After several months of meetings, Legislative Assembly sessions, consultations with community stakeholders, and delibrations, the 2014 University Student Government (USG) Constitution was all set for the plebiscite which was to be held last November 3 to 7. The aim of the plebiscite was to gain the majority approval of De La Salle University’s students on the proposed USG constitution change which was a product of Operation REFOCUS, spearheaded by last year’s USG President Miguel Moreno.
Moreno raised three questions regarding the effectivity of the USG. First, is the USG living up to its founding identity and purpose? Second, is the USG really one and united? And third, is the USG able to serve and represent all the students? It was in answering these three questions that the major restructuring of the USG began. One of the perceived benefits of the new constitution was to remove redundancies in the offices under the USG to ensure smoother, more united operations.
Despite the clear importance of this plebiscite, students remained largely unaware of the event, even on the week of voting itself. This led to dismal turnouts, and those who were aware of the plebiscite questioned the lack of interest among students. Many tried to identify whether the root of the problem was the information dissemination of the USG or the student apathy that has unfortunately become a norm in the University.
In an unexpected turn of events on the second day of voting, two concerned students filed a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the voting process of the plebiscite, claiming that it was unconstitutional. Their reasons included a lack of respresentation from the freshman batch while amendments were crafted in the Legislative Assembly, poor information dissemination, a lack of consultation among student sectors, and poor handling of the plebiscite’s voting procedures.
The tension between the USG’s top officers and the petitioners was evident during the grueling two-hour hearing held by the Judiciary last November 10, while some even hypothesized that the petition was politically motivated. USG representatives even claimed that the petition was done in bad faith, but eventually dropped the allegation. By the end of the night, the Judiciary decided to junk the petition and declare the plebiscite constitutional, allowing the voting to continue at a later date. The USG was spared. It took a hearing and petition to do so, but suddenly student apathy turned into interest as media coverage of the hearing sparked discussion among students online.
The situation at hand is sadly comparable to that of the Philippines, where majority are apathetic in nature when it comes to policial activity, only being awakened by scandal. When it comes to important matters that need the attention of the citizenry, Lasallians have mirrored the general culture of the Filipino people. This is where the problem lies. Remaining apathetic will lead to no good and opinions will carry no weight until proper action is taken.
However, the USG must also step up in order to engage students better. The effort that is put into electoral campaigns – extensive room-to-room speeches, well rehearsed presentations, and countless hours of planning – must also be present in the information dissemination and educational efforts regarding the plebiscite. If not, how can students believe that the plebiscite is a matter of importance if it does not reflect in the actions of their leaders?
That students are much less informed of the changes in the USG constitution than the platforms of candidates during election season is telling in itself, given that accusations of student apathy are present in both. More than repeatedly telling Lasallians that their voice matters and that the fate of the student government is in their hands, engaging students in an active discussion regarding the proposed changes in the USG Constitution is also needed. Proper education regarding the 2014 Constitution will take time and effort, but the consequences of not educating students are dire. The tendency to vote blindly, if at all, is high, and all the efforts from those in charge of the 2014 Constitution will go to waste if this does not change.
With the decision of the Judiciary, the plebiscite gets a new lease on life at the end of the month. Both the students and the USG get a chance to get it right this time around, and it is our hope that they do. The USG must do its job well to get the students informed and interested in the plebiscite, but at the end of the day the fate of this plebiscite lies within the active participation of the students. This is the chance to instill change, and for the outspoken, to walk the talk.