After years in the legislative back-burner, there is a glimmer of hope for the reforms needed by the beleaguered Sangguniang Kabataan.
A number of youth leaders, including former SK members themselves, have been calling for the overhaul of the SK system, while battling the sentiment to just scrap the system altogether.
In the last month, leading up to a 2nd postponement of the SK elections, senators and congressmen finally agreed to move forward with the necessary reforms so that the SK assuming office next year will be unburdened with a flawed system and instead have the hope for success with much-needed reforms in place.
In the end, both houses decided to work together and simultaneously postpone the SK elections for 2016, while committing to passing the reforms asap.
This was the compromise made by the senators who were pushing for radical systemic reforms with the congressmen who leaned towards abolishing the youth representation mechanism.
Fulfilling its side of the bargain, the Senate passed the SK Reform Bill last February 9, with game-changing reforms that will surely rock the boat (if not eventually, the vote) in 2016.
The four main reforms are: 1) adjusting the age of the SK officers; 2) making leadership training mandatory; 3) inserting a broad and far-reaching anti-political dynasty provision; and 4) creating a Local Youth Development Council body to further support the SK as its advisory council.
The first reform is the most basic one, and seeks to correct a mistake that legislators made in 2002, when they brought the age of the SK down to 15-17 from 15-21.
With the reform bill, the age of SK officials will now be at 18-24 years old. This coincides with the usual age that current youth leaders are in. Because this new age range is within the legal age, the officials are now legally capable of entering into contracts, and consequently, can be held accountable and liable for their actions.
Another reform is mandating that the officials undergo leadership training programs to expose them of best practices in governance and to guide their development as leaders.
During a forum in the Far Eastern University (FEU), Kenneth, a former SK chairman from Batangas, expressed his approval and hope with these proposed changes. He mentioned running for SK chairman at the age of 16 and having no clue what to do once elected.
Attracting older, more responsible, and more experienced candidates and bolstering their skills with training are necessary reforms that will get universal support.
The third reform, though, may be contentious but can be a major game-changer. The Senate was bold enough to include an anti-dynasty provision in our SK Reform Bill.
In many cases, young members of political families feel pressured to run for office, whether or not they see themselves as qualified.
On the other hand, youth leaders that are motivated to serve the community are discouraged to run for office when their opponents are related to incumbents.
The current provision bars relatives within a second level of consanguinity to all elected and most appointed officials from sitting as SK officials.
In short, gone will be the days that the son or daughter of the barangay captain or even the mayor can vie for the SK post.
I am hoping that our counterparts in Congress can also support this major reform which, in my estimation, can truly overhaul the current system.
More effective body
The fourth major reform is not as sexy or controversial but is close to my heart. When I was in the National Youth Commission over a decade ago, the more successful youth structure on the ground was not the SK but the Local Youth Development Council (LYDC) that was established in some areas.
The LYDC served as the more active and effective body that helped the LGU with programs, projects and policies that were for the youth of the locality. It was composed of youth representatives from student councils, Church and faith-based groups, youth-serving organizations, and community-based youth groups.
The SK was part of this council that was a broad representation of youth leadership and development in the area.
The basic idea here was that if the SK officials were not isolated, and instead, dealt with other youth leaders, they would tend to be less traditional and instead be more rooted with their constituents.
In the current reform bill, LYDCs are mandated and will be formed to work hand in hand with the SK.
LYDCs can help fix the quality of SK programs and projects in their localities.
The National Youth Commission is tasked with making the Philippine Youth Development Plan which serves as an overall plan for the youth with respect to the executive branch of government. But because this is not cascaded properly through the appropriate channels, it often remains as a wonderful policy paper that is not made tangible on the ground.
With the LYDC structure though, the NYC now has a mechanism to ensure that its national plans have a way to cascade, be localized and reach more young Filipinos through actual programs and projects on the ground.
Pasay, Naga, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, among others, have already adopted the LYDC model.
These reforms will hopefully move the SK toward a merit system that values competency and away from patronage politics. We hope that these changes can bury ineffective practices and give rise to a tangible and measurable impact for the youth sector.
We are hopeful that this can be the beginning of a renewed Sangguniang Kabataan that reignites true community service, volunteerism, passion, and excellence within the Philippine government.
The Youth Development and Empowerment Act or Senate Bill 2401, with the reforms stated above, was passed on its third and final reading in the Senate.
Congress will release their committee report within two weeks. With even more young people backing these reforms, I am hopeful that we can finally pass the SK reform bill before the end of March.
First Published on Rappler.com