Monday, October 25, 2010

Barangay, SK Elections: A mockery of popular participation and absolute personalism over popular will

Barangay, SK Elections: A mockery of popular participation
and absolute personalism over popular will

By Katleah Iskre Ulrike

Last time, we encounter people filling up the lines for a common purpose: of participating in the electoral process for village-level leaders and youth representatives in the country. These people, with ballot in hand, is somehow thinking about the fate of their village since it is supposedly geared towards the progress of the nation, that the people behind should be "for the people" as well.

But despite the people's willingness to vote for their bets in the village level, there are some instances that most politicians are rather using politics for personal will, again, like those in the municipal to national level-using populist rhetoric yet putting personalism over the will of the people, that is seemingly contrary to the ideas vested in the constitution.

The actions played much by future village chiefs, village elders and youth representatives in our villages, somehow unveils mockery towards the people- except those who really intent to put the ideas of popular will into practise. And speaking of mockery of popular will, it includes personal stress on contributions originally made using government funds: like basketball tournaments, cleanliness campaigns, even curfew hours that in fact seemingly short term, unless they do village level drainage work, of small scale flood control project supported by the municipal council. Village level politics and youth representation in government became a mere facade-not because of negligence, self-interest, but also the system's disdain for distribution of power to the people and instead to a clique.

Regarding village-level leaders and representatives

We all know that the Barangay is the smallest level of the government, situated on the villages within the Municipality. This kind of government is somehow has the capacity to mobilize people for people empowerment same as the municipal council and even the mayor itself, same as in enacting laws for the well being of the village itself and even for the municipality in general.

The Barangay was also originally concieved as a social experiment led by President Ferdinand Marcos, as a means for distributing power down to the village level, replacing the municipal council and the councilors as its lawmakers. It also envisioned a partyless, direct democracy while in fact encouraging to unite under Marcos' New Society Movement. This kind of social experiment end up reduced to a basic degree as the 1987 constitution effectively revived the municipal council, making village-level politics and management reduced.

And like any other government levels, the Barangay became prone much to personalist tendencies, especially corrupt practises that, in the name of the people-using their funds for self interest. We have witnessed much all of these, that also contributes much to the growing crisis of the society in general. The Barangay nowadays became a mere facade of Philippine democracy all except for those who tried to run seriously as officials, the rest? Using their names for fame yet the way they run is useless and limited for a mere purpose such as self interest.

Regarding youth representatives, of Sangguniang Kabataan

The Sangguniang Kabataan, like the Barangay, represents the youth and its willingness to be a part of the society as partners and contributors for its well being. Also created by the Marcos regime as the Kabataang Barangay, allegedly to counter the growing progressive movement like the Kabataang Makabayan of Jose Maria Sison, this kind of movement called forth the youth to mobilize and contribute-from arts and crafts to basic traffic management and other Barangay skills. The Sangguniang Kabataan, or originally, the Kabataang Barangay somehow envisioned to make the Pilipino youth "the new Pilipino", acting as a contributor for the well being of the society.

But contrary to the vision and mission of the Sangguniang Kabataan, these youth representatives, for instance is somewhat becoming less of a contributor and more of a figurehead in terms of action not for the youth, but also to the people. Using "schoolwork" as its reason, or rather say an alibi, these youth leaders-to-be finding it hard to use their talent for early governance and instead being left to those as if capable to rule and yet, like their adult counterparts became prone to corrupt practises. People again may have called such youth participation useless and telling that "they should be on their studies" instead-to the maximum point of abolishing the Sangguniang Kabataan and letting the youth limit, if not to engage in societal affairs.

As according to the Manila Times, it stated that:

"The Election Commissioners, according to Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, favor the abolition of the youth council.

For many years now since not very long after its inception 17 years ago, the SK has been criticized by many right thinking Filipinos. They observed how elections in every barangay to choose the youth councilors have been tainted in most places by all the evils seen in adult politics."

Fine, but do they have any other cause except corrupt practises? Or rather they wanted to dissuade the youth from popular participation in politics and in the community in general, being "the nation's hope" and yet being insisted to "limit their skills to the classroom?" Corrupt practises can be solve thoroughly by education and discipline, but telling the entire youth representatives in general that they are corrupt? That they should focus much on studies? They have no time setting particularity as these "right thinking Filipinos" show disdain for youth involvement in societal issues!

But then, anti-youth idea, through abolishing the SK was even fueled by another sentiment, as according to Ben Oplas, convenor of the Minimal Government NGO which is batting for socio-economic and political reforms, said:

“The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) or ‘Youth Council’ at the barangay or village level, is creating baby political dinosaurs out of otherwise simple and non-politicized youth. The design, like the ‘party-list’ system, is wrong from theory to practice; from concept to implementation.

“At ages 15 to 18, the youth these days have lots of things to do aside from politics. Foremost of which is to study in high school or in college. If they are in school, there are lots of avenues for school, civic and community involvement as there are various clubs, academic or otherwise, and school councils. There are also school papers or campus journalism opportunities.

“If the youth at that age bracket are not in school, then most likely they will be working, mostly in the informal sector or in the house, like helping taking care of younger siblings, both of which can make them busy.

“Thus, there is really no need to elect and sustain tens of thousands of young politicos, to be funded from taxpayers’ money. The youth should be diverted away from politics and unproductive political wranglings whenever possible. There are plenty of anecdotal evidences of how the youth learn to practice bribery and corruption at a young age just to win elections at the barangay or village level.

“The SK, therefore, should be abolished. And it should have been abolished yesterday, not to be abolished tomorrow.”

Well... its like telling them "to be apathetic". Like China during Chiang Kai-Shek, the Guomindang wanted to limit youth participation on the threat of radicalism, and instead telling them that "Studying is a means to develop the country" yet failed to mobilize as the Japanese foe advanced thoroughly during the Sino-Japanese war. And here, those "right thinking Filipinos" like those of Ben Oplas et al. recycled that idea as a means to "reform the bureaucracy" but in fact intensifies the system's efforts to preserve the order of things, thus fuels discontent from the people, particularly the youth for having no voice for the society. Oplas's statement didn't speak much of alternatives except dissuasion in popular participation except studying, work or at home, and telling it to the youth is somewhat a "stab at the front" or "at the back" in the name of small governance.

Secondly, abolishing Sangguniang Kabataan means failure of the government's urge for youth participation. What's the use of the National Youth Commission then? A ministry without a purpose except a figurehead authority for the youth? Of affirming the government's intention for the youth to inculcate apathy and leaving Rizal's statement a mere phrase? Rizal and the propaganda movement, and even the earlier companerismo, Kidlat club and the Indios Bravos spoke much of the youth's participation in societal affairs, and it includes political ones-that lead to Bonifacio's action. Is the government, and the "right minded Filipinos" scared of Bonifacios?

Violence as a manifestation of personalism

Like any other elections and politics in general in the Philippines, violence remains rampant. And despite the government's call for lessening crime during the elections, this personally-motivated act, supported by vested interests, intensifies much of conflicts within the bureaucracy-that even village-level politics are also having blood stains in it.

As according to ABS-CBN, it stated that:
"Thirty-three people have died while 14 others were injured during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election period nationwide, police said Monday.

Twenty of the deaths occurred in Mindanao, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Region 12, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP)."

but despite the continuous trend of violence during the elections, the PNP responded this:

"...have arrested 741 people for violating the gun ban. They will face 1-6 years imprisonment if found guilty.

A total of 500 assorted firearms and 26 explosives were confiscated during the election period."

The growing trend of violence during the elections somewhat gives enough a bad image for the society. Since these politicos, motivated by personal interest laced with populism, it involves illegal acts just to keep their throne and the territory as theirs. We have witnessed enough violence nowadays that the Commission on Elections forced to postpone the elections on violence-prone areas, as Commissioner Armando Velasco said that:

"Elections were postponed in 2,341 barangays on Monday."

While a total of 1,836 barangays in Region 5 failed to hold elections.

And according to Comelec data, the postponed elections nationwide, being rescheduled on Tuesday, affected 1.86 million voters, all due to the atmosphere of personally-motivated political violence prevailing on those communities, like those of Abra, Maguindanao, and others-unveiling the system's unwillingness to control for the sake of maintaining 'personally-motivated' conflicts like these, thus greatly affecting the people in general, not just the voters.


As a writer, I consider the entire election atmosphere, like last May, a series of violent reactions. All motivated by ultrapersonalist interest and populist rhetoric. Killings involving village-level candidates and youth representatives, the overspending of public funds, and the like shows how the system tolerates much of social degeneracy yet using the word reform for a band aid solution. Speaking of Oplas' statement abolishing the SK, why not also abolish the Barangay? Citing the corrupt practises at the village level, and instead its powers be handed down to the councilors? After all, the social experiment made by Marcos hath taken for granted, especially the Sangguniang Kabataan that end up reduced to a mere 'without portfolio' position with honoraria.

And as the title stated, the elections evenly unveils mockery, that is, mockery of popular will, of participation all motivated by money and cheap crass promises these village-level candidates spoke about. And of all the problems these institutions got badly about, it is personalism, wherein the subsets like corruption, nepotism, and other antipeople practises destroys the reputation of both the Barangay and the Sangguniang Kabataan in village-level governance, same as those from the municipal up to the national level.

And for the candidates, what are they speaking for? Basketball tournaments? Cleanliness campaigns? Why not having long term but beneficial ones, all despite of less budget? There's the people who can support and get though with it, using their skill enough to complete the long term tasks to do so. Village-level politics needs much drastic, long term change to benefit both the individual and the community as the partaker of social progress-starting from stopping actions contrary to people's will alongside the application of direct democracy as a means of popular participation in the community.