Monday, August 20, 2018

SKtarting on the wrong foot


THE REFORMED Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1, 2018.

There were many thoughts about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act, especially on how it empowers youth leaders to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.

It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th founding anniversary, and organizers tasked the SK officials in the different barangays to scout for candidates and prepare them for competition; and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the Pagudpud SK federated president of Pagudpud, that the municipality’s tourism office gave these assignments to them. What kind of competition did they get busy with?

It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. They dressed straight males and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, “Ang Probinsiyano”. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Pagudpud’s Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” [As the partner of the LGU, we—the SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.] Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng [We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office]”.

The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through.  But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make-up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.

If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association echoed the same sentiment: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on public service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.

But they started on the wrong foot.

While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.

I’d be happy if they prove me wrong.
***

Sharing with you the thoughts of Commissioner James Ceasar Ventura of the National Youth Commission regarding Pagudpud’s Paloma beauty pageant that the town’s SK willingly got involved in, and in general how SKs around the country have been doing by far. Note though that here he is giving his personal position as a young leader, and we should not take his statements as the position of his agency. It would be worthy to listen to his thoughts because James is sincerely one of those who truly want the SK to succeed.

“At a personal level, sir, I don’t believe we really need pageants right now. It’s too costly for entertainment. Waste of resources. That’s regardless of SK man yan o Buwan ng Wika, tourism, whatsoever.

“Plus, there are too many things we need to prioritize. In Ilocos, it would be teenage pregnancy, jobs, access to quality education, life skills kung kabataan ang pag-uusapan.

“I appreciate the SKs for helping their LGU implement its programs and activities, but I would have appreciated them more if they opposed the Paloma pageant for these reasons:

“1. They could have asked LGU to give them the funds which [they can use] for a scholarship or a training on crime or illegal drugs prevention.

“2. By supporting the activity, even without paying for it using the SK funds, the SK officials consented on inefficient budget use, and tolerated the culture of reducing gender issues as a laughing matter.

“I’d be honest, sir. Many SKs are at a loss hanggang ngayon. They do not know what to do while they are also under pressure to do something ASAP. Hence, they become welcoming to proposals such as pageants and sports activities. Templated na kasi at madali nang gawin.

“I hope there were more of us at NYC to really guide them on the ground. I pray that their youth development officer, their LGU and other youth leaders are already sitting down to plan for their kabataan. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t look forward for another SK election by 2020.”

I thank James for making me believe in youth power despite my cynicism. I was hoping the reformed SK would produce more noble young Filipinos like him, but what we have now, as in the past, are many SK officials and federation presidents elected not on the basis of their skills and zeal to serve, but on the strength of their blood relations. Trapo manipulation of the youth remain strong. And, as James correctly observed, SK officials are at a loss on what to do.

My humble advice to them is to carefully craft relevant, high-impact, and sustainable programs instead of falling to the allure of tokenism and “Instagram fame”. SKs have been in the position for only a few days and they have done a couple of activities here and there, and they lined up more in the coming weeks. Coastal clean-ups, bloodletting activities, sports programs are good, but they must be a part of honest-to-goodness programs and not turn out as sporadic activities that only look good on Instagram.

I don’t believe in the necessity and relevance of SK, not anymore at this time in our national life, as it was a bane in the past two decades. It was a nice idea that belonged to another era. It’s a dead intervention that should have remained peacefully in the grave of our collective political memory. But because the SKs are here and they receive public funds, let us, with all we can help them succeed. If this be the last batch of SK, may they build good memories before we bury this idea back to the grave of ignominy.
herdylayumul.com

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