UniversityCandidates discuss pressing issues in Special Elections Harapan 2015
Candidates discuss pressing issues in Special Elections Harapan 2015

The University Student Government (USG) Commission on Elections (COMELEC), in partnership with the Judiciary, La Salle Debate Society (DebSoc), and Ang Pahayagang Plaridel, hosted HARAPAN: The Special Elections Debate yesterday, October 16, at the William Shaw Little Theater.

This year, the organizers decided to break away from the usual British Parliament Debate format and instead chose a format similar to that of the GOP presidential debate, with DebSoc President Jason Dizon and College of Business Magistrate JC Santos serving as judges.

College Assembly President Debate

Reigner Sanchez, running for College Assembly President (CAP) for the College of Education under the banner of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon), and Erielle Chua, running for CAP for the School of Economics under Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat), participated in the first debate.

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To begin, Dizon asked whether students with failures should still be eligible to receive Latin honors, considering that this is one of the University’s measures of excellence.

Chua stated that excellence shouldn’t be based on grades, but rather, on how one can apply the lessons learned in class. “The thing I want to implement, if ever given the chance, is that De La Salle University [should change its] educational system to value how [students] learn and how they can actually use what they learn rather than being afraid of failing,” said Chua.

On the other hand, Sanchez acknowledged that while there are different measures of excellence, Latin honors must be upheld. He chose to stand firm with the memorandum of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) regarding honors, but also emphasized the University’s role in a democratic nation to take stands on memoranda that go against Lasallian values.

Santos then asked the candidates about their opinions on the recently implemented ID policy on campus. Both candidates stated that they were against the said policy. Sanchez argued that it is redundant, considering the ID scanning system already in place in the University. On the other hand, Chua expressed her view that it as an unnecessary curtailment of the students’ freedom of expression and questioned whether the policy really provides security.

To close the first debate, the judges asked Sanchez and Chua about the relevance of the USG in student affairs, especially in light of the existence and activities of the Council of Student Organizations (CSO).

Chua explained that the USG stands for student representation and implementing advocacies, whereas the CSO focuses on the development of core competencies for future professions. She also pushed for Tapat’s platform of proper student representation that is inclusive and research-based.

Sanchez stated that each organization and office in the University has a specific role. He explained that USG officers can connect students to other opportunities. To avoid redundancies, he encouraged organizations to go back to the spirit of each organization, and introduced Santugon’s platform of renewed Lasallian governance.

Executive Treasurer Debate

Zed Laqui of Santugon and Tristan Felipe of Tapat, both running for the Executive Treasurer position, went head to head on the second round of the debate.

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The debate started off with Santos asking if the candidates agreed with the Judiciary’s decision to grant the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Special Elections, which led to the suspension of all election-related activities last Tuesday, October 13.

Felipe answered by saying that he personally agreed with the decision of the Judiciary granting the TRO on the Special Elections. He expressed that he believes that the sole body in this University that is in charge of interpreting the constitution and deciding whether all laws and activities are in line with it, is the Judiciary. “One of the due [processes] that we have to follow is the implementation of the [TRO] in the cases where [the Judiciary needs] to decide. Personally, I believe that if there is no decision yet they should have not removed the temporary restraining order because they need to finish the decision first before they resume the elections,” he argued.

Laqui defended the political parties by saying, “The parties did nothing wrong, but rather it was the right of the student to clarify the article regarding the Special Elections and it is the right of the Judiciary to hold the elections for one day, and also the campaigns resumed the day after.”

Dizon proceeded to ask the candidates what they would do as Executive Treasurer in ensuring the financial transparency, accountability, and efficiency of the USG.

One of Laqui’s initiatives is to reassess the Office of the Executive Treasurer. For him, it is a way for the USG to improve its efficiency, and a way to be more transparent to the students. He also explained that the current debt that the USG has is due to student loans. He explained, “As a Santugon leader, I wouldn’t want to stop this service for the students because it is an important service for the students here in DLSU.” As part of his platform, he stated that he would collaborate with different organizations and the students to erase the current debt of the USG.

On the other hand, Felipe mentioned that the exact words in the question given was his platform as a treasurer. As for the current debt of the USG, he expressed his belief that it is a shared duty of the officers in position. “The USG is being transparent to the students not just because [the students] need to see what the government is doing, but because they have to understand what the government is doing,” he reasoned.

Felipe further explained, “One of the platforms of [Tapat] is to place a system, to place resolutions, to place distance in the government, to put the officers accountable, and aim for transparency even if we are not the presiding officers in the position.” He assured the audience that the USG will be held accountable for its actions by guaranteeing that the system he will be implementing will give the students the benefit of the doubt.

Presidential Debate

Perhaps the most anticipated round in yesterday’s event was the presidential round, where Santugon’s Mae Mae Gonzales, Tapat’s Meg Buensalido, and independent candidate Pram Menghrajani, all running for the USG presidency, were put in the spotlight.

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Starting off the debate, Santos asked the candidates how the student body can be assured that they get the representation they deserve, given that the administration has been making decisions without having consultations.

Menghrajani was the first to answer, stating that the  USG has experienced the said scenario twice already in light of the new ID policy and the new parking arrangement. Menghrajani explained that the USG has already conversed with the admin persons-in-charge, who told them that the committees that implemented the said policies lack student representatives. Menghrajani stated that the USG President should be able to converse with the administration and lobby for student representation.

Meanwhile, Gonzales argued that as leaders, it is a constant challenge to make the other sectors of the University understand that the students are the most important stakeholders in the University. She claimed, “As President, I want […] to make sure that all our approaches are student-focused.” She also argued that when solutions are given by the administration, it must be ensured that these solutions are relevant and directly answer the needs of the students.

Buensalido emphasized that it is because of these issues that there is a need to strengthen not just the relevance of the USG, but also its flexibility. She claimed, “Maybe it’s not just the students who [are] looking for a USG. Maybe the administration is also looking for a USG.” She then argued that we had to challenge the system and pushed for stronger student representation.

The judges also asked the candidates if they think that the USG will be better off completely independent from the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE).

Menghrajani argued that the USG is autonomous from the SLIFE as well as the Office of Student Affairs (OSA). According to her, the only time that [the USG] processes matters with the two offices is when the USG handles external linkages, especially when it comes to corporate sponsorships and outside activities. However, she stated that the two offices are there because the USG needs supervision from the administration.

Gonzales reasoned that the USG is currently the autonomous student representative body in the University. She cited that because of this autonomy, the USG is able to think and operate properly for the sole purpose of representing the students. “[SLIFE] is there not to hinder student participation, not to hinder our ideas and what we want to do for the students. It is there to simply guide us,” she stated.

Buensalido contended that since students are groomed to be critical thinkers, they should be held accountable for their actions.

In light of the failure of the General Elections earlier this year, the judges asked the candidates who or what is to blame for the disinterest of the students in the USG. Menghrajani pointed out that there was political fatigue, and that the USG was straying away from its purpose by making projects instead of programs. Gonzales, on the other hand, stressed that the USG could have not given the students answers for what they wanted. She related this to how her party, Santugon, was unable to field any candidates in the last GE. Meanwhile, for Buensalido, it is important to educate the students on the importance of the USG and to strengthen student representation.

The judges also asked the candidates about the first thing they will do and the changes that they will bring if they are elected as president. Menghrajani stressed the need to instill in the USG officers the importance of giving out of contact information to be accessible and accountable to students. Gonzales, meanwhile, emphasized policy responsiveness. She called for a student government that is involved and accountable to further improve on what they do.

On the other hand, Buensalido was asked about whether or not the USG should be abolished. She stated that she was against abolishing the USG because the old structure of the body, in the form of the Student Council, did not embody clear student representation.

Open Forum

While the judges were deliberating, the audience was given the opportunity to ask the three presidential candidates their questions. The issues raised in the forum concerned the administration, the relevance of elections, enlistment, and the commercialization of the University.

Both Menghrajani and Gonzales stated that student representation in the Academics Council is what they will initially push for with the administration. On the other hand, Buensalido chose the ID policy.

On strengthening the relevance of elections, Menghrajani and Buensalido explained that it can be done through their room-to-room campaigns and platforms. However, Menghrajani also included collaboration with other organizations as a solution to the problem. Gonzales stated that providing the students with proper representative candidates should help improve the voter turnout in this election.

All candidates acknowledged that the issue on enlistment must be addressed. Menghrajani and Gonzales proposed similar solutions in creating discourse and pushing for multi-sectoral cooperation to identify the problems and solve them. Buensalido introduced Tapat’s platform for course projections in order for the administration to see which classes the students plan on taking for the succeeding terms.

Lastly, on the topic of the commercialization of the University, Menghrajani and Gonzales both showed support for it since part of the profits go to Lasallian scholarships. However, Menghrajani stressed that current consultations regarding the entrance of commercial institutions into the University should happen. On the other hand, Buensalido stated her belief that the spaces where commercial stores are set up in the University could be utilized to benefit the students in other means.

After the open forum, the judges announced and awarded the winners for each round. Santugon’s Sanchez, Tapat’s Felipe, and Menghrajani won in their respective debate rounds.