Seares: SK absentees and the reform law

THE old Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) or youth council days are remembered worst for two things: SK officers skipping council sessions. Politicians rounding up young voters to a party on election eve and herding them to the polls the following day.

The ills of the youth leadership were far more serious of course. But chronic tardiness of officers and that abominable practice of corrupting young voters stood out in the public mind before SK polls were suspended in 2013.

In the SK Reform Act of 2015 (Republic Act #10742), absence from meetings is directly addressed but not politicians’ toxic meddling with the youth elections. To the sure, the anti-dynasty provision in the reform law wont be enough.

Stiff penalty

The new law, which will be tested for the first time in the barangay-SK elections this May 14, provides stiff punishment for neglect of duty by council officers.

To illustrate: Expulsion of an SK member who misses two consecutive SK meetings or piles up four-day absences in 12 months. Removal of the SK chairperson who abandons his work, which includes convening the Katipunan ng Kabataan (KK) assembly or the SK session, drafting the youth development program and the youth investment program, and other management tasks.

Schooling as excuse

R.A. #10742 takes out the excuse of absences from SK caused by the demand of their school studies. They are now given leave from their regular classes during SK session or KK assembly.

The law’s implementing rules, drafted by a panel that included Dep-Ed reps, consider both the demands of being involved in SK and attending school. Absenteeism can’t be blamed on schooling anymore; thus, the strict penalty of removal.

But whether what’s provided on paper will be enforced strictly is still to be seen. Discipline still requires the zeal of other officers to keep the youth government going. In the past, an entire SK in the locality bogs down for months, even years because other officers didn’t mind the chairperson having vanished.

Mechanism, incentives

The new law tries to correct that. Now the absence of the chairperson won’t suspend operations. The officers present will pick a presiding officer from among themselves to push the scheduled meeting through.

With the stick, the carrot. Incentives for SK officers have been increased: free college tuition and matriculation in a public school, exemption from civic service training, insurance coverage, etc.

And to boost their sense of well-being and importance: SK officers are considered “persons in authority.” You assault an SK officer, you assault someone like a barangay captain or a cop.

Changes in age

R.A. #10742 also fixes the problem caused by the age requirement. Before, age limit was at first 15-18, then 15-21 for SK officers and members.

Now for the KK, it’s 15-30. But for any KK member to be an SK officer, the age must be 18-24. SK officers are old enough to sign contracts and be held accountable. If the officer overages while in office, he has the right to stay and finish his term.

One may be young or old enough to join the KB but won’t be young or old enough to be an officer.

Something new

The new law carries a number of changes to make the public see brighter prospect for the SK as training ground for future leaders. Yet it has not grappled with the problem of politicians corrupting the youth elections.

Absenteeism in SK may soon be a thing of the past. But corruption of young voters by feasting and entertaining them before voting day may not go unless the politicians come up with some new but no less devious strategy.
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