By Maugan P. Mosaid
MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews)—Is the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) an effective mechanism for participation of the youth in constructive politics and nation-building?
The answer is not easy as it will entail a thorough review of the Sangguniang Kabataan from the time it was introduced in 1991 to the present. More often than not, we hear skeptics acting as doubting Thomases, as to whether or not, the SK is a necessary mechanism for governance or an exercise in futility.
After the Sangguniang Kabataan almost turned into rubles in the early 2000, it deserves a second look two decades after.
In early 2000, politicians and concerned personalities engaged in a litany of arguments on the pros and cons of the SK issue. One school of thought believed in the notion that the youth should be exposed to the dynamics of politics as early as possible. The SK issue, at times, is likened to the sex education issue. The issue of whether there is a right time to know all these or when is it premature to get into them, has lingered on for some time.
The other school of thought was that of the skeptics who opined that there are better things, other than politics, where the energy of the youth can be harnessed. Matters of politics can be learned at the right time just like their elders who are now holding important and key positions in the government.
In 2001, or 10 years after its existence, allegations of corruption by inefficient, ineffective, and non-performing SK officials caused mounting calls for its abolition from various sectors and officials, including no less than President Benigno Aquino Jr. and Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Ironically, the very author of Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code (LGC), which created the SK, had also pushed for its demise. Former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., in his last term, filed a bill proposing the abolition of the SK. Former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla also filed a similar bill in 2004.
But the SK National Federation (NF) and the SK Reform Coalition did not take this sitting down. They made last-ditch efforts to salvage what’s left of the youth organization.
SK National Federation 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.
Consequently, the SK Reform Law or Republic Act No. 10742, was passed and approved on January 15, 2016. The SK Reform Act of 2016 was branded as a progressive policy towards engaging the youth to participate in good governance.
It was significant to note that this law mandated the hiring of youth development officer. It stated, among others, that “There shall be in every province, city and municipality a Local Youth Development Office (LYDO) which shall be headed by a youth development officer with the rank of at least division chief.”
The LYDO is primarily tasked with monitoring the implementation of plans, programs, and activities of the Sangguniang Kabataan, introduce viable youth development agenda (YDA) for consideration of the SK, connect the SK to local service providers, partners, and key stakeholders. In effect, the LYDO serves as the de facto coordinator for the SK activities.
Another salient feature of the SK Reform Act of 2016 was the creation of the Katipunan ng Kabataan (youth assembly), which was primarily tasked with two important things: one is the election of the SK Chairperson and members of the Sangguniang Kabataan; the other is to serve as the highest policy making body to decide on matters affecting the youth in the barangay. As such, the SK shall consult and secure the concurrence of the Katipunan ng Kabataan in the formulation of its plans, programs, and activities.
Sadly, this consultation rarely happened. In most areas of the country it never happened at all. The SK saw this as unnecessary bureaucratic layer that mingles with it in the formulation and implementation of its plans, programs and activities. In most cases it was the sitting Punong Barangay who, by the way, is related to the SK Chairperson one way or another, running the show. This was readily noticed by the policy-makers and concerned sectors of the society.
Realizing that there was an acknowledged shortcomings in the SK Reform Law, its implementation and existing practices at the time, Congress passed another law which introduced more reforms and motivations for the Sangguniang Kabataan. Thus, Republic Act 11768 was passed and approved on May 6, 2022. This law was known as An Act Strengthening the Sangguniang Kabataan, Institutionalizing Additional Reforms to Revitalize Youth Participation in Local Governance and by Providing Honorarium, Other Benefits and Privileges, and Amending for the Purpose Certain Sections of Republic Act No. 10742 (SK Reform Act of 2016).
The SK chairman gets a salary while the seven councilors (kagawad) that form the youth 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. The SK is entitled to an allotment of 10 percent of the budget of the barangay.
Due to past experiences where the sitting Punong Barangay exercised so much control and influence over the SK Chairperson primarily due to close relations, the new law prohibited those related to incumbent government officials up to the second degree by consanguinity or affinity.
There were other intrinsic factors which contributed to the low performance of the SK in general, such as lack of creativity or innovation. Thus, it is recommended that the SK foster a sense of creativity and resourcefulness in coming up with programs and projects. A deeper understanding of the inherent factors of the individual youth in community participation may be the critical next step in institutionalizing the SK as a mechanism for national development.
Some studies (Israel and Ilvento, 1995; Lerner, Dowling, & Anderson, 2003; and Checkoway, et al., 2003) have found out that youth develop leadership skills, social skills, and life skills when properly connected with highly competent service providers and partners. Communities also benefit from the endeavors set forth by such partnerships (Sandefur & Laumann, 1998).
With more than half of the Philippine population composed of young people, aged 15-30 years old, the role of the youth in constructive politics and nation-building cannot be over-emphasized. Despite the weaknesses of the SK, there have been success stories that show its potential as an important organization.
Like the Kabataang Barangay of the “New Society” era in the 1970s, the SK has produced a crop of local government officials, as well as notable national legislators, according to a study by Aceron et al. (2020). The Sangguniang Kabataan serves as one of the mechanisms for the youth to live up to the century-old challenge posed by our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. The youth are not simply given space for participation in government through the SK mechanism. They are also given the right and obligation to govern.
These rights were guaranteed by Section 13 of the Philippine Constitution, which provides 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 also inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.”
The Philippines is, so far, the only country in the world which has given its youth more concrete opportunity to take a participative role in governmental affairs. An offshoot of the Kabataang Barangay of the ’70s, the SK is a governing body where youth, aged 15 to 30, may register to vote for SK candidates.
As affirmed by recent studies, the SK can live up to the ideals and noble purpose for which it was created when given the right motivation, guidance, and support from competent authorities and service providers. There may always be problems in the SK, as in other government institutions, but the SK is worth fighting for.
It was encouraging to note that some members of Congress did not give up the fight.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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