This is the first in an ongoing series of investigative articles on the USG.
Disheartened was the word Zedrick Laqui, current University Student Government (USG) president, used to describe how he felt regarding the corruption allegations the USG is currently facing.
“I was disheartened because it proved that nowadays, we live in a world where chismis can already undermine the credibility of an established organization,” he said during a meeting with several student media groups on campus.
On September 3, the DLSU-Manila Secret Files Facebook page uploaded a post anonymously written by a student who claimed to be “deeply connected to [one of] the political parties.” The post accused a member of the USG of corruption, claiming that one of the heads of a University-wide fundraising activity siphoned money from the event’s proceeds.
In the days following, several other posts were uploaded, with plenty of other anonymous sources claiming that they had indeed been witnesses to cases of corruption allegedly rampant within the USG.
In response to the allegations
In direct response to the corruption allegations, Laqui said, “In terms of answering these corruption accusations, wala naman silang binibigay na ebidensya.”
Several financial statements from the Office of the Executive Treasurer (OTREAS) were, however, posted online by Rafael Rabacca, formerly a magistrate of the Gokongwei College of Engineering. Most of the documents showed figures dating back to academic year (AY) 2014-2015. During that AY, Rupert Laurel was sitting as the USG Executive Treasurer.
Laqui mentioned that although he did not understand what the files posted online were trying to prove, they had already been brought to the Judiciary previously, alluding to the two impeachment cases against Laurel. In 2015, Laurel faced impeachment cases before the USG Judiciary after undergraduate student Norben Sagun Jr. and the Commission on Audit (COA) filed separate cases against him, in October and November, respectively.
In the first case, Laurel was found guilty of gross negligence of duty, which effectively disbarred him from office. Meanwhile, in the second case, the court found merit on the complaints of illegal disbursement of funds and gross negligence of duty filed by the COA.
During a hearing for the second case in February this year, the court found that although the complaints were meritorious during the pre-hearing, they were later dropped because Laurel had already received the maximum punishment in his prior case. The Judiciary could no longer impose a bigger sanction than disbarment.
To the detractors, however, Laqui had one thing to say: “The moment that you question the financial process of the [USG] is the moment that you question the accounting process of our University.”
Transparency in the USG
In an interview with The LaSallian, USG Department of Activity Approval and Monitoring (DAAM) Chairperson John Dulay admitted, “The problem right now in the USG system is that when it comes to income statements or anything [related] to the balances of the USG units, it is OTREAS that handles all of those.”
He added that, although the different USG units are required to submit documents to DAAM for approval, DAAM does not have direct access to the units’ financial statements. “When it comes to tracking the expenses of the units, […] the ones tracking that would be OTREAS also.”
“More of the problem now is basically transparency of all documents. Right now, there is very little transparency in the system itself,” he expressed.
Dulay mentioned that before the impeachment cases forwarded to the Judiciary last year, some students had allegedly already tried to file similar cases in the past, reaching out to the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation, and Empowerment (SLIFE) for several financial documents. However, Dulay admitted that he does not know how these incidents concluded.
Changing the system
“When I was Executive Treasurer, I can honestly say that we know it didn’t happen at that time, nor do we know it’s possible to disburse money [from our account] and then run away with it,” Laqui made sure to clarify.
Executive Vice President for External Affairs Reigner Sanchez added, “I was able to be a batch officer and a college president, and in my own unit, I know that we have followed the [correct] financial procedures.”
However, Sanchez admitted that they could not confidently speak for the entire USG. “There are more than 45 units in the [USG], and we cannot simply speak in behalf of all those units, especially if those units are from before.”
Laqui highlighted that, during his time as Executive Treasurer, the OTREAS strictly implemented cashless transactions and ensured that receipts would be issued each time money was involved in activities. Current Executive Treasurer Brian Chen added that the OTREAS will continue the implementation of such policies for this academic year.
Laqui was also assertive in saying that the current officers of the USG, particularly those comprising the Rules and Policies Committee of the Legislative Assembly, will look into and review the policies of the USG. Additionally, Chen will work with SLIFE in revising the Student Activities Manual, especially with regard to financial and documentation processes. Finally, Executive Secretary Monica Otayza promised that her office is working on revising the USG website in order to make documents transparent and readily available to the student body.
“The way we see it, as long as these accusations [remain] mere accusations, I don’t think we, as the USG, need to release a statement about it. The only time we will release a statement about it is if somebody enters the picture and presents evidences that are relevant or that can actually give information to the accusations,” Laqui concluded.
The LaSallian has reached out to the Commission on Audit but failed to receive a response, and is currently in the midst of reaching out to several other USG units on the matter.