Earlier this week, a temporary restraining order (TRO) was imposed on the Special Elections (SE) following a complaint that called to light the unconstitutionality of a provision in the SE Code passed in September.
The SE — which is held in light of the failure of the General Elections last March and set to remedy the resulting lack of student representation in the current University Student Government (USG) at the same time as what would have normally been a Freshmen Election — was temporarily suspended for a day, after a petition to nullify the SE Code was filed by Cedric Labasan. Later that evening, the Judiciary issued a Status Quo Ante in light of the official response filed by the Legislative Assembly (LA), subsequently lifting the TRO to allow election-related activities to resume.
Following last Friday’s HARAPAN 2015 and SE Miting de Avance is another turn of events to rock the stability of this year’s SE. Yesterday evening, news broke out about an impeachment case filed against incumbent Executive Treasurer Rupert Laurel and incumbent Vice President for External Affairs Mae Mae Gonzales. The report is made more stirring by the fact that the latter is currently running for the position of USG President under Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon).
Since the report was published, an outpouring of anti-Santugon statements have made it on social media, as both defendants come from the said political party. The same reaction was garnered earlier this week when another USG presidential candidate, Pram Menghrajani, was alluded to have had a hand in the complaint filed by Labasan, who had served as Menghrajani’s Chief of Staff in the Office of the President before Menghrajani filed a leave of absence in light of her candidacy.
On October 13, undergraduate student Norben Sagun Jr. sent a comprehensive complaint letter to the USG Judiciary detailing his experience with Laurel and Gonzales. Sagun won first place in the Lasallian Exchange Scholarship Grant (LESG), a project by the Office of Executive Treasurer (OTREAS) and the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA), headed by Laurel and Gonzales, respectively.
Sagun detailed how, since March this year, he has been following up with Laurel regarding his grant money. Sagun received P15,000, half of the grant, on May 11. In the months that followed, because he was unable to receive the other half of his grant, Sagun approached various USG officers including Zed Laqui and was also contacted by Gonzales. In an attempt to formalize his complaint, Sagun sent a demand letter on October 7 in order to receive the remaining half of his grant. Unable to receive his balance, on October 13, he sent his complaint letter to the USG Judiciary.
As previously reported in Ang Pahayagang Plaridel, the OVPEA has refused to comment on the issue. According to an official statement of the OVPEA released on October 17, Gonzales politely declined to answer any further questions when pressed by student media at the suggestion of her legal counsel. Moreover, following sub judice, the OVPEA had “chosen not to discuss the matter altogether out of respect and courtesy for the USG Judiciary.”
The statement also clarified that there was information that the article failed to reflect. According to the statement, Gonzales offered her personal money to Sagun “out of sympathy and [recognition] of the delay in the process.” The statement also mentioned that the respondents had already offered Sagun the total balance, which Sagun consistently rejected “with the intention of filing a case [to] the Judiciary.”
On October 15, Vice Dean of Student Affairs Amelia Galang received P15,000 from Laurel for safekeeping given Sagun’s non-receipt of the balance. On the same day, Gonzales submitted her Manifestation and Urgent Motion to Dismiss Charges.
In his complaint letter, Sagun expressed that he was not contacted by the USG officers involved prior to the deadline (October 9 at noon) set in the initial demand letter sent by Sagun. However, in her Manifestation submitted on October 15, Gonzales stated that she did not receive the said demand letter, and that she had sent a text message to Sagun at 11:48 am on the day of the deadline, thus fulfilling the remaining obligation to Sagun.
Further, Sagun brought up his concern that a loan for Boto Lasalyano, Sulong Pilipino (BLSP) had been “prioritized” over his outstanding balance when “LESG had been prepared and carried out earlier than BLSP.” In response to this statement, Gonzales told The LaSallian that she is not in the position to answer queries regarding the allocation of fund requests of the OTREAS.
The DLSU Judiciary has declined to comment on the impeachment case’s implications on Gonzales in the SE before the pre-hearing scheduled for Wednesday, October 21. “Ms. Gonzales (and Mr. Laurel) are innocent until proven guilty,” read the official response sent by the Judiciary. “Until we know the full story, we cannot decide on the implications of this case on the Special Elections.”
The Judiciary also states that the pre-hearing, scheduled to be held at the USG Conference Room at 6 pm on October 21, is open to all. “The student media and other concerned students and persons may attend.”
On the other hand, Menghrajani mentioned in an interview with The LaSallian that any student who questions the validity of codes and provisions has the right to do so. “I respect the rights of the students to file for petitions, to request for a clarification, or to [request for] a certain prayer to be answered by the Judiciary,” she expressed, despite the disruption in the SE and the negative implications that the TRO have had on her character.
“I shouldn’t impinge on their right to file such petitions, but I’m also sad that [there is] the assumption that I was involved, because I didn’t really have anything to do with it. [Labasan] was filing as a concerned student, and this was something that I respect,” she explained.
The Judiciary has since then released their report on the judgements, advisory opinions, and orders following the Judicial Review Regarding the Urgent Motion for Reconsideration and Lifting of the Temporary Restraining Order dated October 12, 2015. In the report, the disputed provision in the SE code has been nullified.
“Upon the deliberation of the Judiciary,” the report reads, “it is hereby concluded that in the implementation of the law, the spirit and purpose rather than the letter of the law should be accorded greater significance.”
A democratic system
According to Menghrajani, the fact that regular students can file complaints against different facets of the USG is “proof that the democratic system is working.”
Aside from the allegations of mudslinging from concerned parties in this year’s SE in relation to last week’s events, another biting concern is the future of the USG itself. Coming off a disastrously low turnout in last March’s GE, with just 35.90 percent of the student body voting, the effect of all these disruptions on whether or not students vote in the SE during the actual voting period next week is a pressing issue.
Louie Montemar, a professor from the Political Science Department, points to how political parties relate with the general student body as one of the possible causes of low student involvement in elections. He asks, “What is so meaningful if all the students hear or see about these two parties is political competition?”