This is the third installment in a three-part article series about the USG.
Prior to the University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE) for the academic year (AY) 2015-2016, 114 candidates, including an entire political party, were disqualified due to noncompliance with the Memorandum of Agreement. The voter turnout was the lowest in years, resulting in a failure of elections and an attempt to conduct Special Elections (SE) just weeks before the year ended. The SE did not push through and it was resolved that it would instead be held in the first term of AY 2015-2016. Finally, after two temporary restraining orders issued on the Special Elections and impeachment cases filed during election period, the GE finally came through successfully.
The USG has represented and served the student body of DLSU since 2010. Although relatively new, it has become a vital part of student life and campus politics. It will be up to the newly elected USG officers to uphold this standard through plans of their own amid the challenges brought about by recent events.
Plans and goals for AY 2015-2016
The newly elected Executive Board (EB) of the USG is comprised of officers who ran as candidates from different parties. Current USG President Pram Menghrajani ran as an independent candidate. Micah Fernando, Levin Garcia, and Zed Laqui, who currently occupy the Vice President for Internal Affairs, Vice President for External Affairs, and Treasurer positions, respectively, ran as candidates from Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon. Kitkat Cuenca, who is currently USG Secretary, ran as a candidate from Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista. To reconcile their plans for the year, the EB made it a point to meet and consult each other immediately.
Menghrajani shares, “During our first Executive Committee meeting, we set out our expectations from each other and ourselves and also came up with the four key goals of the USG for the academic year.” The four goals they came up with are collaborative governance, active citizenry, integrated Lasallian formation, and progressive learning environment.
Fernando affirms this, adding, “We actually have relatively consistent consultations with each other. At the start of the year, more than just the EB, but even as an EXECOM (Executive Committee) we’re forming a vision mission, as well as the ‘pillars’ that will [guide] us in pursuing our vision that incorporates what we have all fought for during [the] elections.”
They also stress that they are united in their vision and plans for the coming academic year despite the fact that they ran from different parties. Garcia expresses, “Even though we come from different parties and we may have different platforms, I believe that we all have the same end goal, which is to be of service to the student body.”
Cuenca also shares this sentiment. “We started the year reconciling our platforms. Before each of us were elected, we all had our differences in ideas,” she states. “However, now that we were all put into office, our colors get dissolved and the one thing that binds us is the system of the USG.”
Included in their agenda are concrete plans for the year, many of which they campaigned for during election period.
Menghrajani notes, “Our final specific programs and endeavors for the year will be available for the students to view this January (third week) once all USG elected officers have submitted their proposals for the term.” She further shares that their plans will focus on transparency, accountability and integrity, and empowerment. These include revamping the USG website, improving USG mobile applications, conducting a better evaluation method for USG elected officers, having a Freshman Volunteer Program to expose students to leadership roles in the USG, and working with various organizations with regard to Boto Lasalyano, Sulong Pilipino and other University-wide efforts.
Garcia also discloses his concrete plans, which focus on youth empowerment and national awareness. His banner projects for the year include “SILAB”, a national conference for students regarding national issues and the institutionalization and implementation of the ASEAN Youth Summit.
Fernando shares initiatives of the Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs (OVPIA), which include an initiative to improve forecasting of course demand among students, the expansion of Arrows Express, and increased transparency and information regarding USG agenda through Campus Project Watch, among others. He also plans to create process flowcharts for all services and internal processes of the OVPIA to ensure efficiency and future continuity.
Meanwhile, Cuenca explains that the Office of the Secretary (OSEC) will be focusing on communication, office management, and training. She shares that OSEC aims to make the USG more available through the help desk and a revamped website. She also reports the opening of a new committee called the Activities Assembly Secretariat and mentions plans to publicize the minutes of meetings in original form with infographics. She also emphasizes plans for training seminars from the Office of Student LIFE for elected officers.
Laqui, on the other hand, notes that he will focus on inefficiencies in the Office of the Treasurer (OTREAS) system and to regain the trust of students. He also says he will focus on student-run financial assistance to students and to implement the very first Scholars Week in DLSU in collaboration with the Lasallian Scholars Society. He also shares that OTREAS will lobby for students regarding financial policies, such as alternative payment schemes and more.
Adjusting to setbacks
With the delayed elections, the USG is forced to work in the remaining two terms for the year. This means a shorter time will be given for project implementation.
When asked how this issue will affect their performance and plans for the University , as well as what actions the officers intend to do to address issues that may rise from it, they express that this delay has affected how they go about their plans. Proper management and implementation is needed, emphasizes Garcia.
“The limited time in office definitely makes us think of the importance of the programs we want to implement… and [we] made sure that whatever plans should be enacted are important, current, and relevant,” explains Menghrajani. Both College Presidents Erielle Chua and Karl Ong, from the School of Economics and Gokongwei College of Engineering, respectively, agree that resources should be allocated towards the most important, urgent, and quality projects for the students.
While admitting that the time constraint “extremely” affected the roles of the USG, Fernando responds, “It’s a matter of getting over the fact that we are at a disadvantage, and being systematic with the way we tackle things this time around.”
Other officers see the delay as a challenge to work harder in pursuing plans and to give better service while maximizing the limited time available. Legislative Assembly Chief Legislator Patrick Alcantara expects the constricted time will help the USG to be better because of “the sense of urgency to deliver their platforms and programs.”
What do you think of the USG?
The relationship of the USG with the student body is one of the most important aspects of campus politics. Besides voting, students involve themselves in the affairs of the USG officers by cooperating with them, lobbying, and giving them their trust.
The LaSallian conducted a survey with 128 students from all the colleges in DLSU regarding their perspective of the USG.
The survey results show that more students felt their perception of the USG had changed after the events of the past few terms (e.g. mainly the failure of elections, impeachment cases, and TROs, among others). Of the respondents, 64 students or 50 percent said that it had changed for the worse, while 11 or 8.6 percent said it had for the better. Meanwhile, 53 (41.4 percent) of the respondents answered that their perception had not changed at all.
When asked to elaborate on their response, the respondents gave a variety of answers and analyses. Several argued that there is too much politics in the system, with some comparing it to Philippine politics. Others said not enough projects are implemented, and that the system has little impact to them. On the other hand, others expressed optimism towards the future.
Some further argued that the USG listens well to the students. Some others argued that the USG itself is not at fault for the bad impression on the USG, but rather the way the parties handled the elections. Some say the organization did not change, except in terms of officers running it. Others stated their perception had not changed because the officers continue to accomplish their tasks well.
Students were also asked to rate the trust they have that the newly elected USG would be able to fulfill their duties and responsibilities for the rest of the academic year, especially in light of the lack of time resulting from the GE failure. Based on the Lasallian grading system, most respondents rated between 2.0 to 3.0. A total of 27 respondents (21.1 percent) gave a rating of 3.0, while 26 students (20.3 percent) gave a 2.5, and 18 students (14.1 percent) gave a 2.0.
The respondents also shared a variety of expectations for the newly elected USG officers. These included more unity, collaboration, transparency, representation, efficiency, and in-campus presence. On the other hand, several respondents shared that they expected nothing, mostly expressing their disappointment and lack of trust in the USG. Other expectations are that the USG would deliver on duties, promises and projects, and would learn from past events. Several respondents also hope that the USG officers would do their best to improve the USG and set an example of good governance.
Making a comeback
Months after the series of unexpected events happened in the USG, officers were asked on their take on the drama. “We acknowledge the fact that there is no perfect organization,” says Garcia.
Judiciary Chief Magistrate JC Santos shares his concerns, stating, “I fear that the students might get this misconception that our branch (the Judiciary) is out to destroy the system that was created for the students. Some might even think that the branch is present solely to conduct impeachment cases against the officers of the USG, which is not true. We have other functions and I wish that the students would be aware of the other functions of our branch.” He further suggests that the three branches work together in order to change this inaccurate perception of the USG.
In light of the events of the past months, USG officers are determined to regain what was lost, especially the trust of students in the USG. They lay down plans of action that, according to them, should uphold USG’s founding principle and put students into priority by improving services and representation in the University.
“Our four key goals are what we hope to achieve to get the students to see the relevance of the USG once again,” emphasizes Menghrajani. “As we fulfill our duties as elected officers, we hope to involve everyone in the process by being more transparent, inclusive, collaborative, and consultative to the people we serve.”
“It is all about being grounded on the founding identity and purpose of the USG; clarifying what our roles and responsibilities are,” adds Fernando.
Chua believes that the best way to rebuild the trust within the USG is to “stay true to the platform [the USG has] promised and serve the student body and not give false hope to our constituents.”