Back in 2003, then Student Council (SC) President Saint Anthony Tiu drafted a proposal that would reorganize the SC into a system with three branches—the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary—patterned after the Philippine government. It was this idea that eventually gave birth to the USG.
Taking up the mantle 17 years after its conception, incumbent USG President Lance Dela Cruz repeatedly expressed his intent to steer the USG “back on track” in serving the student body. The three co-equal branches of the USG have not been exempt from various controversies in recent years. Dela Cruz held a press conference last February 14 at the Medrano Hall to announce the initial proposals for government shift, “Hindi na sapat ang constitutional amendment lamang; we need to shift to a parliamentary style of governance.”
(Constitutional amendments are not enough.)
Dela Cruz reveals that the focus of the plebiscite set to take place later this academic year will not be on reviewing constitutional amendments, but rather pushing for a revolutionary shift in how the USG represents its constituents.
All the President’s men
Dela Cruz discloses that his proposal to radically alter the structure of the student government has been planned from the start. “We didn’t want to disclose it so no one will copy it,” Dela Cruz reasons.
Dr. Antonio Contreras, a full professor from the University’s Political Science Department, pointed out in a previous interview that a presidential system can be paralyzed by its faulty system of checks and balances given its principle of separating the executive and legislative branches of the government. “For example, the legislative branch limits the powers of the President, but the latter can reject a heavily-debated bill passed by the former,” he said.
As such, the student government will no longer draw inspiration from the country’s existing style of governance. The proposed parliamentary shift intends to adopt the Westminster system as the new structure for the USG.
Under the proposed government, the elected officials will now face a formal opposition in the form of the Shadow EB composed of the losing candidates. “Basically, if you lose, you’ll be sent to the Shadow Realm,” explains Dela Cruz. Akin to the Shadow Cabinet of Westminster-style parliamentary governments, the Shadow EB will be tasked to formulate alternative policies, which alongside the EB’s policies would be reviewed and approved upon by the Legislative Assembly (LA). Dela Cruz adds, “They’ll be like our archnemesis.”
The powers of the executive and legislative branches will be intertwined as opposed to being held separate as a check against each other’s power. This, Dela Cruz hopes will force the EB and batch legislators to debate on policy on the same level field—an intended boost to the USG’s efficiency.
According to Contreras, a parliamentary government would redirect the focus to platforms and parties instead of famous personalities who do not practice effective governance.
Dela Cruz’s proposal similarly attempts to make another important change: the position of USG President would no longer be directly chosen by the student body, but will instead be elected by the LA from candidates presented by the two political parties. All other positions in the USG, however, will still be elected by the student body. This move is intended to shift out the influence of personality politics in the system.
A recent student survey reveals that up to 97 percent of students believed that personality politics had plagued past General Elections, with candidates overwhelmingly perceived to be “privileged”. 96 percent also believed that candidates from privileged backgrounds had a better edge in winning the popularity vote.
“As I have stood by before, elections should be for true student representation, platforms, and ideals, not of popularity and endorsements,” he justifies.
Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste adds that shifting toward a parliamentary government would strengthen the emphasis on the platforms advanced by the political parties as a whole, rather than personal advocacies of individual candidates. “My current ideals and beliefs as a [USG officer] have been shaped by my experience at Santugon,” he shares. In a parliamentary system, Leviste explains, most of the focus would shift toward the governing majority party’s policies, programs, and platforms.
Students remain conflicted about the proposed changes. Armany Baltazar (VIII, MEEMTE) expresses concern that the shift parallels national initiatives toward a parliamentary government. “Parang concerning lang that it’s similar to what the Philippine government has proposed before, pero there is no clear plan on how exactly to go about it,” he says.
Baltazar adds that the current system of the USG is already complicated on its own, lamenting, “Bakit dadagdagan pa ‘yung complexitywhen hindi pa nga fully nare-realize ‘yung dating form ng USG?”
(Why would they make the structure more complex when the old form of the USG has not yet been fully realized?)
Carlos Dalisay (III, AB-POM), on the other hand, lauds the initiative and expresses praise for the accomplishments of the student officers. “For me, this has been the best USG so far. Madaming programa. Sobrang paghanga lang talaga. I consider myself a Diehard University Government Supporter or DUGS,” he says.
(They initiated a lot of programs—amazeballs.)
Despite apprehensions on the path of the USG, Dela Cruz is confident that the experiment will be a success. “We are living up to the goal of the University. You see, even the USG is innovating. For the welfare of the students of course,” he assures.