Political families’ captured territory
It’s not true that a bill banning political dynasties has no chance of being passed in this country. While various versions of such a proposed law have been filed in Congress and typically ended up sidelined, there was, in fact, a small moment of lucidity and victory in 2015, when Congress passed Republic Act No. 10742, or the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act.
The law was in response to the widespread public perception that the Sangguniang Kabataan—originally intended as a state-backed initiative to harness and encourage the participation of young, idealistic Filipinos in civic and political discourse—had been hijacked by local political families and turned into a corrupt, patronage-ridden training ground and launching pad for their wet-behind-the-ears spawn who needed grooming to succeed them in public office. In province after province, the youth organization invariably featured for its officers the scions of the ruling political dynasties, intent on consolidating their families’ power base among the youth and thus ensuring their long-term hold on power.
The Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act sought to remedy this warped reality by decreeing that the SK chair and seven members of the SK council “must not be related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official or to any incumbent elected regional, provincial, city, municipal or barangay official in the locality where the aspirant seeks to be elected.”
Perhaps the SK positions were low-hanging fruit that the legislators found easy to toss out as token concessions, but whatever it was, it was as close to an antipolitical-dynasty law as could be. Accordingly, the sons and daughters, nephews and nieces of long-serving mayors or governors could no longer swagger into the Sangguniang Kabataan on the basis of their powerful surnames and use the office for their vested interests.
The law would seem to augur well for greater plurality and diversity in the search for young Filipinos fired up to do their share for public service. By insulating the Sangguniang Kabataan in this way from the debased ways of the old system, perhaps more worthy Filipino youth, even those without the money and resources to mount an election campaign, would be enticed to see beyond the prevalent cynicism surrounding the idea of serving in the government, and become this country’s new generation of reformers and enlightened leaders.
Alas, the old ways are proving characteristically recalcitrant. Ironically, the law is now being blamed by some quarters for the low turnout of candidates for the SK elections on May 14, which is the first time that the law would be in effect. According to reports across the country, few youth leaders have signed up to run, forcing the extension of the deadline for the filing of candidacies. For the 335,584 positions to be filled up, only 386,206 have reportedly signed up as of April 17.
Interior Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya is one of those who think the antidynasty law partly explains the paltry turnout: “You know, there has been some sort of political capture, I would say, of some areas in the Philippines where the SK [candidates] are sons, daughters, or relatives of barangay officials,” he said. But veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal sees the positive side to the dismal development—that it proves how the Sangguniang Kabataan had indeed been the captured territory of political families all these years (“Nagpapatunay lamang iyan na iyan sa SK ay pinamumunuan ng mga kamag-anak, mga anak … ng mga pulitiko”).
Perhaps it would take more than one election, and greater consciousness-raising by the likes of the National Youth Commission (unfortunately also in hot water these days over expenses flagged by the Commission on Audit), to persuade many young Filipinos to take a second look at the Sangguniang Kabataan. Who can blame them? The new officers after May 14 have their difficult work cut out for them: Clean up the office, and sever it for good from its disreputable roots.
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