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The Revival of Youth Councils in the Philippines

By Raphael Móntes, Jr., Center for Local and Regional Governance, NCPAG, University of the Philippines

Jun 20, 2018

Newly elected Sangguniang Kabataan officials at the mandatory training facilitated by University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance

After five years of dormancy, Filipinos 15 to 30 years old have elected new sets of Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) or Youth Councils in their villages (barangay). This segment makes up about 30 percent of the Philippines’ total population of 104 million. The youth council elections were synchronized with the election of the Village Councils (Sangguniang Barangay) for the 42,029 urban and rural villages nationwide. This meant that 18 to 30- year-old voters had to fill in two ballots—one for the village government and one for the youth council. Like their village counterparts, the SKs are composed of a Chairperson and seven council members. A total of 336,232 SK positions were contested in the 2018 elections.

Barangay councils are still considered general purpose authorities while SKs can be considered as special purpose entities—specifically focused on youth-related programs. While the SKs are considered part of the barangay government, the law also grants some autonomy to the SKs.

 Political Origins

The Kabataang Barangay (or Village Youth) was the precursor of the SK. Established in 1975, the KB was seen as the youth arm of the authoritarian regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. While the KB would be easily mistaken to be the Filipino version of similar youth organizations for national propaganda, the KB was meant to give the youth a chance to be involved in community affairs. They were given specific developmental responsibilities such as sports, education and culture at the village level. KB chairpersons became ex-officio members of barangay councils. The KB chairpersons elected officers to the KB federation at the municipal, city and provincial levels. These federation presidents sat as ex-officio members of municipal and city councils and provincial boards.  Not long after, local politicians began fielding their children as officials in the KB possibly prompted by the “election” of Mr. Marcos’ daughter, Imee, as the first national president of the KB Federation. The KBs lasted until the end of the Marcos regime but had been criticized for being manipulated by the politicians as well as the breeding ground of local political dynasties. Towards the end of the Marcos Regime in 1986, many of the youth lost interest in the KB and began joining the student movements heavily involved in calling for the restoration of democracy.

 Rebirth as Development Enabler

After the People Power Revolution and the restoration of democracy in 1986, the entire public sector underwent a “de-Marcosification” process that sought to rid the government of the vestiges of the authoritarian machinery. However, the authors of the 1991 Local Government Code would preserve the basic structure of the KB and reincarnate it as a democratizing institution. Decentralization and devolution under the Local Government Code was driven by the desire to avoid the concentration of power in just one political actor or just in the central government. Legislators saw the development potential of the refurbished Sangguniang Kabataan as a formal venue for voicing youth issues in the public sector.

The consultative and voluntary spirit of the KB carried over to the concept of the SK. Sections 423 to 439 of the Local Government Code were specifically devoted to the institutionalization of the SK  in the local government system. The ex-officio positions in the formal legislative councils were retained. The Code gave the SK a portfolio of program areas and a 10-percent share of the general fund of the barangay (R.A. 7160, Section 329) as their own trust fund for youth-oriented projects. The Barangay Councils were still tasked with the general supervision over the SKs because the SKs drew their budgets from the barangay budget. This would affect the operations and quality of projects of the SKs later.

 

“Breeding Ground” for Corruption

In the Philippine local government system, the barangay level is legally defined as non-partisan and voluntary. Officials do not receive salaries and are only given honoraria/token allowance for services rendered during council meetings. The barangay level was purposely designed to appeal to “civic duty” more than political ambition. While barangays and the SKs are considered as “voluntary” bodies, their proximity and access to public funds have tainted their reputations.

A 2007 UNICEF and Department of the Interior and Local Government study pointed out the worsening reputation of the SK as effective venues for youth voice and delivery of youth-oriented services. The typical SK projects were village or inter-village basketball matches (pa-liga), beauty contests, house numbering, construction of village markers/welcome arches/government directories. SKs in richer urban barangays (with higher internal revenue shares and local revenues) often have big-ticket projects that may reach up to millions of pesos. Some reports indicate that the Barangay Councils would “request” SKs to contribute to barangay infrastructure projects. If these infrastructure projects are later audited for misappropriation of public funds, the SKs are also held jointly culpable. This has resulted in the widely accepted perception that the SKs are a breeding ground for corruption.

Several bills were filed in Congress to abolish the SK citing the widely held perception of the early exposure of youth to embedded corrupt practices in government. However, national and local government leaders who began their careers as KB or SK officials sought to find a middle path that would reform the SK taking into consideration the apprehensions and negative perceptions of the youth body. 

Constituency Confused

Unlike the constitutionally defined terms of office of provincial, city and municipal officials, the terms of offices of barangay officials—and also of SK officials—are only defined by statutes. This has led to some postponements of village elections and extension of terms for barangay officials on a hold-over capacity. For the SK, there had been several statutes that have changed the definition of the youth constituency as well as the qualified age for SK officials. This has been prompted by complaints over overlapping electorates as well as issues of personal autonomy, age of discernment and adult manipulation. There were also criticisms that youth officials are not able to concentrate and balance their time between official duties and school/university studies.

Period of formal youth participation in government decision-making

Who are qualified to be youth officials?

Who are qualified to elect youth officials?

1975-1985 Kabataang Barangay

15 to 18-year-olds

15 to 18-year-olds

1991 (enactment of Local Government Code)

15 to 21-year-olds

15 to 21-year-olds

2002 (Republic Act 9164)

15 to 17-year-olds

15 to 17-year olds

2016 (SK Reform Law)

18 to 24 year-olds

15 to 30 year olds

 

The latest definition of the youth constituency and the qualified age for election is defined by the SK Reform Act of 2016. This law expands the youth electorate to include 15 to 30 year-olds which reflects the official definition of youth in the Philippines. However, in response to calls for electing youth officials within the age of discernment, the law qualifies 18 to 24 year-olds as electable. “Youth constituents aged 25 to 30 were consciously excluded from the qualified age for election because they are already qualified to contest positions in the barangay council or any other local government legislature.” explains National Movement of Youth Legislators (NMYL) Executive Director Fritzie Aguado. Since the new law aims to prevent political dynasties, giving access to young members of political dynasties to extended terms with the SK before running for other positions in local governments defeats the spirit of the anti-dynasty provisions of the law.

 SK Reform: Not Giving up on the Youth

Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act was passed in 2016 to recalibrate the Sanggunian Kabataan as a better institution for the youth participation in local governance. The SK Reform Act has five main features: (1) the expansion of age qualifications; (2) the anti-dynasty provision; (3) financial autonomy; (4) the establishment of the Youth Development Councils; and (5) mandatory and continuing training.

SK Reform Act

The age expansion enables young people who are in university, recently graduated from university or are just beginning their careers to formally participate in local governance as representatives of their sector. This “age of discernment” also aims to bolster the reaffirmation of financial autonomy of SKs. Eighteen to 24-year-olds are now legally allowed to sign contracts on their own account without adult consent or supervision. Consequently, they can be held fully accountable for their actions under the accountability and anti-corruption laws of the Philippines.

The anti-dynasty provision forbids any 18 to 24-year old from contesting a seat in the SK if he or she is related to an incumbent local official up to the second degree of affinity or consanguinity. This is the first time in Philippine history that a prohibition has been imposed on candidates vying for elected office based on family ties.

The Local Youth Development Council (LYDC) is an equivalent of multi-sectoral planning bodies called Local Development Councils that are present in all barangays, municipalities, cities and provinces. The LYDC will be established at the city, municipal and provincial levels in order to integrate the youth development plans from the barangays/villages. They are designed to be the consultative body of the SK federations. They are made up of representatives from youth and youth-serving non-government organizations.

Finally, mandatory training is another pioneering feature of this law. SK officials are the only elected local government officials required to undergo mandatory training as a prerequisite to their assumption to office. Those who refuse or fail to undergo the mandatory training are disqualified and prevented from assuming office on 30 June 2018. While similar crash courses are available to other elected local officials, these have not been made prerequisites to assumption of office.

SK training

Mandatory training session

The National Youth Commission and the Department of the Interior and Local Government designed the training modules. The UP-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG) is part of the National Steering Committee for the SK Mandatory Training. The mandatory trainings were delivered by accredited Local Resource Institutions, mainly state colleges and universities. A package of training modules for continuing education is currently being designed.

SK officials pose with their certificates after the mandatory training

These five main features are expected to improve the effectiveness and enhance the relevance of SKs as the formal voice of the youth sector in governance.

The involvement of idealistic young adults is expected to insulate the SK from the influences of entrenched interests in government. Despite the imperfections, the SKs remain a unique institutional approach to giving voice to 30 percent of the population as opposed to proxy mechanisms or non-formal options for the youth sector.

 

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Raphael Montes Jr. is a researcher, federalism expert and training manager with Center for Local and Regional Governance, NCPAG, University of the Philippines. He serves as a Course Manager for the mandatory training of newly elected SK officials.

 

 


TAGS: Capacity Building Citizen Engagement Civic Engagement Councils Decentralisation Deconcentration Devolution Governance Legislation Political Empowerment Reform Training Village Councils Youth Youth engagement

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