The 2016 General Elections (GE) marked the seventh time students voted for the next set of officers to represent them in the University since the transition from the Student Council (SC) to the University Student Government (USG) in academic year 2010-2011.
Crafted 13 years ago by SC President Saint Anthony Tiu, the USG was envisioned to pattern after the Philippine government, with three co-equal branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
It is no surprise that much of the attention garnered by the USG points back to its elected officers, particularly those under the Executive branch. With the GE finished and the incoming elected officers gearing up for the year ahead, The LaSallian takes the opportunity to enlighten the community on the two other branches of the USG, the Legislative Assembly (LA) and the Judiciary.
Deconstructing the LA
The LA is the highest policy making body of the USG. It is composed of all LA representatives elected by the student body and the Legislative Secretariat. The USG Constitution states that the LA is tasked to deliberate and discuss matters relating to University-wide, national, and sectoral issues, budget allocation of the USG, and approval of the Election Code, among others. The LA also decides on the approval of appointed USG officers for elected positions, and of replacement officers in cases of impeachment or resignation.
On its first session, the LA elects its Chief Legislator, Majority Floor Leader, and Minority Floor Leader, as well as chairpersons for its three sub-committees, namely, the Rules and Policies Committee (RnP), Students’ Rights and Welfare Committee (STRAW), and National Affairs Committee (NatAff). This academic year, a total of 28 members comprise the unit, not including the Legislative Secretariat, which is composed of staff from the Office of the Executive Secretary. Meanwhile, the LA Inner Circle, vested with administrative power of the LA, is made up of the Chief Legislator, floor leaders, committee chairpersons, and the Legislative Secretariat.
Underscoring the Judiciary
The Judiciary is the sole body in the USG vested with judicial power. A full bench is composed of eight magistrates. However, for this academic year, only three magistrates were appointed. The Judiciary resolves complaints involving the constitutionality, legality, or jurisdiction of acts and policies of USG officers. It can also order the investigation of suspension of USG officers, impeach or recall USG officers, as well as review and approve appointments by USG officers.
The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and Commission on Audit (COA), independent constitutional commissions, report to the Judiciary. Likewise, the Student Advisors, a group of students who aid in the processing of students’ grievance and discipline cases, also report to the Judiciary.
The COMELEC decides on all electoral exercises of students in the University. It is, ideally, composed of two commissioners from each college. It adopts and upholds the Election Code passed by the LA, serves as the steering committee for the USG elections, and encourages students to exercise their right to vote come election period. Meanwhile, the COA has the authority to examine and audit all accounts relating to the revenue and expenses as well as receipts and disbursements of every unit in the USG.
Remembering, addressing challenges
The effect of the failure of GE last academic year affected the USG as a whole, giving officers less time to run their respective branches and units. The COMELEC perhaps had to bear much of the brunt of the failure.
“We had a problem with the number of students who voted because they lost interest after [the events that happened leading up to the election], shares COMELEC Commissioner for the College of Science Jhanniz Paloma. She describes that, ultimately, the success of the election relies on the number of students who are going to vote.
To address this problem, the COMELEC has strengthened its manpower by tapping into and recruiting more student volunteers. “We’re doing our best to encourage [students] to exercise their right to vote,” asserts Narelle Domingo, COMELEC commissioner for the College of Business.
On the side of the Magistrates, Chief Magistrate JC Santos describes that the Judiciary was left without a Chief Magistrate at the beginning of their term of office, and the full bench was not achieved this year. For the LA, Chief Legislator Patrick Alcantara recounts having to deal with adjustment problems since most of the assembly’s members were newcomers.
Meanwhile, for the COA, visibility in the University remains a problem. COA Commissioner Jessamine Alvaro shares the unit has aimed to solve this by capitalizing on tapping BS Accountancy students since they “are knowledgable about [the COA’s] functions and taking auditing subjects.”
Looking back at achievements
Both branches still had productive terms this academic year, in spite of the hurdles they faced.
For instance, Alvaro notes that she noticed the smooth process of submission of documents by different units of the USG to the COA, through proper coordination with the Office of the Executive Treasurer.
Santos shares that the Judiciary was able to abolish a provision in a 2009 LA resolution that states applicants for magistrate positions must come from the college they wish to represent. “We saw it as a limitation,” he shares, stressing that the Judiciary has had trouble achieving a full bench in recent years. “[Coming from the college you represent] doesn’t matter for as long as [you] are competent and able to do the job,” he says. “Our purpose is to promote due process and fair representation of students.”
Santos also adds that the Judiciary opened a depository fund this year, so that the unit may utilize funds for training and other activities in events. Moreover, the Judiciary is in the process of revising its Rules of Court and appending a Rules on Evidence, as well as systematizing its handling of the judicial department and creating case briefs of all resolved cases over the past year for use of the students, of which there are five in total.
Meanwhile, out of around 45 resolutions discussed in LA sessions held over the past academic year, 35 were approved, with the remainder being either disapproved or laid on the table.
Alcantara highlights some of the accomplishments of the LA. He notes that the unit was able to pass a resolution creating the tuition fee increase (TFI) board, “which will serve as a foundation for the future [Executive Treasurers].” Although the passage of the resolution was passed while this year’s consultations for the TFI were already ongoing, Alcantara is positive that the board will be helpful for the future.
The LA was also able to successfully deliberate on and amend the Election Code early this month. Although the discussion divided the floor and resulted in a session that lasted for more than five hours, Alcantara shares, “We were able to come up with a version of the Election Code that was fair.”
The road ahead
After a more or less successful GE this year after the failure of elections last year and the Sepcial Elections that barely reached the minimum voter turnout, the future for the USG continues to be an uphill climb. Winning back the trust of the students entails the collective effort of all USG officers, both elected and appointed, from all three of its co-equal branches.