“Did you participate in vote buying in the recent elections?”
“If you think that smoking is bad, why don’t you just ban the buying and selling of tobacco all together?”
“You said you are implementing curfew to minors. How come there are still minors seen in Smallville beyond curfew hours?”
“Is allowing the Coal Fired Power Plant to operate in Iloilo City consistent to your stand of protecting the environment?”
The Iloilo City Councilors, persons highly respected and praised by people day after day, were amazed by these unexpected questions posed by pubescent high school students.
This is the Sanggunian Talks: an avenue for students to be informed of the different ordinances that directly affect them, and to exercise their right to freedom of speech.
“THE SANGGUNIAN TALKS”, a project initiated by the Sangguniang Panlungsod of the City of Iloilo, and headed by the City Vice Mayor and the Presiding Officer, Hon. Jose S. Espinosa III, decided to conduct a series of fora in the different high schools here in Iloilo City.
It is an information campaign that aims to bring the Iloilo City government closer to the Ilonggo populace, through its academe sector. It is an information drive that the Sangguniang Panlungsod spearheaded to keep the public, especially the students, informed about their local laws through a series of public fora in identified high schools all around Iloilo City. In these fora, the Vice Mayor and the members of the City Council discuss the salient features of the local ordinances that were chosen by the host school, followed by an open forum.
But how did all of this start?
In the middle part of 2010, the peace and order situation of Iloilo City was disturbed by a crime syndicate that uses minors to perform criminal acts. This crime syndicate, known as “True Brown Style 13 (TBS 13)”, recruits minors to become members of their group by providing false perception of brotherhood and belongingness, with the condition, however, that recruits should perform a crime before they get admitted. As a result, holdups, carnappings, murders, theft and robbery committed by minors became prevalent in the City. These criminal acts, as reported by the Iloilo City Police Office, were committed by the members of TBS 13.
With this, clamor for the immediate apprehension of these culprits sounded all around Iloilo City. Indignation against said crimes was aired all over the radio, tv and print by the families of the victims and by the victims themselves.
Amidst this chaos, the Sangguniang Panlungsod of the City of Iloilo was not spared by this call. During one of its regular session, the body discussed these shenanigans and they outrightly condemned this group and their criminal activities. This lawlessness paved the way to the interest in creating public awareness to help prevent further occurrence of these crimes. Particular interest was given to the minors since they are the most vulnerable sector of the society.
And so, Sangguniang Talks was born.
The Council started to identify different High Schools all around the City, both public and private, to serve as the “Host School”. Vice Mayor Espinosa, then, sent out letters to prospective hosts , setting the parameters of the activity. The choice of school hosts was determined based on the availability of the school and on a “ first confirm-first served” basis.
Upon confirmation of their interest to host the Talk, the Project Team, headed by Board Secretary IV Remia E. Regalado, set up a meeting with the school administration to discuss the date, time and venue; the physical arrangements; and the topics to be discussed.
In choosing the topics, the project team presented choices of ordinances that may be relevant to the need and interest of the particular school and, thereafter, the school administration makes the final choice as to what topics shall be discussed during their forum.
The topics, as expected, chosen by the schools were those that are affecting their daily lives, particularly that that concerns the welfare of the minors. These topics were the following, namely:
- Anti-Smoking Ordinance;
- Anti-Littering and other environmental concerns;
- Regulation of Internet cafes and other gaming establishments;
- Curfew on Minors/Prohibition of selling of liquors to minors; and
- Anti-Jaywalking/Pedestrian lanes/Obstruction of sidewalks.
The members of the City Council, including its Presiding Officer, Hon. Jose S. Espinosa III, acted as the resource persons. They were chosen based on their Committee Chairmanship, and at one time, as per request of the host school, namely:
- Hon. Joshua C. Alim, as Chairman of the Iloilo City Anti-Smoking Task Force;
- Hon. David Raymund Jamora, as Chairman of the Committee on Public Services, Environmental Protection and Ecology;
- Hon. Nielex C. Tupas, as Chairman of the Committee on Information Technology and Computerization;
- Hon. Plaridel C. Nava, as Chairman, Task Force on Minors;
- Hon. R Leone N. Gerochi, as Chairman, Committee on Transportation, Energy, and Public Utilities; and
- Hon. Jason R. Gonzales,as Member of the Committee on Communication and Public Information.
The Vice Mayor usually moderates the forum. He encouraged the students to ask any questions they would want to ask “so as not to limit the discussion on the topics at hand”. Lively discussions about public governance, solutions to problems about traffic, consequences of violating ordinances, among others, transpired between the City Officials, the students and the School Administration. This candidness and openness that the Council members presented to the students encouraged them to ask questions, which, in turn were gamely and intelligently answered. When all questions were asked and answered, the Vice Mayor makes a recap of all the learnings that occurred to check whether, indeed, it was absorbed by the audience. After which, an open invitation is being given to the body to be more participative in governance, be more alert, and be more responsible members of the community.
“The Sanggunian Talks” had walked the campuses of eleven (11) high schools and was welcomed with much enthusiasm and warm reception. The following were the host schools for the School Year 2010-2011, and School Year 2011-2012, namely:
- Sun Yat Sen High School – October 21, 2010;
- Iloilo National High School- Special Science Class – November 18, 2010;
- Colegio de las Hijas de Jesus – November 26, 2010;
- University of the Philippines High School – December 2, 2010;
- Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus – January 6, 2011;
- Colegio de San Jose – January 27, 2011;
- St. Joseph School – February 10, 2011;
- Central Philippine University – June 27, 2011;
- Ateneo de Iloilo – Santa Maria Catholic School – July 1, 2011;
- Fort San Pedro National High School – September 20, 2011; and
- Angelicum School – February 24, 2012.
In answer to the call of the Chief Executive to observe austerity measures in implementing projects, the “ Sanggunian Talks” was conceptualized and implemented with very minimal, near zero budget. This project was created with the main goal of minimum input , maximum output. With this in mind, minimum resources were tapped to deliver the expected results. The Technical Working Group of the Project Team utilized the existing supplies and materials in their office to cater to the minimal needs for logistics and secretariat functions. No additional budget was requested to fund this project.
At present, the SP Talks is still continuing its journey. Host Schools are continuously being tapped through letters and personal visits. It is the goal of the Vice Mayor that through these fora, “by 2013, all high school students, as minors, will become more aware of their responsibility as a citizen and will be able to say no to lawlessness”.