LAST week, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña announced during the mass oath-taking of 640 youth council (Sangguniang Kabataan or SK) officials in the city that he’d provide them scholarship and allowances.
In a year or so, I’ll have them for you, the mayor told the young leaders who were elected last May 8, the first elections since the SK seats became vacant in 2013.
At first blush, that sounded generous and beneficial to the community that still has to draw young leaders to the youth council elections. The Comelec even complained of barangays where not enough young people signed up as candidates or voters.
Mayor Tomas’s political rivals, however, saw through the veil of do-gooding: check out the motive for the “gift.” The mayor has made no secret of his goal to snag the vote of the SK federation chairman who will sit in the City Council and to get the support of the age-18-to-30 vote in the 2019 elections.
But selfish or personal interest of the public official in a project or program in public-welfare wrapping does not make it illegal. The law has limits such as the rules on procurement and conflict-of-interest and prohibition on bribery. Compulsion to win votes for the next elections and demolish the opposition doesn’t count. Suspicion raised by the timing of the announcement is inevitable but not legally fatal.
But there may be objections to Tomas’s plan other than the early propaganda value it gave the mayor. More notably: there’s already a scholarship program under Republic Act #10742 or the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2016.
Under the said law, with implementing rules issued not long after it was signed by then president Noynoy Aquino, all SK officials, elected or appointed, are entitled to free tertiary education in any public school located within a 50-km. radius from the barangay they serve.
Any scholarship plan of the LGU must consider the benefits offered by the law. The national government, through DILG, will pick up the scholarship tab.
It’s not just the possible redundancy. Precious resources of the city may be spent for other projects instead. Besides, benefits from the national government will make the SK leaders less beholden to local public officials.
Other than the college scholarship, being an SK official entitles one to free insurance coverage by Philhealth and exemption from national service or welfare training programs prescribed by the school and from classes when SK sessions are held. They may also get refund, if LGU resources allow, for travel to SK sessions.
On top of all that, they are considered persons in authority, with power to manage and spend SK funds. Which will boost their confidence in themselves and the work they do.
Ban on dynasties
Will the SK reform law achieve the reforms it seeks? Too early to tell, not even with the ban on dynasties, which the adult lawmakers have imposed on the young leaders but still shun in their own elections.
Apparently though, the youth won’t be spared the corruptive influence of politics. Not during the last election, when rampant vote-buying was reported in many places. Not afterwards, when the first official offer they got could tempt them to break the oath they just took and give up their souls to politicians.