The Fate of the Sangguniang Kabataan

By Adrian John O. Ladaga, Staff Writer |

Does Philippine politics corrupt youth leaders?

Debates on whether to reform or abolish the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) system once again resurfaced months ahead of another Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on October 28.  The 16th congress which opened a few weeks ago seems divided on the issue; so is the public’s opinion.

Breeding grounds

A week ago, Commission on Election (Comelec) Commisioner Lucenito Tagle called for the abolition of the youth body claiming that it has been “a breeding ground for corruption.”

Tagle also insinuated that the SK is being used by unscrupulous politicians by exposing them to poll fraud and several anomalous activities concerning graft and bribery.

Such allegations may be more than visible in society than not.

The Sangguniang Kabataan, which  was established by virtue of the Local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act 7160, is a restructured “Kabataang Barangay” of the Marcos years.

Youth voters aged 15-17 years old can vote or be voted on SK seats .The chairman of the SK is considered a regular member of the barangay council.  Elected SK officials will serve their constituents for the next five years.

But the SK issue remains to center on money.  Ten percent of the total Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) directly goes to the Barangay SK.  This year, some P6.05 billion should go to the youth body in 42,000 barangays nationwide.  On average that’s P143,000 per barangay SK.

Abolition or sinister plot?

Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon was quick to refute Comelec’s opinion of abolishing the SK.  On July 5, he said that abolishing the youth body would only give way for older local officials to obtain SK’s share of the IRA from the national government.

“Without the SK, barangay officials can directly control the whole IRA, thereby giving these corrupt local leaders more funds for themselves,” Ridon said.

He also expressed the possibility that funds derived from the abolition of the SK could be used to aid the current administration on the upcoming 2016 elections.

“If Comelec’s most salient argument in calling for SK abolition is corruption, then we ask: Why single out the SK? Why not abolish the Sangguniang Barangay, and every government institution for that matter – including the Comelec?” Ridon asked.

SK Controversy

Allegations regarding the corruption within the SK level is not new.

In October 2010, then president of the Sangguniang Kabataan National Federation (SKNF) President Jane Cajes was charged by her constituents of two graft cases before the Ombudsman for misusing SK funds amounting to P90 million.

According to Cajes’ former aide Manuel Ferdinand De Frio and co-filer Leo Udtahan, the former SKNF head used the funds for “multi-million peso procurement of goods and services without bidding” of shirts and bags for the SK National Congress in 2008 to 2010.  Junior Graft Watch, a local watch dog, had earlier filed a case against Cajes before the the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas for failing to account for P10 million of funds which she received from former President Glorai Macapagal Arroyo.

Cajes, daughter of former Representative Roberto Cajes of the 2nd District of Bohol, has strongly denied the accusations. The case remains unresolved.

Weak performance

A University of the Philippines- Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP-CIDS) report entitled “The Impact of Youth Participation in the Local Government Process: The Sangguniang Kabataan Experience” in 2007 rated the youth body’s performance as “weak”.

“The SK’s performance for the past ten years has been generally weak. This is especially true in terms of coming up with legislations, promoting the development of young people, submitting reports and holding consultations with their constituents,” the report said.

A 2010 thesis entitled “SKEMA of Youth Leaders: An Investigative Study on the Regulation of the Sangguniang Kabataan” by UP’s journalism alumni collaborates to these statements stating some youth officials confessed to receive kickbacks from SK projects such as street lighting and basketball leagues.

The same study pointed out that SK receives weak supervision and regulation from the National Youth Commission (NYC) who is supposed to oversee the youth body’s activity.  It also concluded that the Department of Interior and Local Government is not aware of the SK’s function.

Haunting Tales

The system’s weakness probably lies on the influence of older politicians to SK officials.

“I’m so (sic) underdog. Kapag may sinasabi silang project sa akin, ginagawa ko. But if ako naman ang nagsuggest, nadedelay ang implementation” said a former SK chair of Naguilan, La Union.

Other former SK officials admitted that education remains their priority. And as some studies their degrees outside their constituency, their titles are only for namesakes.

Only one youth voter turned out in a barangay in Imus, Cavite during the last SK election day- his vote decided the election results, a teacher who served as the election officer on that precinct revealed.

On the countryside stories of “picnics-for-no show” remains a usual strategy for SK candidates whose parents are loaded.  The point is to keep the opposition’s supporter from voting by having them “preoccupied- ala field trips.”

Despicable “We”

The SK is flawed.  Evidently, those who want it abolished or reformed agreed that the current SK is “despicable,” to say the least.

Former Senator Aqulino Pimentel, the father of RA 7160 which brought life to the SK has filed during his office a bill to abolish SK.

“The SK officials are being criticized, and maybe for good reasons, for acting like traditional politicians who use money, patronage and sometimes, intimidation, to get elected,” Pimentel said.

 

Featured image grabbed from Wikipedia.

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