It was fun while it lasted.
After five years of existence, the University Student Government (USG) may no longer be operating in DLSU come next academic year (AY). The President’s Council has recently approved a proposal for the complete abolishment of the USG, which is expected to take effect by AY 2016-2017. Despite firm opposition mostly from the candidates of the General Elections (GE) and from current USG officers, the administration has decided that the USG is no longer the best means of representation for the student body, and has thus moved to revise the longstanding structure accordingly.
Student Council 2.0?
What’s next for the students? Dean of Student Affairs Fritzie De Vera explains that a new commissioned body composed of new student representatives will be created. “Administration will look into the aspects of the USG that are still applicable and necessary. A student council will be formed from students of various offices and organizations,” she details.
According to De Vera, the proposed student council will be composed of all active student organizations in the University, including those under the Student Media Office (SMO), Culture and Arts and Office (CAO), Council of Student Organizations (CSO), and other student groups under service offices, such as those in the Student Discipline Formation Office (SDFO) and the Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS).
However, the administration has yet to decide on the specific details of the new council, such as its organizational structure and the solutions to the logistical issue of organizations being handled by multiple offices. Nonetheless, De Vera assures the community that the plans will be finalized within the following months.
De Vera also explains that these positions will be filled via application and appointment. Criteria for application in certain positions may be based on academic standing, year level, and disciplinary record, she expresses.
“Students can apply for positions if they meet the criteria for each. Appointment will be done by an administrative council. This is to ensure that representatives of the student body are competent and motivated. This also removes the whole aspect of campaigning, which takes up a lot of time from students,” De Vera elaborates.
Furthermore, De Vera claims that the modified process makes selection of officers less subjective than the voting procedure done by students. Amidst concerns that this may be undemocratic, she counters that students may have the right to file a veto on applications, as long as they have legitimate grounds for doing so.
Functions and effectiveness questioned
DLSU President and Chancellor Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC clarifies that the decision was made in good faith. “We are not trying to remove student representation. Everything we do, we believe it is for the betterment and greater good of the student population,” he declares. “What we are trying to do is provide an even better and more efficient form of student governance that is free from unnecessary competition and bureaucracy.”
De Vera explains that the decision was the result of a long deliberation among members of the administration. “We recognize and understand that students need representation. Every decision that we make as administrators, we consult the students and the USG. However, after many years, we began to notice that the USG does not serve its purpose efficiently,” she posits.
Furthermore, De Vera argues that many relevant functions of the USG are already exercised by other sectors of organization. “We noticed that many of the USG’s roles and functions can be subsumed by other offices,” she explains, citing for instance that policies and advocacies can be handled by members of the CSO and partner organizations. Likewise, she contends that issues regarding campus rules can also be communicated and lobbied through such groups.
“We feel that the USG structure is no longer necessary and that a student council with the aforementioned representatives would be better,” is De Vera’s curt explanation.
She also clarifies that issues within the USG this year also prompted the finalization of the decision to abolish the body. These issues include the recent failure of the plebiscite, the underwhelming results of the GE, the impeachment of numerous elected officers, the ineligibility of numerous candidates, and the alleged cases of electioneering during the voting proceedings.
Vice President of Administration Edwin Santiago stresses that the recent events are telltale signs that immediate actions must be taken. “Let’s be honest: do students even consider what they are voting for? Elections failed. Plebiscite failed. No one even knows what the USG does exactly that other offices in the school cannot do,” he explains.
He also adds that some of the student government’s functions are no longer as relevant as before, furthering that “there must be a better way to represent students.”
All too soon
“I feel that many of the actions of the USG this year have been inefficient and unconstitutional,” shares Marc Morales, an independent candidate running for USG Vice President for Internal Affairs. “While I was hoping that the COMELEC and Legislative branch would answer for their mistakes, I did not expect such a large scale action involving abolishment,” he continues.
Incumbent USG Vice President for Internal Affairs Pram Menghrajani agrees that there have been some shortcomings in the USG this year but stresses that replacing it would not solve the problem. She argues, “In fact, it will only cause more confusion within the student body if we make another shift considering the USG has only been around for five years.” She also remarks that the proposed council will only constrict the students’ ability to decide on who should represent them and make it more difficult to raise concerns to the administration.
Chief Legislator Patrick Kahn, meanwhile, believes that the move made by the administration was too sudden and done without proper consultation with the USG. “As the USG, we should have had a say in the matter not just as the affected party but also as the representatives of the student body,” he describes.
While USG President Carlo Inocencio is quick to admit that the USG should undergo reforms, citing the much needed plebiscite last term as an example, he maintains that abolishment is unnecessary. “We always knew that the USG needed reforms. This is why we push for student activism and participation every year. I believe reforms are what is needed, not abolishment,” he stresses.
Meanwhile, Kahn shares that the USG embodies the rights and privileges of the students. As such, it should not be abolished, he states. “Abolishing it removes the democratic integrity of the student body and hampers the connection between the students and the administration. It is thus in our best interests that we continue lobbying for proper student representation,” he continues.
In response to the administration’s decision, the USG has already filed a petition contending the verdict, though an official response from the administration is still pending.
Attached to the petition was a survey of 1,538 students regarding their opinion on whether or not the USG should be retained, with 74 percent of the respondents agreeing that the USG should not be removed. On the other hand, the survey results also reflect that 71 percent of the respondents believe that the recent events do not have a negative effect on their perception of the student government.
“I hope the students would take part in this urgent matter,” Inocencio concludes.