Starting them young
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Should the Sangguniang Kabataan be abolished? It’s getting harder and harder to find good reasons not to.
The latest reports on the ongoing registration for the SK and barangay elections in October underscore how compromised this supposed training ground for and official showcase of the country’s young political elite has become. In the Visayas, from Tacloban to Cebu, hundreds of registrants were reportedly trucked to the Commission on Elections offices aboard barangay-owned vehicles or private buses, provided meals, and promised money in exchange for supporting specific SK aspirants.
Everything was preplanned, down to the paraphernalia to be used by the registrants. In Cebu City, “a candidate for SK councilor was seen bringing a box of ball pens, stamp pads and registration forms,” said a report in this paper. Likewise, in Jaro town, Leyte, “a barangay official whose daughter will run for SK admitted that she ‘escorted’ would-be SK voters to the local Comelec office.” And she wasn’t bashful about it: “Let’s be practical,” she declared. “I want to ensure the win of my daughter.”
Given that mindset, and the example the mother is setting before her child, is it unreasonable to expect that the young woman—or any other SK candidate exposed to such slick tactics, for that matter—would inevitably end up as dishonorable as her parent-mentor? The setup, in effect, has become the breeding ground for that vile species that has been the bane of this country for so long: the devious, wheeling-dealing politico—but worse, in this case, because the specimens being corrupted are in the bloom of youth, the so-called hope of the motherland waylaid so early by the warped example of their elders.
The most odious result of the SK’s contamination by the sleazy hand of politics is the transformation of this once-promising platform for young leaders and bright political aspirants into the plaything of local dynasties, where the sons and daughters of families in power are made to learn a variation of that famous dictum—that politics is addition, and better start counting early.
Scratch a congressman, mayor or governor, and you’re likely to find such early tenure in their hometown’s supposed youth legislature as the launch pad for their entry into the big league. How, for instance, did Junjun Binay become mayor of Makati? First by serving as SK president in 1992–2001, where he learned the ropes under the mentorship of the longtime mayor who was also his father, now the vice president of the republic.
In the beginning, perhaps, the Sangguniang Kabataan raised hope that it would serve its purpose well. Established as a replacement for the despised Kabataang Barangay under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, the SK as created by the Local Government Code of 1991 aimed to involve the youth in public governance by giving them the opportunity to serve their communities through programs they themselves created and ran, and that helped harness their energies and passions.
But all in the spirit of volunteerism, said Caloocan Rep. Edgardo Erice, a one-time member of SK who has filed a bill seeking its abolition. The early SK had no budget from the local government and was run by volunteers, recalled Erice. In time, however, because of their close proximity to the down-and-dirty business of real-world politics, the group of impressionable youth also proved to be a constituency ripe for manipulation.
With money and attention lavished its way, the SK became “the logical first choice target for local politicians seeking a higher position,” said Erice. Now, the “School ng Korupsyon”—as he calls the group—“has, sadly speaking, become both a tool and a vehicle for the proliferation of corruption.”
It remains of crucial importance for the voice of young Filipinos to be heard in governmental affairs. The SK, however, appears to be no longer the best vehicle for any such program of youth empowerment, if it ever was. Over the years, reports of irregularities in its ranks have come to rival the worst shenanigans in government—from the SK national federation president haled on corruption charges before the Ombudsman in 2010, to political clans hijacking the group for both short-term electioneering activities and long-term dynastic plans, and now the wholesale adoption by SK candidates themselves of the trademark “hakot” of their political elders. Such precocious dirty tricks need to be nipped in the bud—permanently.
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