IS IT wise to elect minors to government posts?

Since its inception in 1991, the Sangguniang Kabataan has been met with criticisms questioning its wisdom and practicability. The SK has so far withstood recurring calls for its abolition.

For Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, who has filed House Bill (HB) 1122 seeking to abolish the SK, the youth council gives barangay leaders a chance to corrupt the youth instead of training them to be good leaders.

“We all know that corruption is rampant in the local government units, so how can you train the youth with the possibly corrupt leaders as their trainers?” Erice told the Varsitarian in an email.

Under the SK system, each barangay must have its own youth council composed of 15 to 18 year olds. They must have resided in their respective barangays for at least six months.

Enrile said that as early as 2002, he had already noticed irregularities in the SK system, prompting him to seek its abolition.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez, who defended the SK system in so far as it is what law provides, agreed with Erice as regards to the influence of barangay mentors.

Erice compared the SK with the Kabataang Barangay (KB), which was abolished with the enactment of the Local Government Code of 1991. KB officials had no salaries and acted purely on volunteerism.

“The SK today [for instance] hires people to clean the surroundings as if they are the boss, and the worst part is that they allocate [funds] to train ghost workers.” he said.

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A youth council’s budget for “Clean and Green” projects is at P120,000 each year. There should be no budget for it in the first place as it can be done for free, Erice said.

Minors

Another concern is that the youth council is run by minors. Minors run for SK posts but under Philippine laws, the right to vote is only granted to a person upon reaching 18 years of age.

“They do not have the legal capacity yet to enter into an agreement but they are allowed to disburse, transact, and handle government funds,” he said.

In 2010, Jane Cajes, former SK National (SKNF) president, faced corruption charges filed by two youth groups that complained of lack of transparency in SK finances.

The groups pointed to the lack of bidding for the muti-million procurement of goods and services for SK national congresses from 2008 to 2010, failure to liquidate over P93 million in SKNF funds, and “lavish display of wealth” that allegedly included expenses for branded clothes and cosmetic surgery. Cajes, however, denied the allegations.

Alisa Demetrio, SK chairman of a barangay in Makati, said it’s the responsibility of the youth to vote wisely to avoid corruption.

“It is important for the youth to know if the candidate they will be voting is part of corruption,” she told the Varsitarian.

Better auditing system

Erice also filed HB 2536 which seeks to remove the power of the SK to administer 10 percent of barangay funds allocates for youth-oriented programs, projects, services and activities.

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“[This is to] prohibit the present SK from using the budget unless it will be used for youth-related activities. The barangay council [will determine] where it [funds] will go,” he said.

For Central Student Council (CSC) President Miyuki Morishita, the proper monitoring of funds is the way to go.

“A certain office should hold the Sk’s money and then youth leaders need to liquidate first their expenses before being allowed to access their budget,” she said in a personal interview.

Deferring youth elections

Anti-SK lawmakers and the Comelec, meanwhile, are united in lobbying for the postponement of the SK elections form October this year to the last Monday of October 2014.

“We should not push through with the [SK] election until we come up with another venue of youth participation,” said Erice.

Jimenez said: "COMELEC’s stand is to postpone the SK election this October, so it can be studied, and change whatever it is needed to be changed, then hold elections in its due course."

The SK elections will push through this October unless President Aquino certifies HB 2537, which seeks to defer the SK elections to 2014, as urgent. Jelina Anne S. Bunagan

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