Sudden timeout for SK leaders

The Inbox

By Melissa Luz Lopez, VERA Files

Baka wala nang liga. There might be no sports fest anymore.

Ian, 15, recalls his main worry when he heard the news that the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) or youth council elections were being postponed. (All the names in this story have been changed—Ed.)

Like hundreds of thousands of Filipinos aged 15 to 21, Ian and three of his friends were supposed to run for SK kagawad or councilor in a barangay in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan in elections originally timed with Monday’s barangay polls.

The annual paliga was to be among Ian’s programs, in the same the way it was the program of the current SK chairman of his barangay. In fact, the sport fest was the only project of the chairman.

So when President Aquino on Oct. 3 signed the law rescheduling the SK polls to anytime between October 2014 and February 2015 and declared all SK positions vacant in the meantime, Ian and his friends were disappointed.

Abolishing the SK, Ian said, would be a backward step in terms of youth participation.

“(Mahalaga ang SK) para mailabas ng kabataan yung mga opinyon nila. Alam po nila yung kagustuhan ng kapwa kabataan nila e, kaya alam nila yung mga projects (The SK is important so that the youth can voice their opinions. They know what the youth wants, so they know which projects to pursue),” Ian said.

Said his friend Gino, 16: “Nanghihinayang po ako, kasi yung mga hindi nagampanan ng SK ngayon, kayang-kaya baguhin (It’s such a waste, because I know we can give what the current SK wasn’t able to accomplish).”

Another friend, Jake, said he had also been looking forward to the allowance given the SK members.

Malaki rin pong tulong ‘yun sa pamilya niyo (It would help the family a lot),” Jake said, the seventh of eight siblings.

But he does not fault lawmakers entirely for deciding to put the elections on hold while revamping the SK. He agrees that the performance of incumbent SKs has been less than stellar, especially their barangay.

Yung iba kasi, tumatakbo lang. Kapag nanalo na, wala na. Parang nasasayang lang din yung perang binibigay sa kanila (Others only run for office. When they win, they don’t do anything. It’s as if the funds given to the SK goes to waste),” Jake said.

The SK traces its roots to the Kabataang Barangay, established during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos. His daughter Imee, now governor of Ilocos Norte, was KB chairperson. His son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr., now a senator, authored the Senate bill which sought to postpone SK elections.

Several SK members have also been accused of engaging in corrupt practices at so young an age.

Former SK National Federation President Jane Censoria Cajes is currently facing corruption charges at the Ombudsman for alleged misuse of some P93 million funds.

Two former staff members filed the complaint shortly after she stepped down from office in October 2010. They alleged that Cajes entered into multimillion-peso contracts with suppliers for annual SK national conventions without the proper bidding, and said she used the money for personal gain.

Cajes, then 20, denied the allegations. The case remains under investigation as of this writing.

The Local Government Code of 1991, which created the SK, mandates its chairperson and seven kagawad to spearhead youth development programs.

That means going beyond the sports activities that the SK chairman in Ian’s barangay has solely preoccupied himself with all these years. It also means education services, community immersion and anti-drug use campaigns.

Under the Code, only the SK chairman is entitled to an honorarium as a member of the sangguniang barangay. Jake hopes that if he wins, the chairman would be generous enough to give even a small share of his monthly salary to fellow SK officials, as what was being practiced in some areas.

Jake said the current chairman gives an allowance of P500 per month to SK kagawads. The amount would help cover his expenses for school requirements, should the succeeding chairman follow suit.

Ian said the former president of the village homeowners’ association had invited him and his friends to run for office. Had the elections push through on Monday, competition would have been stiff because four different sets of SK candidates were formed.

Ian wasn’t worried, though. Currently the vice president of his high school classroom, he was confident he was ready to take on another position. Working with his friends was also an incentive.

Okay lang kasi tropa naman kami, magkakaibigan. May makukuha ka rin naman doon sa page-SK e (It’s really easy because we’re all friends. We are sure to get something good from the SK)," he said.

As well as do something good.

Ian’s group was hoping to tidy the barangay premises by repainting walls and gutters, rounding up stray dogs and cleaning up a nearby estero (creek), now called Ilog Baho for its stench, once they got elected.

These activities fall under the SK’s jurisdiction, as 10 percent of the SK’s annual fund must be devoted to for clean and green projects.

Gino said he was ready to give up his gaming hours if it meant helping more people.

But all their plans would have to wait.

Congress is studying how to reform the SK such as increasing the age requirement, altering the SK budget, and implementing stricter guidelines for youth leaders.

Sen. Benigno “Bam” Aquino has proposed to raise the age limit for SK officials to at least 18 years and rename the SK to the Liga ng Bayaning Kabataan.

A higher age limit like18 worries Ian and his friends. If elections are held in 2014 or 2015, some of them will not make the cut.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)