Following various scandals and voting extensions in the 2017 University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE), the voter turnout reached 54.41 percent of the undergraduate student body, with 54 seats won by Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon), 19 for Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat), and one independent candidate.
Independent candidate Mikee De Vega was elected as the USG President, while the rest of the executive board seats were won by Santugon. All College Assembly President seats were also won by Santugon except the College of Computer Studies Assembly President, which was taken by Rastine Pinlac of Tapat.
Moreover, all elected candidates from the College of Business and the College of Science came from Santugon. Of all 75 positions in the USG, only one seat remained blank, wherein, despite reaching the 50 percent + 1 requirement, majority of the students who voted for FAST2014 Batch President chose to abstain.
The 2017 USG GE officially began on July 3 with the filing of candidacy. Santugon fielded a complete slate for all 75 positions, while Tapat only had candidates for 56 out of 75 positions, with most of the gaps occurring at the batch level, and one empty slot for the DLSU Laguna Campus. Mikee de Vega, who ran for Executive Secretary under Tapat in the 2016 USG GE, was the only independent candidate this year.
Campaign period commenced on July 8 and continued until July 18, 1 pm. Although classes were suspended 10:45 am onwards on July 17, the campaign continued online on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
During the ten days allotted, all candidates actively campaigned using the traditional room-to-room campaigns and person-to-person tactics. Social media’s role in the 2017 USG GE continued to grow with both political parties and De Vega posting videos, photos, and platforms on their respective accounts. Tapat was especially active online by hosting several live sessions where students were invited to ask questions to their candidates.
The debate and Miting de Avance were held in the DLSU Laguna Campus and DLSU Manila on July 13 and 14, respectively. In the Laguna campus round, each party garnered a winning round. Jesus Castro, who ran for Legislative Assembly (LA) Representative for the Manila – Laguna Campus under Santugon, won the first round. Meanwhile, JJ Trinidad, who was running for DLSU Laguna Campus President under Tapat, won the second round.
In the DLSU Manila debate, Santugon won the 1st and 4th rounds with Adrian Mendoza, candidate for CATCH2T20 LA Representative, and Karl Ong, candidate for USG President, both winning best speakers. De Vega won the 2nd round, while Gokongwei College of Engineering President candidate Zam Doctolero of Tapat won the 3rd round.
Frustrations, scandals raised
Over the campaign period, several students voiced out their sentiments about the 2017 USG GE in the Facebook group DLSU Profs to Pick (Official). Aside from the usual complaints about the disruption of classes, certain stories were posted that incriminated both parties and subjected them to online scrutiny.
A series of posts followed after a student posted about Santugon alumni core members badmouthing a Stanford graduate in an elevator. After this initial post, corruption accusations, screenshots of Santugon members plotting against candidates of Tapat, and a credit-grabbing campaign video were also brought against the party.
Tapat, on the other hand, faced their own issues when they were accused of promising projects that were already in place, such as the Liberal Arts Summit and Liberal Arts Network in their General Plans of Action. Additionally, screenshots of a former core member planning to spy on Santugon was also circulated online.
Both Santugon and Tapat have released statements to clarify the issues thrown at them, but students seemed unfazed. Instead, students took a satirical approach in reacting to the various issues and scandals brought up. Numerous memes appeared in the comment sections and as individual posts in the Facebook page. Several of the memes, however, did not tackle the issues being discussed.
When asked about how the Facebooks posts affected the voter turnout, DLSU Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Nel Aguilar shares, “Some students chose not to vote anymore, thus the turnout decreased this GE. However, majority of the students [still] voted this year, and seeing them engage in conversations online showed that they care [about] their University and that they are not apathetic.”
Challenges during voting period
Polling precincts were opened at the lobbies of Henry Sy Sr. Hall, Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall, and Gokongwei Hall. Due to the initial low voter turnout, COMELEC decided to extend the first two voting days up to 8 pm.
On the first day, only 1,013 students voted, resulting in an 8.70 percent voter turnout. The voter turnout, however, tripled to 24.35 percent on the second day. On the third day, the minimum requirement of 50 percent + 1 was met, except for batch governments BLAZE2017, FAST2014, as well as the College of Business (COB) and College of Liberal Arts (CLA).
To reach the minimum requirement, voting hours were extended to 9 pm on July 20, followed by a one-day extension until July 21, 1 pm to prevent the failure of elections in some batches. This was later extended to 3:30 pm for COB, and 6:30 pm for CLA.
Aguilar notes that reaching the minimum number of voters was difficult due to the small ID 116 student population. He shares, “For some colleges, around 40 percent of their population are terminal students and most of these students are taking their OJT and practicum.”
Despite the lack of batch representatives, Aguilar shares that the COMELEC still tried to encourage the terminal students to vote for the executive committee positions.
Aguilar muses that another reason behind the low voter turnout was the declining trust in the USG and the belief that abstaining is the same as not voting. Aguilar corrects, “This is actually wrong because not participating means that your vote is not counted. However, participating in the elections and voting abstain will make your vote counted.”
Aside from the low voter turnout, Aguilar explains that one issue COMELEC encountered this 2017 USG GE was regarding the ballots. Originally, they planned to use scannable sheets for the larger colleges to make counting faster. However, the supplier failed to come through and they resorted to using manual ballots for everyone. Despite this, COMELEC is still working towards eventually having the voting process automated for the entire University.
To address the declining voter turnout, Aguilar looks to the USG to fix the problem. He expounds, “To be able to increase the voter turnout for the next elections, the USG must be able to show the student body that the USG is still relevant to the life of the students. The USG must be able to regain the trust of the student body and show them the USG still matters, and that they play an important role in the University.”