The barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections will commence again on October 30, following its postponement last year. The opportunity to fortify the foundation of youth participation through the SK has presented itself anew in the pursuit of realizing the youth’s “vital role in nation-building.”
Grounds for participation, after all, have been cemented through the SK Reform Act and subsequent amendments in 2022 that promised stronger autonomy, galvanized civic engagement, and stifled dynasties. But for Mia Simon, SK chairperson at Science City of Muñoz, youth involvement continues to erode in the face of the council's lack of financial independence, and collusive interference in mechanisms meant to spur constituents’ participation.
The youth is armed with the potential of laying the bedrock for a revamped political landscape. This structure is to be built by dismantling the apparatuses of traditional politics that limit the SK’s capacity to govern independently and minimize spaces for participation among its constituents.
SK officials and constituents alike are subjected to narrowing avenues for participation. Despite reforms on the operations of the SK, benefits to empower officers are still not fully observed and means to enforce civic engagement are inadequately employed.
“Ang hirap na kaming SK chairpersons lang gumagalaw kasi understandable na kami lang may honorarium, kaya nabu-burn out [dahil] lahat ng trabaho sa amin bumabagsak—pang-treasurer man o secretary, dahil walang honorarium ang appointed [positions],” Simon shared. Since most of her council members are already working, it is hard for them to regularly convene and execute their assigned tasks.
This lack of apt compensation among leaders who also have to make ends meet prompted the Kabataan Partylist in 2022 to amend the SK Reform Act, and provide all SK members with monthly honorarium. Simon, however, has yet to enjoy the other benefits promised by the law, such as hazard pay and welfare contribution at the barangay’s discretion, due to the lack of local ordinances to enforce them.
The waning morale of the SK affects the service and presence it is capable of rendering to the youth. For one, Simon continues to dispel the longstanding misconception that the SK only seasonally functions to facilitate basketball leagues and other barangay competitions. Bridging this detachment between the SK and its constituents is what the mandated formation of local youth development councils (LYDC) sought to ameliorate.
But Simon’s experience with the LYDC tells a different story than the objectives supposedly engendered with it. Simon lamented the local government officials’ interventions in the LYDC, making it susceptible to manipulation instead of functioning as a genuine avenue for participation.
“Ang na-appoint na local youth development officer ay di elected SK official, talagang in-appoint siya ng mayor,” she shared. Instead of invigorating widespread participation among the youth through genuine representatives from individuals and their organizations, Simon said that their LYDC suffers from inactivity, stuck in the same practice of instituting seasonal competitions.
The reform accords the appointment power of the youth development officer to the provincial governor or mayor. Although LYDCs must be represented by youth and youth-serving organizations, it is the youth development officer who identifies and verifies qualified organizations. These inconsistent standards in the association’s composition and a politicized selection process hound LYDCs, as found in a 2021 study.
Youth organizations and individuals committed to the cause of forwarding progressive policies are thus bereft of spaces to participate in governance, shadowed by a system where one’s place in politics is secured through favors from barangay officials in power.
Barred from maximizing participative avenues amid interferences, the SK treads a turbulent path toward independence. The lack of financial autonomy of some SKs also continues to make them vulnerable to being beholden at the behest of local officials.
For most of the years during Simon’s term, they were not advised by the Commission on Audit to establish their own SK bank account. It was only recently that they got to process its requirements. Before that, all their funds had to be disbursed through their barangay captain and treasurer.
Per the reform, SK funds, which constitute 10 percent of the barangay budget, shall be deposited in the SK’s bank account. This is in response to previous studies showing that it is a common practice for barangay captains to dole out 10 percent of SK project expenditures, once liquidated, to the pockets of the SK chairperson regardless if they agree or not.
“Minsan naiimpluwensiyahan ng barangay iyong SK sa mga under-the-table [negotiations],” Simon said. “May mga okay naman dati pero dahil nasilaw sa pera, eventually di na rin na-control kung paano dapat gamitin ang kapangyarihan, posisyon, at pagkakakilanlan.”
Even with the reform mandating financial independence, strained relationships between SK officers and the barangay chairman continue to hinder the actualization of the council’s financial autonomy, found a 2022 study by Ateneo de Manila University researchers. Currying the favors of barangay officers then becomes imperative in securing the SK’s financial operations.
Embroiled in an environment where underhanded schemes proliferate due to enduring financial dependence, some SK officers imbibe a practice where transactional exchanges with the powerful to secure funds trump meaningful participation with constituents. Nurturing this culture during their youth sets a perilous precedent for the coming years, should they succeed the current national leaders.
“Dapat ma-uphold iyong financial independence at sa pagde-decide kung ano ang prinsipyo na dapat tanganan ng isang youth leader,” Simon said.
The challenge for the upcoming SK is to spur participation by organizing activities germinating from the grassroots, Simon added. For her, it is pivotal for youth leaders to always be grounded with the recognition of the causes they must fight for and the people to whom they are in service.
Gauging and forwarding these causes are processes that both require vitalized constituents’ participation in decision-making procedures. SKs across different barangays likewise have the capacity to urge the youth to be involved in local and national campaigns to address the ills that plague the community.
“Kailangan na may mag-lead, may magturo sa kanila kung ano ang kakayahan ng SK sa paggiba ng traditional politics,” said Simon. According to her, SK officers can initiate this by setting an example among their constituents and empowering them to speak up on issues concerning them.
With the foremost tool the youth has at their disposal, participation demands to be sharpened as elections draw near. Only then can the nation be built on the foundation of an inclusive and progressive framework with a renewed landscape for collective engagement. ●
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