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On October 12, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed Republic Act No. 11935 postponing the Barangay and SK Elections from December 2022 to October 2023.
This isn’t a surprise. After all, it’s the fulfillment of a campaign promise from the 2022 elections — a promise that rallied the support of thousands of local government officials and paved the path toward a presidential victory.
To barangay officials, it’s another year of governance and all its benefits, without fear of replacement or opposition. But what about the Filipino youth?
The SK Reform Law and the promise of youth empowerment
No less than our Constitution recognizes the youth’s significant role in nation-building. In 2016, after close to a decade’s absence of youth representation in local governance, President Duterte enacted the SK Reform Law.
The SK Reform Law strengthened the youth’s spaces in governance. It gave us an opportunity to elect leaders without direct ties to political families through its anti-political dynasty clause. It also gave SKs financial independence so their programs need not be leashed under the whim of local politicians. Beyond that, it also gave volunteers the space to influence local youth development by being a part of a local youth development council (LYDC) — a youth counterpart to the People’s Council.
A key principle innate in the SK Reform Law is youth empowerment. The COVID-19 pandemic itself showed that through these spaces, there is a huge supply of young and competent leaders nationwide. Through youth leadership and volunteerism, hundreds of local initiatives responded to the needs of young people during the pandemic. Both the National Youth Commission and civic organizations have recognized SKs and LYDCs’ efforts to respond to issues on health, education, and employment, among others.
Accountability postponed, a generation deprived
But the law’s implementation has not been perfect. We witnessed the birth pains of the SK Reform Law early on when SK officials and their constituents were left hanging, waiting for guidelines of the law’s key provisions to be enacted.
Naturally, many youth leaders fell under the pressure of their constituents: some were burned out, some chose to find greener pastures, while others abandoned their work and resigned. For a time, there were hundreds of vacant positions in the SK, leaving SK councils inactive and absent. This “absent youth governance” deprived young people of resources and programs that could have contributed to their development.
Unlike most civic groups that have specialized skills, knowledge, and resources to demand accountability from public officials, young people do not have the same luxury. After all, the way to hold SK officials accountable follows a similar process as that of local government officials. Such processes require legal action, a remedy inaccessible to many young Filipinos.
So for many of us, the only direct way to hold young public officials accountable is to replace them by electing new and more competent youth leaders — for example, youth leaders whom we’ve seen step up and lead during the pandemic. The postponement of the SK elections thus postponed young people’s chances to demand accountability.
The postponement also deprives an entire generation of youth leaders the right to run for the SK elections. Many have trained, volunteered, and were hopeful for the chance to serve in public office. Unfortunately, those turning 24 this year will be disqualified from running for office next year. Much to their disappointment, their batch will be deemed overage under the age requirements of the SK Reform Law.
Maghanda: Our next step
When we judged the 3rd Philippine SK Awards last June, we asked SK Chairpersons if they were in favor of postponing the SK elections. Many disagreed. One of them summed it up strongly: “Handa na kaming ipasa ang SK at handa na rin ang kabataan namin na umangat at ituloy ang paglilingkod.”
Indeed, the Filipino youth’s next step is to prepare. Maghanda.
For the youth in general, to prepare to participate in our democratic processes. They can hold public officials, including our SKs, accountable; run for office; mobilize and get involved in electoral campaigns; and vote in the next elections.
For SK officials, to prepare to leave a legacy that lives up to their brand as the Bagong SK. An additional year is another chance to use their resources and mandates for youth development. It’s also an opportunity to support the next generation by strengthening spaces for volunteerism and developing the leaders who will replace them after next year’s elections.
For aspiring leaders, to prepare by developing their knowledge, skills, and experiences in leadership and governance. So when their time comes, they will lead political platforms responsive to the needs of their communities and become genuine youth representatives in local governance.
There are many more ways to prepare, and it would need the support of both national and local governments, the private sector, and civil society to ensure that the promises of youth participation in governance are fulfilled.
The postponement of the SK elections may have deprived us a chance for empowerment and accountability, but it gives us another year to prepare. It’s time we go back to our drawing boards and mobilize for the future of youth leadership. – Rappler.com
Dexter Yang is the founder of GoodGovPH, a youth-led non-profit for good governance. He also represents Southeast Asia in UNODC’s Youth-led Integrity Advisory Board to advise on youth engagement for anti-corruption. He is pursuing his Juris Doctor degree at the University of the Philippines College of Law.