LAWMAKERS and government officials were quick to hail the recent passage of Republic Act (RA) 10742 or the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Reform Act as landmark legislation for supposedly having the first anti-dynasty provision of its kind to be approved in the country. But from our side of the fence, the passage of the new SK law only proves that political dynasties continue to hold sway over Philippine politics and our political institutions.
Supposedly aimed at curbing corruption in barangay youth councils, the new law’s anti-political dynasty provision bars relatives of elected or appointed officials up to the 2nd level of consanguinity from pursuing SK posts. “An official of the Sangguniang Kabataan, either elective or appointee… must not have any relative in elective public office, local or national, within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity,” the bill states.
“The reforms in place for SK have just rocked the boat of Philippine politics,” the National Youth Commission (NYC) chairperson declared. For Senate Committee on Youth chairperson Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, the new SK law “has the potential to effect genuine change in our electoral system…”
Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao, author of the House version of the SK law, acclaimed the anti-dynasty provision, saying: “Through this, we will be able to mold responsible leaders who rely on clear platforms to emerge victorious in elections, instead of depending on the clout given by family names.”
Long criticized as the training ground of corruption for aspiring politicians among our youth, many civil groups have called for the SK’s abolition. According to former Commission of Elections (Comelec) commissioner Lucenito Tagle, “though the aim was noble, the SK, through the years, has been used by corrupt local government officials, eventually teaching the youth the tricks of systematic corruption.” Tagle added: “The aim of teaching the youth is good but what they’re learning are the wrong things.”
The way we see it, resurrecting the barangay youth council with an anti-dynasty provision does little to loosen the grip of entrenched political families – or to correct the serious flaws that have hounded the youth body for decades.
If at all, the new SK law only shows that if Malacañang and our congressmen and senators really want to, they can pass an honest-to-goodness anti-dynasty law to cover all our political units and the legislature – from the barangays, municipalities, cities and provinces to the House of Representatives and the Senate. That a real anti-dynasty law has not been passed – more than 29 years after Section 26, Article 2 of the 1987 Constitution mandated the passage of a law that would “prohibit political dynasties” – is a testament to the enduring power of political dynasties in the country.
The relative ease with which the anti-dynasty provision in the new SK law breezed through the bicameral conference committee is in stark contrast to the fate of several anti-dynasty bills in Congress.
In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July 2015, PNoy asked the joint session of Congress – the largest gathering of the country’s political dynasties – to pass an anti-dynasty law that would prohibit many members of Congress and their families from seeking elective posts. Although he endorsed the anti-dynasty bill as a priority measure, he refused to certify it as urgent.
Certifying the bill as urgent would have given the much-needed push to pass even one anti-dynasty bill. Despite several anti-political dynasty bills filed in Congress, not one has managed to get past second reading. Many have not seen the light of day past the committee level.
With national elections only four months away, and with the fate of the Liberal Party’s standard bearer, Mar Roxas, resting in the hands of these very same political dynasties, it is virtually impossible for any anti-political dynasty bill to be passed by the time PNoy’s term ends in June.
In fact, as early as September last year, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte already shot down all hope of crafting an anti-political dynasty law, claiming that he does not want the current 16th Congress to pass a “toothless” anti-dynasty bill which will only be rebuked later on. Of course, that’s just another way of saying that most lawmakers are opposed to an anti-dynasty law that will limit the number of relatives that they can place in elective posts.
The only reason that the anti-dynasty provision in the SK law was passed by Congress is that the barangay youth council has little or no political impact on the entrenched political families. Elective SK officials, even if they do not belong to the same clan, are too young to affect incumbent local officials, let alone influence voters.
Clearly, the SK law should not be a cause for celebration. Rather, it serves as a reality check on the sorry state of Philippine politics.