Time to abolish the Sangguniang Kabataan

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

In theory, the Sangguniang Kabataan serves a very noble purpose. It was created to serve as a training ground for the country’s future leaders. It was a place where those who wanted to learn about politics might enter to enrich their skills and learn what it would take to become a future leader of the nation.

Over the years though, as what often happens with a once-noble purpose, the Sangguniang Kabataan has been twisted and turned into something that is no longer in unison with its original purpose. It has become as open to graft and corruption as the government itself, and instead of fostering future good leaders, it only seems to teach the youth about the corruption that exists in the government at a very early age.

I think that in the last couple of years the purity and purpose of the SK has been something that not everyone believed in anymore. However, it remained important for the youth to feel they have a voice so that they remained interested in their government and how the country was being run. Over the weekend, Caloocan Rep. Edgardo Erice proposed an amendment that would, in effect, abolish the SK, something he had originally proposed while he was in his first term in office.

I read about this news over the weekend and I could not help but agree with his line of thinking. It just seems ridiculous to keep an institution around that is no longer serving its purpose. Unless drastic changes are made to return the so-called innocence of the SK, there really is no need to keep it around.

Other than just churning out younger corrupt future politicians, the SK has also been known to be the training ground for political dynasties, a place where politician families can put their kids to “learn about” politics until they are of age and can take over the family business. This seems rather unfair to those who truly want to run for the SK because of a genuine interest in politics and serving the people. They stand no chance running against candidates who are backed by their political families. It’s just another place for politicians to gain a stronger foothold.

As mentioned by Erice, who himself had been a part of the Sangguniang Kabataan when he was younger, when he was in it there was absolutely no budget allotted for the youth group. The group was pure volunteerism and those who joined did it out of a sincere desire to learn and they worked on programs that directly benefitted them. It was very different from the current way the group is set up.

They are now a “logical first choice target for local politicians seeking a higher position.” Because of this SK leaders are truly exposed to the ugly side of politics at a very young age and instead of inspiration are being disillusioned and even jaded by the system instead of striving to find ways to improve it and better it.

Of course, the idea of abolishing the SK is also having its fair share of opposition. There are those who claim that the importance of the group is still the same – and that is giving the youth a voice in the government and teaching them about politics at a young age thereby helping them understand how the government works. With this mission I wholeheartedly agree, however, that is not what is happening now.

The Caloocan Representative went on to say that he understood the importance of having a youth voice and suggested instead the organization of a Barangay Youth Council headed by the youngest elected Sangguniang Barangay member with four chairmen appointed. They will tackle topics directly related to the youth including education, sports, environment, and culture and the arts.

I can see the merits of his suggestions and I think it would be a good first step in cleansing youth politics and keeping them focused on what really matters – building a better nation for themselves and their generation. As is, there are both pros and cons to abolishing the SK, but in the end we have to ask ourselves which is the path that will lead to more future growth and development.

While the concept of the Sangguniang Kabataan is noble, it is not being executed properly. It can’t be denied that it is a training ground for political dynasties and more and more political names are being put in the SK than possible future leaders who may not come from as prestigious a legacy but who are more than capable of serving. Plus, there is a substantial allocation of funds to the SK. If these are not being run correctly, the funds will surely not also be used the best possible way.

At the same time though, should the group be abolished, how would the funding be used in a way that it will still serve its intended purpose? That is a serious question that needs to be addressed as well. In an ideal world, the best way to approach this problem is to institute reforms and safeguards. I think the Barangay Youth Council is a good idea in the right direction. The government can also earmark the SK funds for youth related projects in their districts — such as school renovations, park and sports center buildings, and arts and culture programs for the youth. I think, in general, that is what these funds are for, but due to the nature of politics sometimes earmarking is not the same as actual budget implementation.

Another idea given by the Representative of Quezon City is to continue on the SK but with zero budget. Give the youth their organization to learn about politics and make their suggestions within their barangays but don’t include money or budget in the process. He claimed that the SK’s corruption comes from its leaders’ access to public funds. A budget-less SK might be the antidote for such corruption. It’s a very radical reform, but something that may also work. Without budget, the SK would return to the purity it formerly had because the young leaders’ elders — politicians, barangay leaders, and etc would not be tempted to interfere.

Personally, I am not entirely sure about which road is the best one to take at this point, but I do agree that changes need to be made. This is no longer something we can just ignore. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to fix. Whether this is something that can be address before the elections in October is something only time will tell. Although for the amendment to just come in now is cutting it quite close though I must admit.




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