Modesto Bahul Jr., of COMELEC-Baguio said that he is for the SK abolition because youth of today became more irresponsible. He said that they are not capable of holding government positions. According to him, the SK members who are 15-17 years old are not yet mature enough these days. The youth are not yet ready to hold such vital positions in the government.

In the Constitution

Article II Section 13 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that; “The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.” In this part of the Constitution, it can be seen that youth have a very important part in developing the nation thus, this has been the foundation of creating the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) – a body where the youth will be able to exercise their rights provided by our constitution. This specific part of the constitution is never contested, but the presence of its offspring (the SK) was constantly questioned by politicians, citizens and even youth.

Moreover, this part of the constitution is the main basis of including youth in the politics of local government. This vital role of the youth in governance was pushed through the inclusion of youth leaders in the Republic Act (RA) 7160 also known as the Local Government Code.

According to the Chapter 8, Section 423, Paragraph (a) of this code; “There shall be in every Barangay a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) to be composed of a chairman, seven (7) members, a secretary, and a treasurer.” Furthermore, the members of SK shall come from the Katipunan ng Kabatan (KK). Section 424 of the LG Code says that “the Katipunan ng Kabataan shall be composed of all citizens of the Philippines actually residing in the Barangay for at least six (6) months, who are 15 but not more than 21 years of age, and who are duly registered in the list of the Sangguniang Kabataan or in the official Barangay list in the custody of the Barangay secretary.” The creation of SK aimed to create a venue where the youth participation in governance can be exercised and enhanced.

In the year 2007, Baguio City had almost 302,000 inhabitants. 41,153 of these are youth who belong to an age bracket of 15-19 years old.  Almost seven percent of the city’s population are the youth, yet some barangays lack the representation of SK. In this year also, three barangays did not have SK officials. There were 7, 318 registered SK voters during that year’s elections but only 4,912 actually voted on the election day.  The problem of non-participation of youth in some barangays of Baguio City can already be traced as early as 2007. With this relatively large population of youth in the city, why did the number of SK election registrants way far from expected? What could have been the problems?

The trend of youth participation in SK elections continued.  There was a decline of registered voters on the year 2010. The National Statistics Office (NSO-CAR) reported that the projected population for Baguio City in 2010 was 336, 203. The number of youth with ages 15-19 was also expected to rise up to 45, 000. On this given number, only 1, 610 registered for the SK elections and only 1,388 actually voted. Thus, it shows a decrease of around 35 percent on the voter turnout.

Zero registrants and voters

Zero registrants in certain barangays can be traced from previous shortcomings of certain government agencies that were tasked to persuade youth to participate in SK elections. Who’s to be blamed on this problem?

As the primary responsible constitutional commission for every election held, the Commission of Elections (Comelec) was mandated to act as the prime mover of the 2010 Synchronized Barangay and SK Elections. The commission was supposed to exert the greatest effort in disseminating information about the elections. The Department of the Interior and Local Government also serves as a vital guiding agency for the SK. Thus, the department was also expected to help in spreading the information and news about the SK voters’ registration. Lastly, the incumbent SK officials in 2010 must also be one of those who are expected to promote and inform the youth about the registration.

In order to answer the problem of vacancy on SK positions, DILG and SKCF had supervised another filing of candidacy. According to the CLGOO (City Local Government Operations Officer) Ms. Evelyn B. Trinidad, after the special election they conducted last October 26, 2011, the appointment only awaits the signature of President Benigno “NoyNoy” Aquino III.

Though the appointment is already in process, the year and months that were wasted of having no SK officials in barangays is considered a big loss for the youth sector. With only less than two years to assume their offices, these appointed youth will not be able to effectively lead their constituents given that they still have to adjust and adapt with their new responsibility.

SK through the years

The University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) said that the SK is able to have a considerable impact on the youth as well as the community. Their research, which was conducted last May 2006 was entitled “Study on the Impact of the Youth Participation in the Local Development Process: The Sangguniang Kabataan Experience”. Together with representatives of DILG, National Youth Commision (NYC), United Nations Children’s Fund, etc., UP CIDS recommended that the weaknesses in the SK be addressed by affecting changes in crucial aspects of the existing policies and in their implementation. This study was a counterargument on issues thrown against SK.

Moreover, there have been numerous projects organized by SK that have greatly affected communities and barangays. It has been a big aide in executing the functions of the barangay council. The current SK constitution and by-laws oblige the youth council to be encompassing. It has divided the SK into a multi-faceted organization which is able to accommodate the major needs of the youth. The Section 192 of the Republic Act No. 7160 which tackles about Barangay Funds states that a 10% of any sum entered into the budget of the barangay shall be given to the SK. It covers the barangays’ IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment), collection, donations received, etc. These have been according to the amended constitution and by-laws that have been ratified though a plebiscite last March 16, 2001. Article XVII says that this certain percentage shall then be allocated on different task forces, 10 % on the Green Brigade, 10 % on the Livelihood and Entrepreneurship, 10 % on the Infrastructure, 10 % on the Legislative Works, 20 % on the Disaster Coordination and Health, 20 % on the Education Services, Moral Recovery Activities and Anti-Drug Abuse, and 20 % on the Sports Program and Community Immersion Activities.

SK has been expected to mold and enhance the youth as the next leaders of the nation. It should serve as a training ground for the youth where they can learn and improve their leadership skills through the hands-on governance with their fellow youth constituents.

Various accomplishments are cited by the Sangguniang Kabataan National Federation (SKNF) as their proof that the institution should be retained. Young politicians and leaders are said to be developed and started their leadership careers through the SK council. The national federation also cites their contribution on raising the environmental awareness of the youth and society through their projects.

Senate and House Bills

Since the first SK elections in 1992, the institution had already conducted 5 elections on its entire history. However, the change of the set of officers also brought various controversies. As the years passed, SK has also undergone amendments to ensure its effectiveness. Some of these are the age and term adjustment of the officials.

Several reform and abolishment bills on SK were passed both on the congress and on the senate. Last August 17, 2010, Senator Francisco N. Pangilinan introduced his Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2010. The Senate Bill 2429 is “an act strengthening and reforming the SK amending for that purpose certain provisions of RA 7160 and RA 9340 and resetting the barangay and SK elections.” This reform act aims to make the SK more independent and self-reliant. It further proposes to give fiscal autonomy over the SK fund and give SK their discretion to run their affairs and operations.

Another reform bill was introduced by Marikina 1st District Representative Marcelino R. Teodoro, which was also known as the House Bill (HB) 2770. He said that the SK “has been mired with allegations of corruption and inefficient governance. Allegations include vote-buying, gathering kickbacks from SK-initiated projects and programs….” On the other hand, he believes that this institution needs to be carefully re-assessed but not abolished. The bill says that “maintenance of representatives from the youth sector is still the ideal way so young people can participate in nation-building but less budgeting, disbursement and procurement processes.” It also includes certain adjustments and changes. According to Teodoro’s bill officials should be “at least 18 but not more than 21 years of age on the day of election.” It further says that “all SK Kagawads shall be entitled to receive honoraria, travel allowances and other such compensation”.

Congresswoman Rachel B. del Mar, of the 1st District of Cebu also filed her version of the SK Reform Act of 2010. It was known as the HB No. 2845. It points out the formation of a Local Youth Development Council in every barangay, “which is a parallel body to facilitate the check and balance of SK activities and financial transactions.” It also aims to produce better youth leaders and it can be done through a “mandatory integrated SK organizational leadership and re-orientation-basic orientation seminar (ISKOLAR-BOS).” The bill also wants to adjust the age of the officials, and to give due compensation to the Kagawads and the elected secretary and treasurer. It says that SK kagawads shall receive a monthly honorarium of not more than P1,000 and P1,500 for the secretary and treasurer.

On the other hand, abolition bills were also authored by lawmakers who believe that it is a necessary act to redeem the image of the SK as a system.

Last August 17, 2010, Atty. Magtanggol Gunigundo I, representative of the 2nd District of Valenzuela City authored the House Bill 2534, which was a re-file of the HB 1243. The two bills aims to abolish the SK, because the abolishment is “a part of the new Aquino government’s reform agenda.” It further stated that “youth involve themselves in political activities rather than giving more priority on their education”, thus making the SK an impediment on Rizal’s saying, “the youth is the hope of our nation”. The bill also answers the criticism that abolishment bills are anti-youth, for it prevents the youth to be part to the nation-building. According to them, in contrary, they “believe that youth should be given more time to prepare and gradually realize what’s behind the world they are entering.” They further stated that youth are “expected to devote more time to their studies.”

Leyte 2nd District Representative Sergio Apostol also introduced an abolition bill known as HB 3604. It states that SK “has failed to become the organization whose role is to create programs for the benefit and advantage of the youth. Moreover, it says that the SK has exposed the youth leaders to dishonest or corrupt practices specially in handling funds. More often than not, SK chairmen and officials are not found in their barangay because they have to stay elsewhere to pursue their college education.” Furthermore, it also stated that “what is worse is that when the absentee SK officials continue to receive government allowances even if they are unable to discharge their duties and deliver services that are expected of them.” It even claims that “by abolishing SK, we can not only save billions of pesos in the conduct of their elections but save the nations from the newly trained traditional politicians.”

The HB 3732, by Davao del Sur 1st District Representative Marc Douglas IV C. Cagas of the, also wants to abolish the SK. According to him, “no noted major satisfactory contribution to nation building has so far been made” by the SK.  He further said that SK “even became rich haven for the commission of graft and corruption.” He also criticizes the absentee officials, who “do not even participate in hearings and committee meetings.” He says that “minors are not yet possessed of judicial personality and capacity to act” and that “youth sector is still properly represented by so many other competent marginalized sectors, and would remain to be properly represented without the existence of the SK.”

Another abolition bill was introduced by Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Florencio C. Garay, known as HB 2114.  It suggests the creation of Youth Sector Representative (YSR) in exchange of the will-be-abolished SK. In every barangay there shall be an YSR who shall be aged 18-25. The term of the elected YSR shall last up to five years.

It can be noted that the SK has already made a bad image and reputation throughout the country since many representatives in the congress push for its abolition.

SK in the grassroots level

According to Punong Barangay Herminio B. Dumaguin of Brgy. Magsaysay Private-Road in Baguio City, having no SK representation to the Barangay Council means paralysis of the youth council specially on implementing useful projects for the youth. He further said that there would be no youth-related projects in the barangay during the SK’s absence.

On a larger scale, Baguio SK Federation (SKF) President of Baguio City, Karminn Yangot said that there is difficulty of her office to help youth in barangays that do not have SK representatives to the Federation. She said SK Chairmen of different barangays would’ve been as her office’s instrument for implementing projects throughout the city.

Punong Barangay Narcisa G. Laguitan of Brgy. DPS said that there is “the same result with or without SK officials.” This means that officials of SK do not do much project to benefit the youth. While Brgy. Sec. Jaime Lee of Brgy. Aldonso Tabora said that there is no difference on SK’s no representation for no action from their previous SK officials has been made.

A graceful exit

A SK abolishment bill, know as HB 2534 said that Pres. Aquino and DILG Sec. Jesse M. Robredo stand part in abolishing the SK. He further says that “COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento followed suit, elaborating that the SK failed to be functional and effective in the delivery of basic services as provided under the Local Government Code.

In the Philippines, 18 years old and below are considered to be minors, hence, they cannot enter into formal agreements, into contracts, into marriage nor can they be prosecuted and jailed for their offense. There had been debates on the reconsideration of our country’s definition of juvenile but the delineation 18 years old and below remained to be unwavering. Paradoxically, the government lets the 15-18 years old sign into government documents and enter into government deals and projects through SK, despite knowing that their decision would affect the lives of many citizens on their communities. Bigger roles in the society require reaching the age of majority or emancipation.

Others say that on the abolishment of SK, youth might not be heard and might not be take part in the process of community building. On the contrary, the Local Government Code allows persons18 years old and above to be elected as Barangay Kagawad, 21 years old and above in the City or Municipal Council and 25 years and above in the House of Representatives. Thus, the youth are still given chance to be duly represented.

The youth has still many venues to participate in nation building and governance. They can still be youth leaders in their schools or be active members of their churches. Examples of these are the awardees of the National Youth Commission’s TAYO awards. This award is an annual recognition program given to the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations. The awardees are youth from all over the country who have given outstanding contributions in their community. Despite their significant contributions in the society, members of the awarded groups are not part of the SK. Hence, it shows how apolitical youth are still active and participatory in nation building.

Furthermore, the abolition of SK does not necessarily mean taking out the chance of the youth to be enhanced in their leadership. It is just a graceful method to save them from the already-ill mechanism of SK.

This matter boils down on what the masses will stand for; will they give another chance to the youth sector to prove themselves? Or they will remove the SK in the government, thus saving the youth from the abyss of Philippine politics?

We should think critically. If something is not functional, why still continue its existence? We cannot afford to invest a lot while benefitting less. We must invest into something beneficial to everybody – an investment where we can address problems through a ”win-win solution.”

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