THIS IS NOT the first column to be written on this matter and I bet this is not to be the last. The clamor for the abolition of the Sanguniang Kabataan crops up every so often and intensifies before barangay elections, but alas, the SK has stayed and hanged on like sticky phlegm lingering on the nation’s throat. I say this is the right time to cough it out, given a president who is sincere in cleaning up the government bureaucracy.
Nothing has done more damage to the Filipino youth’s political education and participation more than the SK. The structure was meant to give young people, who make up a big chunk of the country’s population, the opportunity to contribute to nation building. It was envisioned to be a breeding ground for future leaders, an avenue for youth empowerment.
But it has, dear karikna, disappointed, and disappointed us big time.
What youth empowerment do we see when most SK programs are merely confined to the staging of cheesy Mr. and Ms. SK events, holding of basketball leagues, construction of basketball courts and waiting sheds, and clean and green photo-operations where they would sweep the streets, plant a couple of seedlings, and pose in front of cameras as if they have reverted climate change?
Occasionally, there are some innovations. In Laoag City last February, the SK Federation held one of their biggest activities—a mixed martial arts event described by witnesses as “bloody and fierce”. It was dubbed “Suntukan sa Laoag”.
For doing just these things in addition to attending sessions where they are usually benchwarmers and sleepyheads if not perennial absentees, SK officials receive monthly honoraria and other emoluments, privileges and benefits, even free tuition fees in state universities.
There are many SK officials I know, you know, everybody knows who are remiss in their duties. They hold office in barangays and municipalities somewhere but they spend most of the time elsewhere, most often because they are pursuing college education.
I have a former student, an SK chairman, with whom I have a running ritual. Rarely seen in their barangay, I’d always tell him in jest, each time we cross paths, “abolish the SK!”, to which he would reply, “huwag muna sir, hindi ko pa bayad ‘yung laptop ko.” The kid has already advanced his honorarium for the remainder of his term to buy the fancy gadget. At least this young politico is still more prudent compared to other SK officials who were able to establish computer shops during their incumbency. So young and so corrupt.
As a bonus, some SK officials, even as they are busy in moneymaking and power-tripping, even find time to get themselves embroiled in sex scandals and other sleazy, if not violent, controversies.
There are a few well-meaning SK officials though, like my former student Jed Arnel Raquel, SK federation president of Batac City, who laments at how “dirty” politics can really get. Well, ho-hum, at least Jed learned a lesson, but did he have to be an SK official to know that? I asked the nursing graduate if he still wants to get into politics when his term as an SK official expires. With sincerity in his voice, he said yes, but added that only when he has become wealthy from his own sweat will he return to public service so that he can do so with independence and integrity. I admire Jed’s pure intentions, although I had to remind him that the rich also steal, and many of them, in fact, steal big time as greed knows no limits.
Yes, young people must get involved, but I should mention that Rizal, del Pilar, Jacinto, and countless other young heroes stood up for what we now call a nation, over a century before the SK came to be. Young Efren Peñaflorida was named 2009 CNN Hero of the Year because of his keen vision, spirit of voluntarism, and selfless service. He was not an SK official. Charice Pempengco has inspired young people around the universe neither because of SK nor her botox treatment, but on account of a world-class talent she generously honed and shared.
I can name many a great statesmen who were never involved in bureaucratic youth politics, but who brought honor to public service. I am even tempted to say that they turned out to be good leaders because of, not in spite of, their non-involvement in SK.
Young people do not need a parallel government so they can be heard. In this age of rapid advances and technology and communication, there are already many avenues for the youth to voice out their concerns without dipping their hands in the murky waters of politics-as-usual. Even the United States, where popular participation in government affairs is high, does not have anything close to the Sangguniang Kabataan, and they score higher in child protection and youth welfare indexes.
You may argue, dear karikna, that the youth can make a difference, that they can change the face of politics, and that they are the antidote to the illnesses in governance. But that happens only in utopia. In reality, the SK has degenerated into a breeding ground for corruption and ineptitude. It has become the springboard for traditional politics and all its component evils including political dynasty, nepotism, patronage, and tokenism.
Public officials field their kids as candidates in order to corner the SK funds and have them occupy ex-officio posts in the barangay and city/town/provincial councils. In Ilocos Norte, for example, the presidents of the respective SK Federations in the province and in Laoag City are headed by two men who bear not only the same surnames, but the same first names too: Rudys Caesar Fariñas I and Rudys Caesar Fariñas II, sons of Congressman Rudy Fariñas.
Note that I have nothing personal against the two Rudyses. In fact, I find them to be charismatic, and, well, youthful. They may even be good leaders. But it is alarming that this phenomenon, i.e. politicians’ relatives and pets holding juicy SK posts, happens not only in Ilocos Norte but in almost all local government units. In fact, as early as now, trapos are already maneuvering the system so they can place in their respective kids and pets to SK posts in different levels of government if and when the barangay and SK elections push through later this year and not postponed for later as the usual practice goes. (SK officials tend to remain in power for too long because of these postponements leading some people to tease that SK now has a new meaning: Sangguniang Katandaan.)
We wonder whose interests these robots masquerading as youth representatives represent: the voice of change or that of preserving the depressing status quo? It does not take a political scientist to answer this question, no wonder why even former Senator Nene Pimentel, author of Republic Act 7160, also known as the Local Government Code of 1991, the law which provided for the conversion of the Marcos-era Kabataang Barangay to the Sanguniang Kabataan, had been pushing for its abolition. Pimentel saw, and rightly so, the need to undo a mistake.
Some quarters maintain that the SK should not be abolished, and must only be reformed. I disagree. I am not sold to the idea that we have to clothe kids with formal powers so they can be relevant to our national life. It only makes them believe too early what many of us desensitized adults have come to accept: that politicians are self-important and that the citizens are powerless.
We do not need the SK to train good leaders. We do not need the SK to enable the youth to do their share, and neither do we need it to have the voice of teenyboppers heard and heeded. Simply, dear karikna, we do not need the SK.
Let’s expectorate it, ahem, and ASAP please.