With another academic year closing, and following the recently-concluded election season, Lasallians bid goodbye to the University Student Government (USG) of A.Y. 2017-2018, who assumed the role of serving the student body during their tenure.
Led by USG President Mikee De Vega, the student government faced off the academic year with new projects and planned events, and even found themselves in controversies. As the University is months away from facing a new board of leaders, join The LaSallian in recalling the highlights of A.Y. 2017-2018’s USG.
EDSA Commemoration Week
Last February 25, the 32nd anniversary of the toppling of the Marcos regime brought about by the People Power Revolution was celebrated. The University Student Government (USG) took part in the anniversary and held its own EDSA Commemoration Week 2018 overarching three main activities: Ghosts of Martial Law, an interactive experience which aimed for the participants to learn more about the Martial Law Era; The Human Library: Gunita, which featured Sen. Rodolfo Biazon as a guest speaker; and the EDSA Commemorative Museum, the week-long event’s concluding activity featuring interactive exhibits and performances by the Harlequin Theater Guild.
However, Ghosts of Martial Law immediately drew criticism with the release of publicity materials. The activity’s tagline “Relive the Experience” was widely lambasted as was the announcement that winning participants would receive up to P1,500 in cash prizes. Some members of the Lasallian community denounced it “miseducation” and condemned the reduction of the Revolution’s anniversary as a “challenge that can provide an immersive experience.” Some commenters drew comparisons with University of the Philippines Diliman’s Great LEAN Run, which is held with similar themes.
The USG immediately withdrew online publicity material after the uproar. The USG released an apology and defended the conceptualization of the event and stated that they intended to create an event that would be inclusive and to ensure that students would be able to gain a holistic experience. The USG promised more thorough examinations of publicity materials in the future, while the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE) also promised closer monitoring of all proposed activities.
Women’s Month Dress Code Pub
Every March, the National Women’s Month Celebration is held in the Philippines in conjunction with the international observance of the International Women’s Day held every March 8. The University Student Government (USG) along with other activities, organized Break The Silence, a concert intended as one of the highlights of the month-long celebration. As the festivities were open to both Lasallians and outsiders, the USG published online publicity material informing outsiders of the dress code that they have to observe within the University. Immediately, Lasallians swooped down on the USG’s online post and pointed out the irony of the emphasis on the dress code in the context of a supposed women’s empowerment event. The USG immediately withdrew the online pub and published a statement apologizing for the post and expressed that it was intended simply to allow outsiders smooth entry to the campus. Some defended the USG, declaring that they were simply relaying the University’s rules.
The focus quickly shifted to the University’s dress code policy and a firestorm of debate ignited online. The hashtag “#stripthedresscode” became the rallying cry for those who called for an abolition of the dress code and a few petitions were drawn up for the same. The heated debates attracted the attention of professors, some of whom detailed more conciliatory arguments. Outside the University, the affair also attracted the attention of blogs and news agencies such as Spot.ph and Rappler.
Tapat’s failure to field candidates
Following events that transpired recently, the University was met with news that this year’s General Elections (GE) will only feature slates from Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon. Last July 6, DLSU Commission on Elections (COMELEC) disclosed that due to the failure of complying with the deadline for passing of Certificates of Candidacy (COCs), Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat) will not be fielding anyone from their slate. Tapat was reported to have appealed for an extension of the deadline for filing, but was met with rejection from the side of COMELEC. Ultimately, parties involved, and Office of Student LIFE Director Sofronio Lingatong, Jr. who stood as witness, were able to settle concerns through a session with COMELEC.
In response to the controversy, Tapat responded by explaining that such incident was caused by a lack of communication within their political party, as said by Tapat Vice President for External Affairs Valerie Pagdagdagan in an interview with The LaSallian. After the announcements regarding the 2018 GE scenario, Tapat has since revealed that their party is “in the process of assessing what went wrong,” and will be focused on rebuilding their organization.
Tabucao, Watanabe impeachment cases
Last June 18, both FOCUS 2016 Legislative Assembly (LA) Representative Miguel Tabucao and College of Liberal Arts (CLA) President Aya Watanabe were put on trial due to gross negligence. Admittedly having incurred six unapproved absences from LA meetings, Tabucao was impeached and banned from candidacy for any USG positions in the future.
Opposite to the very fast-paced trial of Tabucao, Watanabe’s case was more complicated as it was not resolved in just one sitting. Watanabe was put on trial for accumulating five unexcused absences. During the initial hearing, the defendant and her counsel were able to clarify and prove that three of her absences were excused. Nonetheless, Watanabe was still faced with a one-week suspension in compensation for late submission of excuse letters.
However, Watanabe’s case was yet again put on table only after four days. A motion for retrial was submitted by Francis Lim due to technical issues which was then approved by the Magistrates. The second hearing was more extensive as the arguments of the defendant’s counsel were backed up by five witnesses called to stand for interrogation regarding their roles and duties. Conclusively, the judiciary ruled Watanabe free from all charges and affirmed that Activities Assembly internal policies will be reviewed to avoid future predicaments.
LGBTQ+ and the Lasallian community
Initiatives and events preceding Pride Month in June displayed a collective effort from the USG to bring about awareness to the student body with regard to the presence of LGBTQ+ members and allies in the Lasallian community. The Arts College Government, in cooperation with LGBTQ+ student-based University organization PARADA, held “Parada: The Parade”, a march in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, and to show support of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill. Following that, “So-Gie?”, which served as a lecture series focused on sexual orientation, gender inequality, and self-expression, was also held during Arts Month.
Aiming to further promote importance of addressing issues regarding gender discrimination and cultivate a culture of acceptance in the University, a mobilization, “Yes to Equality,” was also held last May. The joint event with University of the Philippines (UP) student organization Babaylan, was open, and attended to by students from other Universities in Metro Manila. Showing support for the mobilization, USG President Mikee De Vega stated that the main initiative of her office for the academic year was to lobby for what the student body believes in. “When it comes to pride we appreciate activities that celebrate pride internally, pero the work of my office has always been about lobbying rights for them,” said De Vega in a previous interview.
According to PARADA President Billie Lorica, despite continued efforts from the Lasallian community, there is still much to be improved to achieve proper representation, and recognition of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. However, the lone organization in the University that caters to and supports the members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community remains to be a non-accredited organization.
24/7 Study Hall
Last December, the Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs (OVPIA) launched the pilot testing of UniSpace, now better known as the 24/7 Study Hall. Conducted with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration (OVCA) and Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Development (OAVCCD), the testing of the program was run through December 6 to 15, 2017. The project aimed to help students who are studying or working on requirements and need a space where they would be able to work. Gokongwei Lobby was chosen as the venue of the project. With regards to rules, the policies also continuously applied within the bounds of the Study Hall with additional house rules barring Senior High School students and outsiders from entering and using the facility.
In addition to the Study Hall’s honesty store, other facilities that the OVPIA has been eyeing to add to the Study Hall included self-service printing and photocopying services, coin-operated charging stations, microwaves, and vending machines.
Initiatives from OTREAS
Following the endorsement from the University Science Foundation, Inc., the Office of the Executive Treasurer (OTREAS) signed a Memorandum of Agreement last July 2 with the said foundation that signified the transfer or responsibility regarding financial assistance initiatives for students. OTREAS, led by USG Executive Treasurer Rolf Villon, brought about the initiative to consolidate the programs linked to financial assistance and scholarships, and launched the Financial Assistance Hub. Programs included in the said umbrella initiative includes the Student Government Allowance Program, Subsidized Student Services, an Emergency Fund, the Student Government Thesis Fund, and the Meal Allowance Program.
To aid students in covering and shouldering expenses brought about by conducting thesis studies, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Sustainable Thesis Grant, and the Student Government Loan Program (SGLP) Thesis Loan were provided by the USG as well for undergraduate students.
The former was donated by the Parents of University Students Organization with a start-off amount of P100,000, and will be managed by the Arts College Government Office of the Executive Treasurer, the Research and Development Committee, and the College President. Unlike most student grants, the CLA Sustainable Thesis Grant is not required to be paid back. On the other hand, the latter grant is an initiative from the USG itself. The SGLP Thesis Loan is interest-free, and will be able to grant a thesis group a maximum amount of P25,000. This is to be repaid on or before the deadline agreed upon by both parties to the Office of the Executive Treasurer, who handles the program grant with its Chief of Staff, and the Financial Assistance Committee.
USG vs Admin on the Ubreak
Upon the outburst of the new proposal on the Ubreak, the USG took action to be the liaison between the administration and its students. The USG was involved early on the school year when they were invited at the Convention of leaders (COLE) by the Chancellor to discuss the proposal of the new Ubreak. Following this, a townhall meeting was conducted wherein different bodies had the opportunity to voice out their arguments. In order to have a wider reach, the USG disseminated an online survey for students.
After the collection of information from both sides, the USG, led by USG President Mikee De Vega, held a press conference. USG Vice President for Internal Affairs Brian Chen thoroughly explained and dissected the template of the proposed Ubreak. The press conference was aired on Facebook live and intended to present a clear explanation of the proposal since numerous interpretations were confusing the student body. De Vega also disclosed three different counter-proposals that the USG will be presenting to the Academic Council, the ultimate decision maker of the status of the Ubreak. The Academic Council, however, rejected the counter-proposals and approved of the new Ubreak.
USG Student Handbook Revisions
For the 2018-2021 student handbook, two revisions were approved by the Legislative Assembly. The first is an amendment to the eating offenses policy. Currently a minor offense would be given on the first violation of the policy. However, it has been changed to the second and succeeding violations. Furthermore, to accommodate students using the 24-hour study hall, the Gokongwei lobby will be reclassified as an eating area from 10pm to 6am.
The dress code policy was also changed; notably, halter tops and racer backs were removed from the list of prohibited clothing. The “one inch allowance” when measuring dresses and bottoms would also be changed. In the new policy, as long as the dress or bottom reaches the tip of the student’s longest finger, it would be allowed. Finally, prohibitions on hair color are also lifted.
Meanwhile, three handbook revision proposals were rejected. Those are the removal of the I.D. wearing policy, revision of the offenses in the dress code policy, and the revision of Dean’s Lister privileges.
Plebiscite and Reestablishing the Ombudsman
Originally planned as a part of the General Elections ballot, the 2018 Plebiscite was moved to a latter date in order to facilitate better information dissemination. The main reason cited was the weight of the vote. In the Legislative Assembly Public Information Office page, they posted, “We shall also make sure that the next weeks of this term are used to conduct sufficient and proper consultation with different student sectors…the Plebiscite shall be casted within the next academic year.”
The plebiscite would contain changes to the University Student Government Constitution. Part of it is the re-establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman. After several previous attempts, the Legislative Assembly successfully passed the Ombudsman Act this year. The duties of the office are specified in the Act as “protectors of the student body, [by acting] promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against any USG office or USG officer, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the actions taken and the result thereof.” The office will be composed of an Ombudsman, an Overall Deputy Ombudsman, Deputy Ombudsmen representing each college, and the Laguna Campus Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman.
On moving forward
A survey was conducted by to determine students’ satisfaction with the USG using a seven-point Likert scale. On the rules in the student handbook, 32.47 percent were dissatisfied, 42.3 percent were satisfied, and 25 percent were neutral. Common comments included criticism of the dress code. On the effectivity of the USG in taking action on student concerns, 34.6 percent were dissatisfied, 46.1 percent were satisfied, and 19.2 percent were neutral. Common comments included positive feedback about the printable EAF. On the topic of the dress code, 57.7 percent were dissatisfied, 34.6 percent were satisfied, while 7.7 percent were neutral. Common comments included frustrations about the weather, inconsistencies in implementation, and the restricting rules. On the political parties in place, 63.5 were dissatisfied, 13.4 percent were satisfied, and 23.1 percent were neutral. Common comments include dislike for “tension” and “drama” between the two parties.
Meanwhile, on the USG’s activities and programs, 36.5 percent were unaware, 44.2 percent were aware and 19.2 percent were neutral. On the impeachment proceedings against a College President, 26.9 percent were unaware, 57.6 percent were aware, and 15.4 percent were neutral. On the reason for Tapat’s failure to field candidates, 21.2 percent were unaware, 67.4 percent were aware, and 11.5 percent were neutral.
Finally, on the need to be concerned with the USG’s activities, 38.5 percent felt there was no need, 42.3 percent felt there was a need, and 19.2 percent were neutral. On the need to be concerned with the university’s student politics, 30.8 percent felt there was no need, 44.3 percent felt there was a need, and 25 percent were neutral.