In less than a month, De La Salle University will again be doused with the colors of yellow and orange. The University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE) season is just around the corner and the anticipation of knowing who the standard bearers of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) and Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat) has become a familiar feeling among Lasallians.
However, a trend has recently emerged as more room has been made for candidates who neither from Santugon or Tapat. The winning streak of independent candidates over the past two years has stunned the once partisan student body. Miguel Moreno won the USG presidency two years ago, while Pram Menghrajani is the incumbent vice president for internal affairs. Both were independent candidates when they ran for office.
In the eyes of the popular
Independent candidates are commonly regarded as those who run to divide the electorate. Their plight often leads to the diminution of votes for the popular.
On the contrary, Santugon President Pam Ramos remarks that independent candidates run for office because they believe in their own capabilities and that they have their own values and principles that do not align with those of Santugon’s or Tapat’s. Tapat President Robbie Arcadio also views independent candidates as “mature people with a political leaning that doesn’t coincide with either of the political parties in the University”.
Moreover, both recognize that all who run for office in the student government, whether as an independent candidate or backed by Santugon or Tapat, have a desire to serve the students of La Salle. Ramos adds that anyone who wants to become an elected USG officer has the right and equal opportunity to run for office. Arcadio also reveals that his political party looks at independent candidates as those who give a different perspective on student issues and politics.
For each their own
“The growing negative sentiments of the students in how the USG makes its presence felt inside the University, my advocacy for political maturity, and the lack of focus of the USG in terms of its primary functions as the representative body of the students are what motivated me to run (for the USG presidency),” Moreno shares.
What’s unique to Moreno’s experience was that he won against seasoned, popular elected officers. He won against Santugon’s Robert Hechanova, who was the incumbent vice president for internal affairs when he ran against Moreno, while Tapat’s Kaila Astorga was the college president of the School of Economics.
“My independent bid was geared towards making relevant changes in the culture of student politics in the University, which is very much related to the kind of changes needed in the culture of politics in the Philippine society. For these reasons, I firmly believe that it was high time for the USG to go back to its founding identity and purpose, to be reminded of how it is to be a student government, and to refocus on its roles and responsibilities,” Moreno reminds.
On the other hand, Menghrajani has always been just a volunteer for different USG units before getting elected as the incumbent vice president for internal affairs. She shares that she was never a member of any political party and adds, “Parties do not determine your success in a certain organization. It will help you, but then only to an extent. What will help you along the way and what will take you further is your quality of work, and also the integrity of your intent.”
No official announcement has been made yet, but there will supposedly be more Lasallians who will run as independent candidates in the upcoming GE. They have the same cause as that of Moreno’s and Menghrajani, and they would want to experience the same success story that happened to the two.
Not an easy task
Winning a seat in the USG as an independent candidate is a remarkable feat. “It’s very inspiring how these individuals are running without the support of an organization. It shows how passionate they are to serve their fellow students and their belief in themselves of showing their capabilities to others,” remarks Pauline Tomelden (II, BSFIN).
Similarly, Daniel Baylon (I, BSAEC) says, “I think it takes guts for them to run alone in the elections. People who usually do this are those with high confidence and those who have huge faith in themselves. For me, that is a good quality because in order for someone else to believe in you, you must believe in yourself first.”
On the contrary, Robert Jimenez (II, BSCHE) comments, “If I know that person (USG candidate) has a good background and history, I’ll vote for him. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t vote for an independent candidate because it gives me an impression that he or she is not capable to cooperate with a team and teamwork is vital in politics.”
Moreno echoes part of Jimenez’ impression, but he defends that it’s the other way around. Independent candidates are willing to work with other USG officers once elected, but because of partisanship, those who come from Santugon or Tapat make it difficult for them to ease into their functions.
“It was very difficult to effect change in the USG given a culture that is deeply rooted with its conventions and traditions dictated by a partisan kind of leadership,” Moreno quips. He adds that it was both frustrating and affirming that the only way to effect change in the USG is for it to live by its vision of a ONE USG, where elected officers work together regardless of whether they have a Santugon, a Tapat, or an independent kind of leadership.
Menghrajani relates that her main selling point when she was still in the election trail for her incumbent position was her experience as an internal affairs volunteer. “Back when I was running, I kept on telling people (USG elected and appointed officers) [that] I won’t have a difficult time if I get elected as their vice president because I’ve already worked with them in the past. During my term, I’ve proven that I can work with anyone, regardless of their [political party affiliation].”
Moment of truth
“The students were looking for a new brand of leadership that they believe can inspire and effect change in the culture of student politics especially in the USG,” Moreno answers when what he thought made him win against Hechanova and Astorga. He thinks that his platform had more bearing on his win rather than Lasallian’s growing indifference towards voting for either Santugon or Tapat candidates. His platform when he ran for USG president was leading all USG units to work together towards the direction of refocusing on its role as representatives of the students.
Now that more students are willing to challenge the status quo of electing officers fielded by Santugon or Tapat, the political parties are faced with the challenge of ensuring that they will still be able to field competitively in the coming elections. Tapat intends to stay true to their roots, according to Arcadio. “We believe that our principles and our brand of leadership has always been our strength,” he ends.
“Although the means may change every year and we show the students different campaign innovations, our strategy has always been about the kind of leaders we have. Santugon will always champion its leaders who have the values, principles and brand of leadership that we believe can best represent the students,” Ramos retorts.
The outcome of Moreno and Menghrajani’s bid in the executive board of the USG has become a wake-up call for both independent candidate hopefuls and the electorate. For candidates vying for a seat in the USG, their intentions must not be self-serving. Win or lose, they should still be motivated to serve Lasallians in whatever way they can – may it be through an elected or appointed USG position.
Lasallian voters should see to it that they vote responsibly as well. They have the duty to assess the platforms of the candidates critically. Their votes should not be motivated by what the majority has chosen or by the appeal to emotions underdog candidates usually establish.