In this democratic space that we enjoy—the struggle for which smoldered after the imposition of martial law in September 1972 and sparked on Aug. 21, 1983, when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated—preparations are being made for the election of young Filipinos who would lead the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). The elections on Oct. 31 are significant in that the nationwide youth council has supposedly been reconstituted and is now in a fresh form—hopefully with fresh ideals.
The SK’s original configuration, the Kabataang Barangay, was put up by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1975, ostensibly in response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and to provide a way for the young to get involved in national development. His eldest child, Imee Marcos, was installed as national chair of the group that involved itself mostly in livelihood projects, sports programs and cultural activities but was generally perceived as a way of co-opting genuine student activism in line with the dictatorship’s Bagong Lipunan machinery. (Remember the student Archimedes Trajano who, at an open forum of the Kabataang Barangay in August 1977 where Imee Marcos was speaking, rose to ask what was deemed an impertinent question. He was seized by her security personnel and taken away, and his body, which bore signs of torture, was found weeks later. His name is among those inscribed on a wall at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.)
In 1991 the Kabataang Barangay was abolished. The Sangguniang Kabataan was established in the next year, with voting initiated at the barangay level.
To some extent and in certain areas, the SK chalked up plus points by providing free medical treatment and rehabilitation for poor families, and feeding programs for needy children. Other SK groups built homes for Habitat for Humanity. But in other places, things started to fray. By 2013, voters were being trucked to Commission on Elections offices using barangay-registered vehicles or even private buses, with food or even money provided in exchange for supporting certain SK candidates. Truly starting ‘em young.
In that same year, Sen. Bam Aquino, who had worked with the SK during his time in the National Youth Commission, said it was time to examine the group in terms of “which areas became successes and which would need assistance.” He went so far as to say that the SK needed “a major overhaul, especially with regard to its funding and the manner by which one becomes part of it.”
By then, the SK had become notorious for corruption and flash-in-the-pan activities, and, predictably, as a breeding ground for political dynasties and traditional politics. Election Commissioner Lucenito Tagle called it correctly: “We don’t see anything of importance that has been produced by the SK. We have many cases where parents are the ones intervening in vote-buying and irregularities [in SK elections]. Imagine, at that age, that’s already [their] charge against each other. It shouldn’t be like that. [Young people] are being exposed to all these things at an early stage.”
For the Oct. 31 SK polls, the Comelec has issued guidelines for filing certificates of candidacy. Republic Act No. 10742, or the SK Reform Act of 2015, states that a candidate should not be related up to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official, or to any incumbent regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official in the locality where he/she seeks to be elected.
Any SK candidate who lies about being related to any current official will be disqualified from running, according to Comelec Chair Andres Bautista.
But for all that, the relative value of the Sangguniang Kabataan remains in question: Does it merely serve to train budding leaders in the rotten ways of traditional politics? Should it even be in existence?
Here are more of Tagle’s strong remarks on the SK: “Get rid of the SK. First of all, we spend so much for the SK elections when only 2 million voters (aged 15 to just below 18) participate. The turnout is also low, and there are no good results for the youth.”
“No good results for the youth.” Surely a point to ponder.
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