university

USG: What difference did it make?

Proponents of the University Student Government (USG) promised that this new form of government, compared with the old Student Council (SC) will enable student leaders to be better at what they do. Plebiscites, on which form of government DLSU should use, were held. Votes were cast. The USG won. The LaSallian takes a look if the USG’s proponents were right.

First time around: USG in theory, in practice

The change in form of government was adopted to make student leaders’ efforts on University issues and national issues more effective and efficient. The different offices under the elected student officials also underwent role reassignments to match the changes that came with the USG structure.

This more streamlined USG arrangement was put to the test last term as the new government concentrated on improving the delivery of school services. “One of our biggest accomplishments [last term] is the resolution of the problematic grade consultation day,” boasts USG President Lorenz de Castro.

The USG, in coordination with the Information Technology Services (ITS), provided a grade viewing schedule to prevent the MyLasalle system from crashing during the eve of Grade Consultation Day.

Other breakthroughs of the USG include the “Zero Styro Policy” implementation in the food kiosks in Agno, the use of scratch papers in the photocopy machines around the campus, and the collection of over P200,000 for the Achiever Scholar program of the Office of the Vice President for Internals.

The new government also reformed its policies on activity processing. “We are more stringent with activity approval; there are more requirements now. We also have more financial systems set in place to make sure that all financial matters are accounted for,” de Castro explains.

The USG also concentrated more on attaching relevant advocacies in its activities.

Notwithstanding such promising developments in the USG during the first term, the student government already faced challenges early in the school year. The series of qualifications and disqualifications during the Freshmen Election (FE) delayed the activity planning of the batch and other USG units.

The LA and Judiciary were also dragged in the issue when the former issued supplementary provisions in the Election Code, which were prejudicial to one of the political parties.

Last month’s issue of The Lasallian also reported that the Judiciary still has unfilled magistrate seats in the College of Education (CED), College of Science (COS) and College of Computer Studies (CCS).

Before the first term ended Chief Magistrate and College of Liberal Arts Magistrate Jison Golez even filed for resignation after receiving an academic scholarship from Japan.

College of Engineering (COE) Magistrate Kevin Tuason admits that the Judiciary is struggling because the branch lacks the manpower and budget to operate in its optimum. He laments the difficulty of working with only eight counsel officers, a number that is insufficient for a student government arm and limited funding given that it’s only their first year in office.

The Judiciary requested for a P30,000 budget; the USG Office of the Treasurer granted them only P4,000, a far cry from the budget they requested. Meetings regarding this matter are in progress.

Tuason still hopes for the best. He is positive that the magistrates will be completed within the year. The replacement of Golez as Chief Magistrate is already underway.

Vox populi

Despite the USG’s own positive report on their performance, there are students still cannot feel the supposed changes brought by the new form of government. The Lasallian conducted an informal USG assessment survey on 180 students across all colleges.

While many students associate USG activities to fun, youth empowerment, leadership skills development, a significant number of Lasallians still do not know what the USG is for.

Mirella Cruz (III-MMG) expresses that the USG must surpass the standards set by the SC by coming up with new projects, which will grab the attention of the students. It is also crucial that the USG creates a feedback function to provide the students an alternative form of check and balance.

“It [feedback function] will maintain the same enthusiasm they made us feel during the election season. It will also set them apart from the previous system because as of the moment, I think most students believe that the USG is just the new name of the old system,” Cruz explains.

“I hope they pay attention to the little details that may make a big difference in the student government,” adds Ralph Bragancia, outer core president of Iisang Tugon Sa Tawag Ng Panahon (Santugon).

“This [strict enforcement of constitution provisions] will help them correct loopholes that they will find in the constitution rather than just working around them,” he furthers.

Nico Sevilla (IV-MMG) believes that the USG should not limit its activities to information campaigns and seminars. It is also vital that they come up with more opportunities where Lasallians can participate in national issues.

He cites how earlier this year, the Presidential Youth Forum was a success in helping Lasallians get more involved in the May National Election. “Projects like these empower the student body and therefore, give a deeper meaning to student governance,” Sevilla comments.

Anton Valencia, Vice President for Internals of Tapat agreed with Sevilla’s suggestion of getting the students to be more active in nation building. For Valencia, the elected officers must remember that one of the reasons the change from SC to USG was made was to get Lasallians become more active in matters outside DLSU.

Balancing act

The students’ feedback on the first term performance of the USG is not the only form of assessment the government can refer to.

A self-evaluation function of the USG was established to aid the elected and appointed officials improve their performances. According to de Castro, the EB has the Unit Monitoring Board (UMB) that is supposed evaluate the performance of both batch and college governments.

The EB is then monitored by the other branches of the USG such as the LA and the Judiciary. It is the USG watching out for other USG units.

According to Nadine Estrella, UMB Vice President for Research and Development, the UMB hasn’t performed its ideal process of evaluation this term since they lacked the time to do it. She shares that the USG aims to make the UMB part of the institution such as how the Activity Monitoring Team (AMT) of the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) operate, which is more consistent.

Estrella admits that the members of the UMB should not be affiliated with any USG units to uphold fair evaluation. She also mentioned that the experience of the CSO with its AMT is different from the planned institutionalization of the UMB.

“The CSO organizations have the incentive of producing quality activities since there will be corresponding sanctions once the AMT finds inconsistencies in their activities; both the organization and the executive board members will be penalized. On the other hand, USG elected officials have the tendency to be lax since their term in a specific office only last a year,” Estrella observes.

COE Magistrate Tuason conveys that in order for the Judiciary to fulfill its duties, they need to evaluate the different units, not only the EB. A clear separation of power between the Judiciary and the UMT should be enforced, according to Tuason, to avoid any miscommunication between the involved parties.

De Castro agrees that the USG still lacks methods of check and balance. Given that 68 out of the 69 elected officials come from the political party Santugon, “If the USG makes one mistake, then it is immediately tied to the political party,” de Castro worries.

The lack of self-critique despite the establishment of the UMB is an effect of a one-party slate. It poses a temptation for the USG to remain satisfied with its current efforts and activity execution. “The hardest issue [part] is getting satisfied… the moment that we say that we are satisfied, then we have fallen [into the trap of self absorption],” de Castro adds.

All the students who took part in the assessment survey believe that the USG was able to represent them well last term, but at least one fourth noted that they still aren’t satisfied with the performance of the USG.

The USG, however, remains optimistic. “We would like to believe that the students feel the USG. Some people may say the word ‘feel’ is shallow, but really, if we make a difference to even just one student, then that itself is a milestone,” de Castro insists.

In Comparison: UP and Ateneo [sidebar]

DLSU can learn from other top universities like University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

The sheer size of the UP Diliman campus forces their University Student Council (USC) to adopt a federal type of government, with the USC chairperson overseeing and facilitating the different autonomous college governments. The USC also has representatives from UP’s five graduate schools.

“As of now, we are very active in our budget cut campaign. We lobby in the Senate and in the Congress [House of Representatives] to clinch support from the elected officials. We also do protest actions during appropriation hearings,” USC Vice Chair Fermina Agudo relates their most pressing concern.

Diliman’s USC receives favorable feedback regarding their performance because of their transparency. Their financial statements are externally audited each year to prevent misappropriation of funds.

Meanwhile, Ateneo’s Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola (Sanggu) is centralized and is very similar to DLSU’s USG. Their highest executive body is the Central Board presided over by a chairperson, who monitors the different school boards and fulfills legislative functions such as policy formation. Disputes and concerns are adjudicated by a Student Judicial Council.

Pramela Mengrahjani, an ADMU Political Science major, shares that the Sanggu is very transparent. “Pinupublish nila yung expenses nila. Atsaka literally transparent. Open sa lahat ang Sanggu room at may bintana ang bawat sulok [They publish all of their expenses. It’s literally transparent. The Sanggu room is open to all, and every wall has a window].”

What Mengrahjani appreciates the most with the Sanggu is that all the Central Board meetings are open for all students to attend and participate in. “’Yun yung rason kung bakit alam namin ang lahat. Hindi nahihiyang mag-share yung officers [It’s the reason we know everything. The officers don’t limit what they tell us.],” she concludes.