Summer Registration Festivale!

March 17, 2009

The temperature outside my window has officially declared summer to be here. The past weeks have gamely ushered in the gaiety and colors of Philippine fiesta season. Just recently I braved the crowds in my hometown to watch the Panagbenga street and float parade. Something I avoid yearly out of sheer pity for the carrying capacity of my city. But the mood and the exuberance was all it was hyped up to be. The beauty of Baguiio, the commercialism and the floats… well that will be for another article… less exuberant than this.

We have an uncertain year ahead of us. Jobs will be cut, relatives will come home from overseas postings that have ended, costs of education will rise in the new school year and we will be forced to tighten our belts. We may forget these in the weeks of festivities ahead… but perhaps in the midst of these festivities there is a way we could reaffirm our stake in our future…

We are a people of movement. Give us a beat and we will sway, we will bob our heads, we will dance. Give us a stage and we will perform, we will shine… heck we will even build our own stage. Give us a song and we will render it in as many versions as we have islands in this nation of happiness.

Pretty soon, school will be out, young (and not so young) Filipinos will head home to our provinces. For vacation, for summer work, to visit our families, to escape the city for a while, or simply to go home. The festivals will welcome us, the beats will resonate and the cheers and songs will fill the summer air. It is in this exuberance that we hope all young Filipinos bring one message home… We have to register to vote in May 2010.

The COMELEC has cut the registration period to October 31, 2009 from Dec 15. This means students and young working Filipinos will not have another chance to go home to their provinces to register after this summer. Not sem break not Christmas. This is it. This has to be our Festival!

The steps are simple enough… 1) invite your friends, barkada and neighbors from the same voting district. 2) download the 4-page registration form from the COMELEC Blogsite or the official COMELEC site. 3) fill up the forms but do not sign yet or put your thumbmark (you need to do this in front of the Election Officer). 4) Go to your local COMELEC any day from Monday to Saturday and holidays from 8am to 5pm (or to announced satellite mobile registrations in schools and barangays) and submit the forms with a valid ID for validation. 5) Have your photo, fingerprints and signature taken by the data capturing machines (DCMs) 6) get your receipt to claim your voter’s ID 7) HAVE FUN!!!

For those who would want to organize satellite registration centers, registration awareness activities and summer gimmicks to encourage the youth to register, get in touch with us through this site, through YouthVotePhilippines, or through email at yvotephilippines@gmail.com and we will gladly link you up with other youth groups in your area. Celebrate summer! Celebrate with your kababatas and kababayans! and lets all make this a SUMMER REGISTRATION FESTIVAL to remember.


Within the Joker’s Grasp

November 14, 2008

By Niña Terol of YouthVotePhilippines and Young Public Servants

And now we face yet another hundred-million-peso scandal, unfolding in real-time in the august chambers of the Philippine Senate, involving yet another fall guy who is now the country’s hottest topic (and butt of jokes) but who will later on be forgotten. The moment I heard his name—a few years ago, when my mom casually mentioned the name of the Rotary’s then-District Governor—I immediately felt that there was something fishy about a man named Jocelyn, who called himself Joc-Joc. I think that any public servant who respects his position enough should at least find a more suitable nickname upon assuming a position of great responsibility. Don’t trust a man who calls himself a joke—or, perhaps more accurately, a two-faced joker.

But I digress. This latest scandal to rock the Philippine shores—er, fields—paints yet another ugly caricature of this present administration and its cohorts and once again makes the Filipino nation look like a bunch of idiots. How can anyone justify distributing funds for agricultural inputs that are of the wrong kind, given at the wrong time, for the wrong districts? (And, oh yes, they were grossly overpriced, too.) I felt a brief moment of admiration for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she admitted that, although she is an administration ally, Joc-Joc Bolante was simply “defending the indefensible.”

Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Joc-Joc Bolante at todays Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)

Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante at today’s Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)

There is simply no way of getting around this. And we cannot let these corrupt, unscrupulous officials get away with it. If I were a guy, I’d say that “nakakalalaki na ‘tong gobyernong ito (this government is challenging my manhood–or something to that effect).”

This whole episode reminds me of Dr. René Azurin’s book, aptly titled Power Without Virtue. In his introduction, he exhorts us to exact accountability from government, saying that “their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check.” Allow me to share some excerpts from his book’s introductory essay:

“… Tremendous discretionary power over public funds, public resources, and public policies is vested in those who capture control of government, and that power has been consolidated, increased, refined, guarded, and avariciously used over the years by the nation’s politicos for their own private and personal gain. Irrespective of any labels or party names that presidents, senators, congressmen, and local government officials have attached to themselves over the more than hundred years since [Mabini’s time], all have been joined… by the notion that the positions they occupy are opportunities ‘to grasp’ and not ‘to serve.’

“By its very nature, of course, it is inescapable that power is vested in government and, by extension, in government officials. Because, however, it is not reasonable to expect that our public officials will be as moral or as ethical as the ‘sublime’ Mabini [whom Dr. Azurin refers to early on in his essay], their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check. Discretionary allocations in the national budget—like the huge presidential discretionary funds and legislative pork barrel—should be eliminated altogether. The decisions to award public projects should always be minutely scrutinized, publicly justified, and never cloaked in ‘executive privilege.’”

Joc-Joc Bolante has yet to invoke “executive privilege”, but he has asked that his right against self-incrimination be upheld, even if this is a right extended only to the accused and not to witnesses. He insists that he never knew who recommended him as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, even if he later on admits that the only one he knows from the upper echelons of Malacañang is First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, a “good friend” of his. He apologizes for having made the Senate wait for three years for him to surface and offer his testimony, even if he has had plenty of opportunities to surface before his incarceration in the United States. Moreover, he is adamant that the President had nothing to do with this scandal, although incumbent officials acknowledge that Mrs. Arroyo is a micro-manager who dips her fingers (or those of her husband) in practically every matter in this government. Nobody believes that P728 million could be disbursed to over a hundred districts in the country without this president’s knowledge.

Clearly, what we have in front of us is a joker who cannot be trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. He is one of those avaricious men whose primary motivation for joining government is to enjoy its many under-the-table perks. Now that he has surfaced, we will have to bear with days—possibly even weeks—of a live telenovela that makes the Filipino people look tanga (idiotic) in the worst possible way. How much more of this will we take? Aren’t we tired of scandal after scandal, and of government officials who think that we’re stupid, apathetic, and callous, even?

More importantly, what are we going to do about it? I once more refer to Tito Rene’s introduction to show an alternative I do not want to see:

“In theory, the extent of government power is specified by the role the people assign to it. In practice, that role is actually determined by the latitude the political class is given to arrogate powers unto themselves. Unfortunately, ‘the people’—being a dispersed, diffuse mass—have no real ability to limit that latitude. It is therefore left to other organized institutions of society—such as civic groups, business groups, advocacy movements, professional associations, religious institutions, academic institutions, and media—to try to circumscribe (if they are so inclined) the role of government and the powers of government officials, and then hold them to account.

“A community holds together, I believe, largely because there are reasonable expectations that a system exists for ensuring that each member of it will be treated fairly and justly by the community itself, if not necessarily by every other member of it. Without this conviction, I think that communities will inevitably break apart (unless held together by force, in which case a revolt will eventually become inevitable). If the privileged few who exercise power in the community use this power to plunder and exploit, and they vulgarly display themselves as exempt from the rules imposed on the ordinary many without power, there is no compelling incentive for the powerless and unprivileged to stay within the community or, if they do, to follow its rules.”

If we want to keep intact what is left of the Philippine community, we need to demand accountability from our public officials NOW. The jokers in government have already taken too much from us—what else are we going to allow them to grasp?

___

Niña Terol, 28, is an officer of YouthVotePhilippines and a member of other reform-oriented groups. She hopes to make real, positive change happen in the Philippines within her lifetime.


Amidst Mounting Calls for Abolition, SK Should Start Working Good!

November 3, 2008

Position Paper of the Youth and Students Sector of NAPC (NAPC YS) on SK Abolition

By MARLON CORNELIO, Chair, Youth Governance and Participation Committee

There have been persistent calls for the abolition of Sangguniang Kabataan. Most Recently, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, the author of Local Government Code that reinvented SK form KB, has been in the fore by filling SB 2155 seeking the abolition of SK. In the 13th Congress, on the other hand, Sen. Pimentel filled SB 1126 which called for the reform of SK.

Abolish SK!

What are the arguments for SK abolition? One, SK is considered as a breeding ground of corrupt leaders. Two, SK officials are non-performing or has insignificant contribution to the community; most of their projects are building waiting sheds and signages, sports fests or paliga. Three, SK officials cannot perform their function as they have to attend schools (or SK officials have to cut schooling just to perform their functions). And four, they are just too young, easily corrupted and irresponsible.
Who are the proponents of SK Abolition? Federation of Student has released a manifesto calling for the abolition of SKs  claiming that SK officers discard school in exchange for salaries and perks offered by weekly city, municipal and provincial council sessions (Cabreza, 2007).  Mayors too, according to Mayor Ramon Guico, League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) president, are for abolition but “do not openly speak [about the issue] because of political reasons” (Sotelo-Fuertes, 2007). Sen. Pimentel has filled his SK abolition bill in the Senate. Several SK Abolition bills have also been filled in the House of Representatives.

Alternatives to SK

Given these arguments are sufficient to abolish SK, what are the alternatives? There are proposals for total abolition of SKs. These proposals argue that school council/government is a sufficient venue for the youth to participate in governance and train in becoming the future leaders of the land. On the other hand, other proposals still see the significance of youth participation in elections and “actual” governance. Thus, if SK is to be abolished there should be a replacement mechanism. Pimentel’s SB 2155 proposes for the election of youth councilors instead of the other proposals for mayors/governors to appoint them. This according to Pimentel would not give opportunity for politicking. Youth representative/councilor will be directly elected by their peers at the same time as the city mayors and councilors are elected.
The other side: SK reform.

Advocates of SK Reform do not dispute the observations posted by those calling for abolition. They too see that SKs are not performing; SK has become the breeding ground for new trapos; SK officials are in a dilemma between going to school or cutting schooling to perform their function. The difference lies in how to address these problems. They see these as very serious issues/concerns but not too the point that it merits abolition.

What are their rebuttals?

That the SK is a breeding ground for corruption means that the SK officials are not inherently corrupt. It points out to the fact that the environment to which the SK now is situated is the one’s causing the breeding of new trapos. The answer therefore is to clean up the environment and not abolish SK which is ideally a venue for on-the-job training for good governance and principled leadership for the Filipino youth at the grassroots level.

That the SKs are non-performing or has insignificant program/projects can be attributed to the lack of support and guidance they get from their elders. SK was not put up for the youth officials to live on their own. The SKs do not know their roles and responsibilities and neither do most of local government officials that limit SKs to beautification and sports projects. There are model SKs to talk of all over the country, both in rural and urban areas. What is common in these model SKs is the presence of guidance and support from the local government and non-governmental organizations.

SKs are definitely in dilemma of choosing between attending schools or council sessions. This problem sprout out after the Congress passed Republic Act 9164 in 2002, which reduced the age range of KK and SK eligible youth to 15 to below 18 from 21. This has amendment was made in the bicameral committee without prejudice to the age where which the youth are still in secondary schools. If elected SKs came from the age bracket of 18-22, SKs would have more control over their schedule and academic load.
Finally, those who belittle the young will have to read up more on the role of youth in our history and nation building. They will have to be refreshed on the International Rights of Children.

What should we do now?

There are many proposals to address the problems that the SKs are facing. In the 13th Congress, there where more than 5 bills both in the House of Representatives and Senate. These legislative remedies however proved to be arduous. While the battle for abolition for reform versus abolition was mainly in Congress, SK reform advocates failed to recognize that there are reforms that can be done which will dramatically change the bad face of SK on the ground. As the problems all point out, and as was found out in the national SK Study funded by UNICEF and spearheaded by DILG NBOO and NAPC Youth and Students Sector, the SKs need support and guidance for them to succeed. They need proper orientation on their functions and how to go about with them. They need trainings and capability/capacity building programs down at the grassroots level.

Unfortunately, these needs have never been met. Thus, the reasons for the calls for abolition remain and just gained momentum. The fight for long-lasting and institutionalized reform in Congress should continue but it should be coupled with actions on the ground.

The SKs can not wait for the legislative reforms. The SKs can not much more wait for it to be abolished and replaced. The newly elected SKs will be serving for 3 years. This opportunity should not go to waste. With this in view, NAPC Youth and Students Sector, along with its member youth organizations in the grassroots, is piloting capacity and capability training at the same hand working with partners in developing an SK Guidebook.

The only way for the SKs to stop the mounting calls for abolition, is for them to start working and working good, removing reasons for abolition one by one. And the SKs need support and guidance from their communities in doing so.