Senate panel to push for one-year SK polls postponement

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a consensus.

The Senate committee on local government will push for the one-year postponement of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, initially scheduled this October 28.

Less than two months from the set date, committee chairman Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr said the national government and key stakeholders reached the consensus during a meeting of his panel on Tuesday, September 3.

Marcos said he will report the decision to the Senate plenary on Tuesday or Wednesday, and sponsor the measure by Monday next week. He is racing for time to ensure the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is able to make the preparations. The SK polls was set to be held along with the barangay elections.

The committee decided to reform the SK following criticism of ineffectiveness, corruption, and breeding political dynasty. There have been calls for its abolition, but Marcos said no one in the committee or the resource persons supported this.

“The main consideration was the need to revamp and reorganize the SK. The postponement will give all concerned due time to study, discuss and formulate necessary reforms to the SK,” Marcos told Rappler in a text message.

The SK is the 7-member youth council based in barangays. Their members, 15 to 17 years old, traditionally elect their officials during barangay elections.

While the committee agreed on the postponement, Marcos said there will still be long discussions on the specific reforms needed.

Resource persons from the National Youth Commission and the Department of the Interior and Local Government began giving their suggestions in the hearing. 

Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, former chairman of the Kabataang Barangay, also gave his inputs. The Kabataang Barangay was the term for the SK during the presidency of Marcos’ father, Ferdinand Marcos. 

“The discussion about reform has just started…. We will not rush this because the Comelec said that 60% of voters in 2016 have not yet voted in 2013. That’s how big the youth sector in the Philippines is,” Marcos told reporters after the hearing.

As a consequence of the decision, Marcos said incumbent SK officials will keep their positions, in accordance with the holdover provision in the Local Government Code.

The senator said that if the reforms are agreed upon before the one-year deadline, the SK elections can be held earlier than October 28, 2014.

Asked about the expenses involved in postponing the polls, Marcos said the reforms far outweigh the amount.

“The calculation is that it will be cheaper if we synchronize the SK elections with the other polls. But this is such an important issue because if we just repeat practices of the past, many are complaining about the way the SK is run, that it is being an avenue for corruption. This is a big issue that’s why even if the national government spends millions, we need this to reform the way the SK is run,” he said.

Funding is key issue

Marcos said that part of the reforms that need to be discussed is the funding of the SK.

“There is a mandated 10% of barangay funds that have to go to the SK. But based on experience, it does not reach them because the barangay depletes the funds. If there is some amount that does, it is so small that the SK cannot do meaningful projects.” 

Marcos said Congress will also have to look into how the SK spends the funds to ensure that the needs of the youth are addressed.

After the October 2014 polls, Marcos said government will again have to study how to synchronize the SK polls with the other elections.

“We don’t know but the SK and barangay elections are not really synchronized with the national polls. That’s a criticism of our system, we have elections every year. Let’s study it. Another issue we have to discuss is cost, practicality, in terms of policy, what do we want to do?”

Besides the Senate, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr earlier called for the postponement of the SK and barangay polls, and to abolish the SK altogether.

Marcos said abolishing the SK goes against the Constitution, which provides for youth representation. 

In a separate budget hearing Tuesday, Brillantes assured the Senate that the poll body is prepared for any eventuality, whether the SK polls push through or not. 

There have been discussions on the abolition of the SK in the 15th Congress, but the proposals failed to prosper.

Senators Bam Aquino and JV Ejercito said that they too are in favor of reforming the SK instead of abolishing the council.

Ejercito, who ran on a platform of youth empowerment, filed a bill reforming the SK. 

Aquino also filed a bill called Liga ng Bayaning Kabataan, proposing major reforms in youth participation that he said will be a “departure from individualistic, personality-based politics and the shift to youth representation to youth organizations.”

Aquino was chairman of the National Youth Commission and chairman of the Senate Committee on Youth.

“Let's not subject our youth leaders to the currently flawed system. We owe it to them to fast-track the reforms at the soonest possible time,” Aquino said. "We agree with the postponement, but this should be done in line with SK reforms." – Rappler.com