About Forty years ago martial law was declared; it purged student councils all over the country. For ten years, the law silenced the opinions and concerns of the students until it’s lifting in 1983.
The Philippine Constitution recognizes the youth’s vital role in nation building and the importance of their involvement in public and civic affairs. In line with this, the Magna Carta of Students, which was enacted in 2009, recognizes and protects the rights and welfare of students.
A provision from the Magna Carta states that in every school, there shall be an autonomous and central student governing body staffed by officers that are elected annually.
Mechanism for student representation
Art. 3 Sec. 4 of the University Student Government (USG) Constitution states, “The USG shall be at the forefront of the students’ struggle for their rights and welfare.” Furthermore, Sec. 9 stresses the right of every student to “proper representation and participation in all policy-making bodies inside the University”.
Historically, the purpose of student governing bodies is to represent students both within the institution and externally and to uphold their welfare.
USG President Cabe Aquino shares that the existence of the USG is necessary for it provides checks and balances on the decisions of the administration. Likewise, the USG is responsible for protecting students’ rights by raising student concerns to administrators.
USG officers sit in various committees that address different concerns such as those pertaining to institutional facilities, security, enrollment and tuition fee increases. They serve as the student representatives in committees that are staffed by the prevailing sectors of the University. Such committees include the Student Handbook Revisions Committee, Enrollment Committee, Honors and Awards Committee, and Multi-Sectoral Committee on Budget, among others.
“It (the USG) may be essential in ways that students may not see and yet they are (still) affected by this entity,” Aquino says.
Representing the students effectively
One of the primary ways by which the USG cultivates representation is through continued consultation with the students.
The USG achieves this through surveys. This is the current strategy of the USG to research for its undertakings, specifically for the student handbook revisions.
Lance German (II, MKT) observes that the effort of the USG to put the students’ opinions across is sufficient as evident in the presence of surveys posted in social networking sites.
Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) President Roby Camagong, however, expresses his discontent towards USG’s representation of the students. He believes, for instance, that the USG did not take a firm stand against the dress code policy in the ongoing student handbook revisions.
Overlapping, unnecessary duties?
The USG has duties and roles that range from representing students to the administration, to organizing activities and creating programs geared towards the development of students.
There are also offices that perform similar functions within the University. The Council of Student Organizations (CSO) and the 39 accredited organizations under the said body provide activities that cater to the needs of the students.
The Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA), on the other hand, initiates socio-civic programs similar to some of the projects of the USG.
Robert Hechanova, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business (RVR-COB) president, defends that while organizations focus on academic related programs, the USG deals with empowering the students.
Louie Montemar from the Political Science Deparment furthers that although other offices and bodies have the power to perform some of the functions of the USG, they cannot replace the USG’s mandate of student representation. The CSO, for instance, he explains, only caters to the members of organizations, not the general student population.
Optional but imperative
In some countries, there are universities that do not have student-governing bodies such as the Lucknow University in India and University of Karachi in Pakistan. Student governments do not exist in the said universities because fear that organizing one would only hamper the operations of their institution. Deprivation of formal student representation in the said universities caused violent reactions from students.
Montemar believes that student governments offer an educative value to students that may ultimately contribute to their holistic development. “These student governments or student councils can serve as organizations where leadership is practiced and exercised and this can be seen, therefore, as a means in which we teach our students responsibility,” he explains.