At the risk of being suspected once more by Del, a valued blog follower I have not met, as a propagandist of the Fariñases, let me say that I only have respect for my congressman, Rodolfo Fariñas, And this respect extends to his adorable kids.
In the months leading to the 2010 elections, then serving as panelist in a debate-forum participated in by congressional candidates in Ilocos Norte’s first district, I noted that while Fariñas had views totally different from mine regarding two issues I deemed important, namely the Reproductive Health Bill and the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, his brilliance and eloquence make it impossible to ignore his views. Surely, this bar topnotcher, unlike Iskul Bukol alumnus and Philippine Senator Tito Sotto, has a brilliant mind.
Recent developments, however, lead me to write, yet again, about the Sangguniang Kabataan which, incidentally, is headed here in this province by JR (Rodolfo Jr), one of the congressman’s lovely kids.
Based on a report filed by The Ilocos Times staff reporter Leilanie Adriano, JR, the incumbent SK Ilocos Norte Federated president and ex-officio provincial board member, as in the cases of previous youth officials before him, has recorded the most number of absences at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan sessions.
Every Monday afternoon, the young Fariñas’ seat and table at the back row of the session hall is unoccupied, and based on records of the provincial board’s secretariat, the young Farinas has been absent for 42 sessions since he assumed his post in February 2011. The board’s attendance record shows that Farinas has a total of 42 absences (official leaves of absences) and two missed sessions while on official business. Having attended only 38 sessions, he has been more not there than there.
Still according to Leilanie’s report, on several occasions wherein JR was present, like on August 28, his latest attendance at the provincial board, he stayed only for a few minutes and left the session hall while other board members were deliberating for the passage of draft provincial ordinances and resolutions scheduled in the agenda.
Leilanie’s research reveals that, to date, Farinas has so far sponsored at least 12 provincial resolutions, all endorsements for the conversion of roads in various municipalities of the first district of Ilocos Norte, his father’s turf.
JR’s chronic absences prompted Vice Governor Angelo Marcos Barba, the board’s presiding officer, to soon hold a meeting to tackle about Farinas’ absences. “The law is the law. We will adhere to our local government code and act on it,” Barba reportedly said shortly after noticing Farinas’ absence during the September 3 regular session.
However, in the case of the Sangguniang Kabataan, Cong. Farinas, when asked by reporters in his press conference at the Laoag City hall on the same day, argued that the SK is different as they have “autonomy” as provided in their constitution and by-laws. While acknowledging that there is a ground to remove an absentee member of the Sanggunian, Fariñas, who has one of the best attendance records in Congress (a perfect attendance in 2010, only seven absences in 2011), said “this doesn’t apply to the SK as they are merely ex-officio members.”
“The Sangguniang Panlalawigan can only remove regular members, the elected councilors. The SK has its own by-laws. My son is 16 years old. Ana’t trabahona nga SK president ket agbasa met Manila? (What work can he do as SK president when he is studying in Manila?) He is even a minor, he cannot decide without my permission,” the older Fariñas, whose two other sons have likewise previously served as SK Federated presidents of Ilocos Norte and Laoag City, said on record.
The congressman underscored that only the SK members themselves, if they want to, can remove him. “Not even the president or the office of the Department of Interior and Local Government can remove an SK official because it is a violation of their autonomy,” he added.
While referring to the Ilocos Norte board led by the vice governor, Farinas quipped, “Dida koma ammo’t ar-aramidenda no awan tay barok? As youth representative, saling-pusa da lang dagita” (Won’t they know what to do without my son? As youth representatives, they (the SK) are just saling pusa), he said.
Personally, dear karikna, I do not push for JR’s removal from office, and I am not even amenable of having him punished for prioritizing his A.B. Sociology studies at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila. Indeed, it should make us all proud that this young Ilocano is doing well as a college student and also as a talent of ABS-CBN’s Star Magic.
Still, I am reviving my plea for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, and the Congressman’s passionate defense of his son may have just strengthened this cause.
Nothing has done more damage to the Filipino youth’s political education and participation more than the SK has. 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 brand of youth empowerment do we see when most SK programs are merely confined to the staging of Mr. and Ms. SK pageants, organizing of basketball tournaments, 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 averted climate change?
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 in state universities.
There are many SK officials I know, you know, and everybody knows, who are remiss in their duties. They hold office in barangays and municipalities somewhere but spend most of the time elsewhere, most often because they are pursuing college education.
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.
Last year, I personally had the chance to share with the late DILG Secretary and now-hero Jesse Robredo my views on SK. He had the same view that many of the organization’s flaws must be addressed. Secretary Robredo had the chance to read my article “Abolish it!” which is included in my first book, The He(a)rd Mentality.
I agree that 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. I can name many a great statesman who was 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 in information and communication technology, there exist 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, a country where popular participation in government affairs is high, does not have anything close to the Sangguniang Kabataan, and yet scores higher in child protection and youth welfare indexes than the Philippines.
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. It is alarming that this phenomenon, i.e. politicians’ relatives and pets holding juicy SK posts, happens in almost all local government units.
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 same law which provided for the conversion of the Marcos-era Kabataang Barangay to the Sanguniang Kabataan, also pushed for the latter’s 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. Still, 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
And in closing we emphasize that this is issue is not really about JR as it is about a political structure that has done young people and society at large more harm than good.
All these said, we wish JR success in his studies, and we look forward to having him serve his people, in keeping with the leadership tradition of his family, in the best ways he knows and can, at the right time and under the right circumstances.