WORM’S EYE VIEW: Abolish SK for being corrupt? How about the corruptors?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/13 July) — The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) was meant to enfranchise our blooming youth—age 15-21 years—and give them a stake in nation-building. It was hoped that a defined role for them in the community, with a set of duties distinct from the adults, would instill a sense of community and a responsible outlook in them.

That was the hope of the better angels of our society back when the Local Government Code was contemplated in Congress over two decades ago. At the time, since the youth are presumed to be the most idealistic sector in a community, there was great expectation that their energy and ideas would animate the grassroots—in their own neighborhoods, side by side with the institutions of learning and the houses of worship that exist cheek by jowl with them in the barangays.

But somehow things didn’t work out. It has been more than a generation, but instead of satisfaction for a job well-done, what faces the SK today is disillusionment. The politicos say it didn’t live up to its promise. Rizal’s “Hope of the Fatherland” did not grow up to take their assigned place in local society.

It is curious however that nothing much is being said as it faces extinction. Are the youth so readily dispensable? Is the SK’s abolition a foregone conclusion? No surveys have been made, no studies or analyses undertaken about its record, and no great debate is taking place. It doesn’t seem right that its concluding chapter is being decided by a few traditional politicians, trapos—they who should account for why the youth in their care have learned to maneuver and behave like them with impunity.

“School ng Korupsyon?”

Several bills calling for its abolition have been filed, the latest by Liberal Party Rep. Edgar Erice of Caloocan City. It is the second time he’s filing it; the first was during his first term years ago. He reasons that because it has been exposed to the corrupt practices of “their unscrupulous elders in the government service” the SK is now a “School ng Korupsyon.” So it should be abolished.

He and his allies are proposing this without bothering to look into the causes or the background of how or why the SK had got so bad. To replace it, they propose the creation of a Barangay Youth Council. To justify it further, they cite the low turnout of young voters during elections, saying that this shows “waning interest of the youth” in their own SK.

It is the kind of reasoning that makes one wonder how corruption in our system will ever be mitigated, let alone eradicated.

Twisted thinking

They allege that “corrupt practices of unscrupulous elders” victimize the youth and corrupt the SK. Then in a curious twist of reasoning, instead of identifying what the corrupt practices are—with the view to stopping them—they turn to the youth and move for their disbandment. They don’t even attempt to pinpoint the supposed corruptors (“unscrupulous elders”) so they can be held to account. They simply want the youth out of the picture, curtailing their part in the political process.

In other words, they do nothing about corrupt practices or the people committing them; they simply skirt around the occurrence and let the culprits carry on while their victims (the SK youth) suffer the penalty of banishment and public opprobrium. Leaving the corruptors undisturbed, they castigate the victims!

In a further display of twisted reasoning, they cite statistics on the youth’s low voter turnout as proof of their “waning interest” in SK elections—using the information to further justify their abolitionist proposal. It doesn’t occur to them to find out why there’s little youth interest in SK elections. They don’t even allow for the possibility that the corruption and corrupt practices they cite may be the very reasons that deaden interest and participation.

Is it possible that corruption or corrupt practices turn off decent elements in the youth sector just as much as they turn off decent adults?

So who’s to blame?

In all fairness, in the same way that juvenile delinquency cannot be summarily pinned on the youth, the SK’s poor performance cannot be ascribed solely to its members. The greater part of the blame would have to fall on the government, the civil society, the institutions that claim to be concerned with good governance, and not least, the parents and elders whose responsibility it is to mentor and guide the youth.

In the first place, no appropriate training or orientation was conducted to introduce the nature of the SK—or the government of the barangay, for that matter—at the time the Local Government Code came into effect. There were briefings or seminars to elected officials, but the constituents received nothing of the sort. So is it today, wherein elected officials are treated to seminars (expensive ones at that, in hotels and resorts!) while not even a briefing takes place to inform barangay constituents on their duties and powers and resources. They’re the only ones that can hold the officials honest and responsible, the only hope for good governance to arise!

The failure to inform, involve, or mobilize the constituency of every barangay in implementing the Local Government Code doomed its chances of institutionalizing autonomy or the Principle of Subsidiarity from the grassroots.

In other words, the Code’s implementation and the New Order it was to have established suffered from an in-bred weakness from the start. Both the barangay government and its SK component came into existence with a serious handicap: everyone (officials and constituents alike) lacked information or understanding of the nature of its governance and its processes. Both lacked a clear vision, a well-defined mission, and a purposeful operating system.

In their state of ignorance about the new Code’s provisions, the barangay polity had no choice but turn to the traditional politicians (trapos). The trapos of course were about the only people after Martial Law who knew the ways of politics and government, except that what they knew were outdated and contrary to the system ordained by today’s Local Government Code.

And that is the reason why, instead of getting better, governance in this country only sinks deeper in the morass of ignorance, corruption, and incompetence. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at [email protected])