This article is the first of a series.
Politics within the University has been a near-constant reality in the lives of DLSU students. At the same time, the political atmosphere at DLSU is also continuously changing. New events, situations, and issues—whether positive or negative—bring to light the various ways that campus politics at DLSU has evolved in the past years.
Recent events, however, have called into question the need for having such a system in the first place. After a failed plebiscite last year and a disastrously low turnout in the previous General Elections (GE), students have once again wondered whether or not the University Student Government (USG), as it currently is, should remain a part of college life.
The need for representation
One of the main principles of the USG, as stated in its constitution, is it is “founded on the principles of representation, participatory democracy, decentralization, collaboration, equitability, accountability, unity and cooperation and efficiency and efficacy in the delivery of services.”
Louie Montemar, a professor from the Political Science Department, expresses his belief that student organizations in general are a necessary part of student life. “They are institutions of democracy and [I] see them as institutions in schools that help educate our students and, when necessary, defend the rights and promote the welfare of students,” he describes.
Outgoing USG Vice President for External Affairs Mae Mae Gonzales agrees, stating that students have the right to an efficient and stable government that will represent them. Gonzales also explains that student governments must “deliver proper services and opportunities that would allow [students] to achieve an ideal experience during their stay in the University.”
The rise of independent candidates
For as long as the USG has existed, there have always been two political parties — Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) and Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) — and for as long as anyone can remember, these two groups have been the major forces in DLSU student politics. However, in 2013, something unusual happened. Independent candidate Migi Moreno ran for presidency against established partisan candidates. By the end of the elections, Moreno would go on to make history and win the highest seat in the student government.
In an interview with The LaSallian after his win, Moreno shared that he was initially scouted by both parties to run under their respective banners, albeit for different positions, but felt that running under one of them would limit him from making the significant changes he wanted to see in the University. As for the choice of running for USG President, he explained, “I did believe that the presidency is the key position that one should have to properly implement the change necessary to a system which is tainted by political colors. Although I have not been that visible to the students as a USG officer, I believe I am more than ready to be the USG President and offer a brand of leadership that is new and is needed in the University.”
Outgoing USG President Pram Menghrajani, who first ran for Vice President for Internal Affairs in the 2014 GE as an independent candidate, also won the said position against all odds.
“The job of an elected USG officer is to unite the people towards a common goal. Running with a party would impede the achievement of that goal [of] working together,” Menghrajani shared to The LaSallian during her campaign. Reinforced by Moreno’s win a year prior, she believed that as leaders, students “shouldn’t be partisan, but instead be a unifying force in harnessing the best talents the Lasallian community has.”
Montemar theorizes that the rise of independent candidates in recent elections may be a result of students looking for something new. “Young people always are on the lookout for something new,” he reasons. According to him, “Those who have been in campus for some time have seen that perhaps that these two groups have not been fully representing the interests of the students, or have simply not been effective and consistent with whatever they are saying—saying one thing, perhaps in the eyes of these students, then doing another thing [altogether].”
Too little or too much?
Perhaps the greatest challenge the USG has to face year in and year out—aside from the projects they execute and the advocacies they promote—is dealing with low student involvement, something that many leaders blame on student apathy. Student involvement, after all, serves as the backbone of student representation.
“Student apathy is all about students not seeing anything meaningful in political activities in campus. To people who do not want to get engaged, really that’s because they find no reason why they have to be engaged,” Montemar explains. “If the two parties only do things that are relevant and meaningful to the students, then maybe they would get students to act more,” he adds.
Montemar further believes that student apathy at DLSU may be a reflection of the parties’ lack of engagement with the students. He observes that in between elections, parties rarely do other advocacies to get students involved. “There is no continuation of whatever organizing they do around election time, so this apathy could simply be really a reflection of these parties’ weakness,” he notes.
Menghrajani, on the other hand, thinks otherwise, and posits that it is not the lack of the USG or parties’ publicity, but an excess of it, which lead students to experience “political fatigue.”
“[Students] are bombarded with political messages in various forms of media outside school and they feel that it has now encroached in their sanctuary—the University. Hence, they become unresponsive to anything that is perceived as traditional,” Menghrajani points out.
Meanwhile, Dean of Student Affairs Fritzie De Vera expresses that students are not apathetic. She cites that there are a great number of students who show active participation in activities outside the University. “We have a lot of potential student leaders who are involved in different ways of service, not just in the USG,” she adds.
Gonzales also maintains that students are not apathetic. She admits, however, that “it [will be] a challenge for the USG’s new set of officers to respond to the changing needs of the students, and to find the proper approach to help students address their needs.” She adds that on the part of the students, they must show initiative in maximizing the opportunities and services being made available to them through the efforts of the University as well as the USG. “This is vital in shaping the student experience every student has during his/her stay in the University,” she says.
Student apathy towards campus politics has been long debated. While some may have come to accept it as an unchanging fact, others believe that there are ways to lessen it effectively.
Montemar suggests that student political parties need to engage students more frequently throughout the year and not just around election period. “What is so meaningful if all that students hear or see about these two parties is political competition?” he poses.
Montemar further states that the challenge to educate the student body and to combat apathy must be done regularly. “It is really an annual challenge, a perennial challenge, for the parties to continuously sustain engagements with students,” he explains. “Every year, there would be a new batch that would come in. Therefore, every year, there is a need for these parties to explain to these students why they have to get involved and how they can be involved in student politics.”
Menghrajani proposes that the USG should collaborate with other student groups and organizations when it comes to overlapping programs. Rather than compete, the student government should instead tie-up with other organizations in order to have a greater impact on the student body. She also mentions that consultation with different student sectors in the University should be done to better cater to the different needs of the student body.
De Vera stresses that students within the USG must realize why they are called to serve and must provide a quality of service that goes beyond politics and self interest. “Our students need Lasallian leaders who are visionaries and servant leaders, leaders who can listen and consider what is the common good,” she posits.
“Students who choose their leaders should be able to recognize the need to have student representation and a student government who will serve them. They will only recognize this if we have student leaders who are sincere in their service for the University,” De Vera emphasizes.