In the midst of all the controversies and mudslinging circulating around social media, the candidates for this year’s University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE) faced off in Harapan 2017, the annual debate organized by the DLSU Commission on Elections, La Salle Debate Society, USG Judiciary, and Ang Pahayagang Plaridel last July 14 at the William Shaw Theater.
The debate was divided into four rounds focused on the positions of Legislative Assembly (LA) Representatives, USG President, and College Presidents. A final round was held for the rematch of USG Presidents.
Candidates were given three minutes to answer a general question and two minutes for a follow-up question from the adjudicators. They were also given one minute to rebut the answer of their opponents, and five minutes to respond to questions specifically directed to them from the audience members.
Transparency and corruption
For the first round, LA Representative candidates Adrian Mendoza from Santugon and Pearl Guevarra from Tapat discusses the issue of whether parties should disclose how much they spend during the campaign period. Mendoza, who won best speaker for the round, asserts that although financial transparency is important it will not help inform the voters’ choices because it will draw attention away from the candidates’ platforms.
“When we enter the debate of finances and expenses, we must err on the side of caution. Transparency can, at times, be unnecessary, and in fact, damaging,” Mendoza says.
Guevarra, on the other hand, opposes Mendoza’s argument. “The students have the right to consider all things before voting,” she asserts.
In the second round of the debate, USG President candidates Erielle Chua from Tapat, Karl Ong from Santugon, and independent candidate Mikee De Vega were asked if the USG should be harsher in handling corruption allegations. All three candidates agree on the need to impose stricter measures in dealing with issues of corruption.
Chua says that the current system of check and balance is weak. According to her, the harsher handling of corruption allegations should also extend to other matters such as gross negligence.
De Vega agrees and states that there should be an open investigation process in the corruption allegations. Meanwhile, Ong recognizes that the USG is not a perfect system, and that there is an avenue for students to commit mistakes. Moreover, he adds that there should be a continuous check and balance with the presentation of facts and evidences.
On the authority of the USG
The third round of the debate was between College President candidates Zam Doctolero from Tapat and Adi Briones from Santugon. The question given to the candidates was whether the USG should have more power in the administration.
According to Briones, the USG should have more power in decision-making policies. He also believes that students should be represented in both the planning and final decision-making by not necessarily being part of, but by occupying a seat in the Board of Trustees.
On the other hand, Doctolero upholds the current system wherein the DLSU Administration has more authority compared to the USG. He says that granting the USG more power will only lead to its abuse, and that what should be resolved instead is the knowledge on the process of lobbying student’s rights.
A future concerning the bigger picture
The last round was a rematch between the three candidates running for USG President. The adjudicators asked the candidates for their plans on the USG to have a bigger impact on the national level. Chua cites the efforts that Tapat and the USG have been making in the past, such as pushing for LGBT rights through participating in the pride march, raising awareness on mental health issues, fighting for better education in DLSU, and releasing manifestos regarding national issues.
Chua’s future plans for the USG involve partnering with civil society organizations, activist movements, Lasallian leaders, and government officials, as well as fostering stronger ties with De La Salle Philippines. She also plans on strengthening existing organizations such as Bantay Lasalyano and the Committee on National Issues and Concerns (CONIC).
On the other hand, De Vega stresses the importance of the USG’s immediate mobilization and drafting of statements upholding Lasallian values, especially those concerning urgent national issues. “If we prolong the process of trying to find out what a clear, solid stance can be, if we prolong the process of creating a specific statement, then ultimately the issue dies, and our capacity to try and change that situation also dies along with that issue, and the harm has already been done,” she explains.
Like Chua, De Vega also brought up CONIC, which she believes is an important outlet for student representation and for discussing morally contentious issues. Furthermore, she emphasizes the need for the USG to continuously move for consultations and constantly look out for issues.
Ong, the winner for the final round, states that the way to increase impact on a national level is through strengthening student engagement. He acknowledges the diversity of student engagement and how the USG, along with the other sectors of the University, should cater to these individuals through inclusive and holistic governance. He believes that the way to increase student engagement is by providing more activities for students to engage, and showing the relevance of these issues to them as Lasallians.
As the voting period for USG GE comes close this July 18 to 20, the decision resides on the student body. However, amid growing frustrations on the USG as shown in social media, the future of the student government has become more uncertain than ever.