Do better

A post recently popped up on my social-media feed that basically tells the story of how a newly elected Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) official is supposed to have, without seeming provocation, disrespected a teacher.

The teacher, so the story goes, had asked the SK official if he wanted to volunteer for the Brigada Eskwela effort. You would think that, as a youth and a politician, this fellow would only be too happy to oblige. Even the cynical would say that it was a good opportunity to earn some goodwill with the electorate. Instead, and rather inexplicably, the SK official is said to have reacted with indignation. Worried that the politician might have mistaken her for someone who wasn’t actually connected with the Department of Education’s program, the teacher introduced herself. At which point, the story recounts, a heated exchange ensued, with the SK official eventually declaring, “You’re just a teacher; I’m an SK official!”

If I had been there, I would have relished the opportunity to remind this person that elected officials have not suddenly been elevated into some sort of aristocracy by virtue of their having been elected into office.

Obviously, the post only tells half of the story. It is quite possible that this thing didn’t go down exactly as described. Heck, the roles might even have been reversed. The only problem is that, for most of us, the kind of attitude ascribed to the SK official rings true. It sounds awfully familiar and might even closely mirror our own personal experiences with various elected asshats. This makes it pretty hard to ignore or avoid sympathizing with the outrage of whoever posted the story originally.

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That this story even exists is depressing. Is it really too much to ask for elected officials not to be awful people? Power corrupts, sure, but the tale of the arrogant elected official is so common—so archetypal —that you have to wonder whether they were corrupted by power, or if they were already bad seeds to begin with. And if they were bad seeds, then is it too much to ask for voters to choose better?

What makes this particular story so galling is the age of the main character. An SK official would be anywhere from 18 to 24 years old. Now, obviously, there are no age limitations to being a privileged twit, but it is very disconcerting to be confronted with proof. Like many people, I’ve been clinging to an image of the youth as irreverent but still respectful. And I’d been hoping that the new SK officials would be of this mold. While I’m not ready to write off all the youth, having this one canker sore currently walking around, wearing the mandate of the people like a crown of impunity, is doing much to change my mind. There are others, I am certain, who will say that this whelp only confirms what they already know.

In an ideal world, SK officials are elected to serve. If they are to be judged, then they ought to be judged by the quality of that service. Their competence, in other words, should be the more telling measure, than their character. Under the best of circumstances, these youths shouldn’t have to go out of their way to prove that they are worthy of respect; respectability ought to be a given, and the SK system should not be subject to the subtle bigotry of people condescendingly telling a young person “you’re one of the good ones.”

This whelp, however, is exactly the kind of person who strengthens the notion that the youth are intrinsically untrustworthy, and that “the good ones” are a rare breed. He is the kind of young person who, perhaps unwittingly, makes it difficult for others of his generation to be taken seriously. And if the youth are not taken seriously, what does that bode for the future of the SK as a part of the infrastructure of governance?

In less than a year, Filipinos will be asked to cast their ballots again. This time, we will be selecting senators, members of the House of Representatives, party-list representatives, governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors and members of the various local government legislative councils. Anyone of these people will have a great deal more power and authority handed to them than this SK official. It stands to reason, therefore, that a similar attitude from any of them will probably take on more sinister overtones. When that happens, we will probably be reduced to remembering this annoying SK official with a perverse sort of nostalgia.  We have to do better.

 

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Turning Points 2018