Under the principles of democracy, the decision whether to accept or reject amendments are made through the judgment of the people who express their sides by either voting for or against the matter in what is called plebiscite.
In similar fashion, this academic year, the University Student Government (USG) has lined up amendments and is in the process of preparing and planning a plebiscite wherein DLSU undergraduate students will be given the opportunity to vote for or against proposed revisions in the USG Constitution.
Avoiding the General Elections
The last plebiscite, in which the Constitution change from Student Council (SC) to USG was ratified, was held in the third term of Academic Year (AY) 2008-2009, and was conducted at the same time as the General Elections (GE).
To avoid the confusion that can be brought about by such a set-up and to allow students to focus only on the proposed amendments, the heads of the three different USG branches – USG President Migi Moreno, Chief Legislator Wendy Penafiel, and Chief Magistrate Rem Serrano – are aiming to have it at either the end of the second term, or at most beginning of the third term of this academic year.
Moreno tells that amendments are still to be finalized and preparations for the plebiscite have yet to begin, but emphasizes the need to avoid it coinciding with GE, “That is something we wouldn’t want for the sole reason that it can be misused and misinterpreted as a form on campaigning, similar to what happened the last time that there was a plebiscite.” He furthers that the separation will allow the students to get to know more about the proposed amendments and focus only on these, for them to make informed decisions in the plebiscite.
Serrano notes that because the plebiscite is in essence an election, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) will also be taking charge of many administrative tasks, and adds, “We also don’t want to put too much stress on COMELEC, since they will also be the ones handling the General Elections.”
In order for students to differentiate the plebiscite from elections, Moreno stresses the importance of conducting educational campaigns to make students aware of the changes they will be voting for or against.
“[We need to] impart to the students the importance of why we are doing these things… [and] the importance of these changes we are proposing,” he says.
These campaigns will take place as soon as plans for the plebiscite are set in motion, and will mostly come in the form of Room-to-Room (RTR) sessions. The USG will also be conducting educational campaigns in the Canlubang campus.
Meeting a consensus
In order for the USG Constitution to be ratified and immediately take effect the following academic year, at least 50 percent of the undergraduate student population must vote in the plebiscite and garner the majority within the votes. If it fails to reach the minimum participation and or a majority vote, no changes will be made to the constitution.
The Constitution is open for revision every third year as stated in the Article XXVI Section 3, “No amendment or revision of this Constitution shall be authorized within three years following the ratification of this Constitution.”
The plebiscite in 2009 allowed students to vote for or against the adaptation of the then new form of student government, the USG. With the propositions reaching a majority vote, the Constitution was ratified accordingly and changes were to take place immediately. However, the following academic year saw no change in the form of government, and it was in AY 2010-2011 that the USG system was first implemented under Lorenz De Castro.
In AY 2011-2012, three years after its ratification, the revision of the Constitution was again opened. During this time, however, the USG was still adjusting to structural and operational changes from the previous form of government and was alleged not to have met a consensus on all the necessary steps for a plebiscite.
Another attempt to pass amendments to the Constitution was made in AY 2012-2013. Due to confusion and certain misunderstandings, the USG held the plebiscite amongst themselves, but the votes were not enough to ratify the constitution. The Judiciary also declared the result nonetheless void after concluding via deliberations that votes in the plebiscite should come from the undergraduate students and not solely from USG officers.
This pushed the plebiscite to the current academic year, and the amended Constitution, if ratified, is to take immediate effect in AY 2014-2015.
REFOCUS and restructuring
Beginning in his campaign, Moreno has been emphasizing and pushing for the need to “re-identify the USG”, believing that representation of the students should not be identified only with projects and events. Should the proposed amendments be ratified, the changes in the Constitution may significantly affect the way the USG functions as it may include a resolution on the major restructuring of the USG, which is in line with Moreno’s platform REFOCUS.
The USG currently has over 50 functioning units, and the proposed amendments will cut this down to nearly half. Moreno believes that in its current structure, the USG offices are fragmented and this renders the USG unable to maximize and smoothen the operations in student representation. “If I can make an analogy, it’s like the offices are different organizations trying to function as one big organization. That’s one of the things we’re trying to address,” he says.
The aforementioned restructuring is set to be discussed by the Legislative Assembly (LA) representatives on their floor before it can be included in the list of amendments up for ratification.
The LaSallian will be pursuing this story as it continues. Discussions on the amendments will be ongoing for the remaining LA sessions of the 2nd term. Students may consult with their batch LA on the developments of the plebiscite, or sit in during the LA sessions held every Friday at 2:30 pm.
The soft copies of documents pertinent to the plebiscite can be accessed through these links: