[EDITORIAL] Beyond theatrics: The Filipino youth deserves better

If we put clowns into a palace, it becomes a circus for clownery.

This basically sums up the current state of our government as mostly incompetent officials now lead the country to a gradual decline — a tragic loop the Philippines will never escape so long as democratic processes, including local community elections, are not treated seriously.

Although “memes” and satirical posts have mostly dominated the discourse about this year’s Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (BSK) elections, it is important not to antagonize and treat the local community polls as mere political theatrics. 

With proper training and execution, SK has the potential to be a national grassroots campaign to hone the skills of young leaders who genuinely want to serve the people.

As we stand at the threshold of another election day, we must be reminded that the state of our country’s political climate hinges on the strength of every link of the democratic chain, no matter how small or big they are.

On Monday, Oct. 30, the long-awaited local elections will finally commence after a series of postponements.

Last year, the elections were put on hold when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed a law rescheduling the supposed December 2022 polls to October 2023, even though pandemic restrictions had already eased at the time.

In fact, the very elections that brought Marcos and his family back to Malacañang pushed through in a face-to-face setup, proving the readiness of the country to elect new officials.

But, this not the first time the BSK elections have been postponed and sidetracked.

Under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, the elections were deferred a total of three times. The October 2016 BSK polls were first moved to October 2017 before it was further deferred to May 2018. Meanwhile, the next BSK elections set for May 2020 had to be moved to December 2022 due to the pandemic.

These recurrent delays speak volumes about the government’s failure to value the meaningful role of the youth in governance. Further, it sends a message that the voice of the youth is only of secondary importance — an afterthought — despite the capacity of young leaders to bring the discourse of nation-building and development closer to the youth.

Now that the SK elections are returning after five years, the national government must renew and empower whatever little commitment it has to ensure the youth becomes politically involved and aware like all responsible citizens of a country.

Indeed, the continuous bypassing of the barangay elections seemed to have transcended on the ground. Although the law provides a serious mandate for SK to implement projects centered on general youth development, it remains a sad reality that the BSK polls are often dismissed and taken lightly by the electorate.

In the past few days of the campaign period, social media platforms were not only flooded with campaign materials but also a torrent of “memes” poking fun at SK candidates, some irrelevant credentials and the stereotype against political aspirants being corrupt, among others.

While humor is a valid and creative form of criticism in the context of political discourses, we must be careful not to reduce the BSK elections to mere jest. 

It should be considered as significant as the city, senatorial and presidential elections. It would be harder to materialize good governance if the starting point for youth leaders is already poisoned with disinterest and unseriousness.

This goes out not only to the youth voters but also to aspiring and incumbent SK leaders.

Not for clout

According to the Commission on Elections, about 585,843 people have filed their candidacies for SK positions nationwide.

Each and every one of them should be oriented that SK is not an avenue for self-promotion but rather a stage where one can organize and mobilize the youth to spark a difference.

This is because, like any other elections, the BSK polls solely rely on the majority decision of registered voters. This inevitably entails that with flawed voting and campaign traditions, incompetent and problematic candidates may still be elected as community officials.

In fact, some SK candidates, who also happen to be “social media influencers,” have been spotted peddling false information and parroting pro-government narratives on TikTok before.

While we support the potential of SK to prepare young public servants, we also recognize its vulnerability to exploitation. If left unchecked and disregarded, the local community government may indeed serve as a breeding ground for more corrupt officials.

Hence, it should be non-negotiable for SK aspirants to be scrutinized based on their plans instead of superficial personality. As important as it is in every election, voters must delve deeper into the track records, qualifications and vision of those who wish to serve.

It is all too easy to be swayed by charm, eloquent spiels and empty promises. But as voters, we should always try to rise above the allure of flashy campaign materials and political stunts.

Young aspiring leaders must have the nation’s future in mind, and in return, the electorate must hold them to the highest standards of public service, lest we risk compromising one of the foundations of our democracy.