Candidates for this year’s University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE) had the chance to share their stances regarding various national and University issues in Harapan: General Elections Debate, last March 13 at the William Shaw Little Theater.
The event was organized by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in partnership with Ang Pahayagang Plaridel, and was judged by Razhev Requejo, Octo Finalist of Ateneo IV and La Salle’s current second top judge in the debate setting.
Three rounds of discourse
The first round of debate was between the candidates for Executive Treasurer, namely Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista’s (Tapat) Tristan Felipe and independent candidate Pat Sario. It centered around the question of whether or not religious institutions should continue to enjoy freedom from taxation.
Sario disagreed with the idea and argued that some of the funds of religious institutions are being spent on income-generating assets that do not contribute to the welfare of the community. On the contrary, Felipe argued that since religious institutions do not encourage unhealthy lifestyles and because they provide civic services that benefit the public, they must remain exempted from tax.
The second round was between the Vice President for Internal Affairs candidates, namely Tapat’s Adrienne Cacho and independent candidate Marc Morales. The question raised was whether or not the University Student Government (USG) would have been better off if the plebiscite had succeeded. Both candidates answered affirmatively, pointing out to a call for a stronger and centralized USG.
Morales spoke about simplifying the USG structure and that it would result to a stronger identity, more accountability, and the removal of redundant positions. Cacho then stated the USG failed to have a proper transition from an activity-based Student Council to what should have been more of a representation-based body. She explained that there is a need for the USG to refocus on representing the students instead of being too activity-based.
The last round of debate involved three candidates: Tapat’s candidate Kitkat Cuenca running for Executive Secretary, independent candidate Pram Menghrajani running for USG President, and independent candidate Jon Ridge Ong running for Vice President of External Affairs. It centered on how they would address the issue of student apathy.
Ong’s stance was that the root cause of apathy is not the students, but rather the USG’s exclusion of the students from projects and issues. He argued that internal change is needed in the USG, and that it should learn to communicate information in a way that is relevant, simple and appealing for students. He cited how Legislative Assembly (LA) resolutions are not presented in a manner that students would effectively receive.
Cuenca argued that apathy is merely a symptom of other problems, which may include a lack of proper information dissemination or students simply being unable to attend projects or events. She further argued that information must not only reach students, but also convince them of its relevance. She cited the plebiscite failure as an illustration of this idea.
Menghrajani stated that the USG must promote accessibility, foster engagement from students, and empower them to take part in the USG. She said that students must be given the opportunity to speak with the USG through various platforms, and that the USG should also communicate constantly with students. She also cited the large number of students in the university as a source of solutions in the university.
Open forum and results
Several students came up to voice out various concerns, including the recent disqualification of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon’s (Santugon) slate from the GE, the benefits and harms of independence from Student Affairs, how candidates create platforms, how candidates respond when they cannot keep promises due to unforeseen circumstances, battling student apathy, and the possibility that Santugon’s petition would be approved.
On combatting student apathy, Menghrajani stated that she wanted to tap on the “convention of leaders” or a body consisting of leaders from different University organizations.
Tapat claimed that student governance will help in battling apathy. “We have to have good student governance. We have to represent students properly, in order for them to see that what we are doing is for them,” said Cacho. She also mentioned about reforming the educational system. “For the educational system, it is not basically the curriculum. It’s everything that molds and equips the students in the university,” shared Cuenca on system reform.
Candidates also expressed their stand about Santugon’s petition regarding their violation of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Tapat said that it would be injustice for them if ever it is approved. Menghrajani’s stated that as a party that has operated for a long time and having a large base membership, they are expected to successfully meet the conditions and deadlines for candidacy.
“I will fight for what is right. I will fight for accountability and also impartiality because I feel that if we allow these things to happen, if we allow candidates to run even if they violated certain clauses of the MOA, that’s not right,” she declared.
Ong, on the other hand, said that “My stand for this also is for the strict implementation… The elections is actually the basic groundwork [and] lays the foundation for the following set of candidates. So if in this set, at the elections pa lang, we already have a hard time complying with rules we set upon ourselves, then it would just continue on.”
Winners of the debate were announced after the open forum, with Felipe, Cacho, and Menghrajani winning their respective rounds.