Where are the magistrates?

Similar to the Philippine government, our University Student Government (USG) is composed of three branches: executive, legislative and judiciary.

Since the new form of government was implemented this year, efforts of the executive and legislative branches have been apparent to the student body; the former being the highest governing and representing body, and the latter being the highest policy-making body of the USG.

Article XVIII Section 1 of the USG Constitution states that the judiciary is vested with judicial power which includes “[settling] actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the USG.”

According to Section 2 of the same Title, the judiciary shall be composed of a chief magistrate and five magistrates, a total of six magistrates representing each college. Come this second term, three seats are still left empty.

The judiciary should also be an autonomous body free from the influence of the executive and legislative branches, but the current USG setup proves the contrary.

The Legislative Assembly (LA) sets the qualifications of applying magistrates. The power to appoint the chief magistrate is also vested upon the executive board, LA, and even the Activities Assembly (AA).

Missing magistrates

Currently sitting as chief magistrate is Jison Golez, representing the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Ron Tan is the magistrate for the College of Business and School of Economics (COB-SOE), and Kevin Tuason represents the College of Engineering (COE).

The College of Computer Studies (CCS), College of Education (CED) and College of Science (COS) still remain unrepresented in the judiciary.

The incumbent magistrates went through a screening process, which was followed afterward with training. According to one of the judiciary counsel officers, the other remaining slots are still unoccupied because the magistrate candidates of the other colleges discontinued their training.

It was brought to the attention of The Lasallian that a quorum is needed to validate the decisions of the magistrates. Four magistrates are needed in order to reach a quorum, but there are only three magistrates as of press time.

The Rules of Internal Governance (RIG) of the judicial body states that the chief magistrate will be responsible for the duties of the unoccupied slots of the judiciary, Golez will proxy for the decisions of the three slots until they are filled.

The three incumbent magistrates were chosen by the LA, in adherence to the USG constitution; however, the responsibility of filling the three other slots does not lie on the LA anymore but instead, on the incumbent magistrates.

To solve their problem, the judiciary will start recruiting new trainees by the second week of the second term. Applicants will start as judiciary counsel officers and will go through a series of training.  Through this, the incumbent magistrates can sieve prospected judiciary leaders who can represent the different colleges left without representation.

A first for the magistrates

The series of disqualifications and re-qualifications during the Freshmen Election (FE) was the first major case the magistrates handled this year. Alyansang Tapat Sa Lasalista (Tapat) appealed to the magistrates the initial decision of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to disqualify the political party.

The magistrates lifted one of the minor offenses accused of Tapat, and this led to the reversal of the decision of COMELEC in favor of Tapat. COMELEC then appealed to the Election Board to rescind the decision of the magistrates. The Election Board, composed of Student Affairs Dean Fritzie de Vera, USG President Lorenz de Castro and COMELEC Chair Franz Cariño, favored COMELEC.

“[I hope] that the magistrates also respect the autonomy of the COMELEC with regard to their [COMELEC] decisions and actions, and that they [should] also acknowledge the mandate the freshmen decided upon in the recently concluded FE,” Iisang Tugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) president Rico Locsin defends.

In the case of the FE, the magistrates would only step in if the political parties do not agree with COMELEC’s decision. It can be recalled that Tapat appealed to the magistrates after COMELEC finalized their decision to disqualify the political party.

The magistrates also have the responsibility to hear cases filed against the USG, its members and even COMELEC since the latter reports directly to the judiciary.

Applause and criticisms

USG president Lorenz de Castro insists that the magistrates’ performance for the first term is commendable despite their incomplete number. The magistrates and their counsel officers were able to establish the judiciary’s rules of court, rules of internal governance and complaint code.

De Castro comments that the judiciary can improve by working on the continuity of leadership that should be present among its members.

Locsin who is also a former LA representative, on the other hand, suggests the improvement of the training and quality control of the magistrates. He recalls how the former type of government, the Student Council (SC), chose not to approve the installation of the judiciary for reasons of lack of training and average quality of applicant magistrates.

For LA Floor Leader MJ Sy, the performance of the magistrates in the last term is still commendable considering that they are the first of their kind.

The incumbent magistrates admit that a complete judiciary will provide a better process of decision- making in the future since a true quorum of four out of six will be reached.

The judiciary plans to improve their rapport with the students by allowing them to openly file complaints and making the justice system and process more accountable and speedy.

This, however, will only succeed once all colleges have their own magistrates, and if the judiciary will truly be set apart from the other branches of the USG.

Christopher Chanco

By Christopher Chanco

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