Reports from Roselin Manawis, Christina Francia, and Maxine Ferrer
College of Liberal Arts (CLA) President Aya Watanabe was ruled not guilty of gross negligence following a retrial for the impeachment regarding alleged unexcused absences held last Friday, June 22, at the University Student Government (USG) Office Session Hall.
As per judicial decision, Watanabe is mandated to release a statement explaining her situation that was brought before the court, to be posted on the Arts College Government (ACG) page and published in student media outlets.
Motion for retrial
The motion for retrial was submitted by Frances Lim last June 19, due to technicality issues during the initial hearing. This was approved by the Magistrates based on three major points.
There was a reported miscommunication between Lim and her counsel, Rafael Mariano. Further, the new evidence are subject to examination due to inconsistency with the previous evidence presented by Watanabe and her initial evidence of excuse letters approved by USG Executive Secretary (OSEC) Patricia Andulte.
Lastly, the settlement agreed upon by the plaintiff and defendant was recognized inadmissible by the Judiciary with the reason that it was settled in the trial and not during a pre-hearing, violating what is stated in the Rules of the Court, Article VI, Section 1.6.
Lim began by mentioning the Code of Conduct and Responsibilities, underlining Article III, Section 1.3. which articulates that the “College President (CP) is required to attend all the assembly meetings.” She followed this by mentioning Section 1.3.1, stating that “The Executive Secretary himself has to file for an impeachment case for gross negligence against the officer in question.”
She continued by clarifying the nature of impeachment. “Impeachment does not mean outright removal of the officer, it means that we will go through the processes we are in right now and to air out our technical contention and hear our the defendant’s side,” she cleared up.
The defendant’s counsel presented three submissions during his opening statements: absence of repercussions to Watanabe’s absences, indirect proportionality of her attendance with her performance as CP, and the assertion that the provision which requires constant attendance of CPs is already obsolete.
Mariano, who was now part of the defendant’s counsel, affirmed that Watanabe was not aware of the provisions. Also, the custom agreed upon by the CPs as stated to them by the Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs (OVPIA) and the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA) specifies that they are not heavily required to attend the Activities Assembly (AA) meetings at all times. “Therefore, the defendant acted in good faith with the rules of internal governance that she was aware of,” he pressed.
Purpose behind meetings, obsolescence of provision
On his second account, Mariano emphasized that Watanabe’s absences do not define her performance as CP considering the projects she was able to accomplish throughout her term, such as the CLA Research and Thesis Grant. Furthermore, he contends that the need to be physically present in order to execute projects efficiently and optimally is not necessary.
“The rationale behind these laws that regulate the USG is to maximize the level of performance of every government official, and the purpose of these meetings was to ensure that all CPs are able to do their jobs proficiently,” Mariano explains.
Mariano argues on his last statement that Article III, Section 1.3 of the Code of Conduct is no longer practical especially in a time when there are alternatives for communication. “The existence of social media platforms allow these individuals to perform their duties and obligations even without being physically present in meetings,” he justifies.
Witnesses on their roles and duties
The arguments of the defendant’s counsel were backed up by witnesses called to the stand by the magistrates for interrogation spearheaded by Santugon President Alfonso Ramos. Witnesses include Br. Andrew Gonzales College of Education CP Alex Penales, School of Economics CP Adi Briones, College of Science CP Enrique Labios, and OVPEA Gabbie Perez.
Penales pointed out that CPs are responsible of initiating programs that would best cater to the students in their respective colleges. Briones further discloses, “It is our job to enforce the programs of the Executive Board (EB) so that their programs will reach the students also.” In fulfilling particular tasks at hand, Briones reveals that once an initiative is deemed relevant, a working team is immediately formed in order for them to be hands-on with the projects.
As co-chair of the AA, Perez discusses that she sets up meetings for CPs and OVPIA to ensure that projects corresponds to the students needs. On creating policies, Perez states that the Constitution allows the chairs to do such, citing their new policy on attendance as an example.
Moreover, Penales expounds on the affiliation of CPs with the AA. “It is our job to guide the batch presidents especially whenever they are deciding what types of activities they would be implementing for that term to see if it is appropriate for the college,” she says. “This year, we want to focus on the batches and the role of college presidents are not clear.”
The Plaintiff probed Penales as to why their role is unclear. “It is stated [in the constitution] but as of this year, it is focus of the EB to focus on the batches,” she explained. She also elaborated that the agendas of the CPs in the AA are already discussed in the Executive Committee (EXECOM).
An issue with the trackers was also brought to table. Lim questioned, “If hindi na required yung mga college presidents [to attend meetings], why are they still kept being tabs on?” Perez clarifies that CPs are included so that VPs will be aware of their presence in decision-making.
On virtual leadership
When questioned about the possibility of accomplishing tasks in a coffee shop, Briones affirmed, “Because you already formed a working team, your role as college president is to mobilize them. As long as you have strong internet connection or via texting, you are able to get updates from them and you see that they move.”
Labios backs this up by justifying, “I have a laptop and mostly that’s where my work is. I have this checklist to make sure everyone in my projects inside the Science College Government flows well through, and I communicate with my officers regularly through chat or messenger.”
Defendant on the stand
Lim questioned Watanabe regarding the obligation of CPs to attend meetings. Watanabe clarified that it was only this year that attendance provision was changed. She further explained that she would often ask the other CPs who were present at the meeting concerning the agenda and deliverables.
When asked for the reason why she was not aware of the policy, she states, “I thought that the word of our OVPIA and OVPEA’s instruction over it would supersede.”
Aside from the final verdict that Watanabe is free from charges, the Magistrates will also look into the internal policies of the Activities Assembly to avoid such circumstances from happening again in the future.
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