It has been three years since the University Student Government (USG) materialized. The USG was created to improve the Student Council (SC) by correcting the flaws experienced by the SC.
According to The LaSallian’s General Elections Special (2010), SC President Saint Anthony Tiu initially conceptualized the USG in 2004 then further revived by 2008 SC President Nicole Villarojo to achieve a more efficient means of leadership and a more established check and balance system. It was meant to stand for competence, transparency and accountability in governance.
The USG had concretized three branches similar to the country’s political structure—the executive, legislative and the judiciary. Under the executive branch are five offices such as the President, Vice President for Internals, Vice President for Externals, Executive Secretary and Treasurer. For the legislative branch, each batch is allowed to elect a single legislative assembly representative. Furthermore, the judiciary branch, acting independently, is composed of the Magistrates, Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Commission on Audit (COA).
Since the USG is a relatively new system, ambiguities and loopholes in clauses are not uncommon. There have been additional clarifications and amendments incorporated from the time of ratification. One of the problems encountered concerned information dissemination among students about the transition from SC to USG.
During the USG’s second year of running, the Judiciary branch was reportedly left out in other functions by other branches, despite its establishment as an independent body. The Judiciary branch is ideally responsible for interpreting and enforcing the laws anchored in the constitution. It also acts as the check and balance body of the USG officers and units. Analyzing the functions of Judiciary, principles of accountability and transparency lie within this branch. These, however, were bypassed. Budget constraints, overlapping responsibilities, and several changes were some of the identified problems.
An article from The LaSallian’s General Elections Special (2011) reported, “The judiciary was established to make the student government more efficient, but the issues have prevented it from maximizing its capabilities. Many students and even officers are still not fully aware of the judiciary’s functions, if not ignore them completely.” This led to the judiciary’s failure to fulfill its responsibilities.
The first USG president, Lorenz De Castro shares that the Judiciary branch is considered as the one of the noteworthy changes. “The student council, or government [as it is called now], has an impartial decision making body on issues that would usually involve controversy due to conflicting views of the two political parties,” he explained.
De Castro hailed from Santugon while the next two USG presidents within its three years in practice come from Tapat – Cabe Aquino and Jana Cabuhat, respectively.
In comparison with the country’s political map, the question of transparency and accountability still remain as the need towards an adequate delivery of services to the students and to the society in a bigger picture.
Different year, different problems
In 2010, De Castro’s administration took on the USG’s first run, after the transition from the Student Council. De Castro believes that the change was necessary, emphasizing that the Judiciary branch was a key attribute to the new structure.
As with anything, however, problems abounded the first year of the USG. One problem they faced from the get-go was their operating budget, De Castro shares. They initially had to run on previous budgets and initiate fund-raising activities all while pushing for the programs they had planned prior to securing their positions, he furthered.
However, it was during his term that the USG initiated a centralized evaluation system in collaboration with the activity-monitoring arm of office of the VP-Internal Affairs and in alignment with the Commission on Audit, wherein a continuous evaluation of different projects and programs transpired, as well as a trimestral evaluation of the different student government units.
Ratification on the third year
As the USG progressed into its third year, the ratification of a new USG constitution was in the works, as the student body and governing body continually evolved. And this time, the challenges were different.
For Jana Cabuhat’s administration, she shares that the main problem was having everyone land the same idea about the USG. Cabuhat asserts that the constitution has yet to be fully interpreted by the Judiciary, and every year, a new interpretation of it crops up. Thus, she notes that in the three years of USG’s official functions, it would be hard to gauge its efficiency yet as she believes that in order for the University to yield the results, a certain degree of consistency must transpire.
She remains apprehensive of the different approaches the USG may be thrust into in the future. She shares that incoming officers must be better educated of the structures within the University, and the responsibilities they respectively entail, so that all functions are maximized and are effective.
Conversely, De Castro believes that the success and reach of platforms and program plans, as he saw during his experience in both the SC and the USG, are greatly dependent on the leadership that sits in the USG, where success was dependent on people who had the commitment to serve first and foremost the students.
Trials and expectations
Both do not know the future that the USG holds in the University, but both maintain a positive outlook on it.
De Castro envisions the student government as the unifying body of all student initiatives of the University, where student organizations are the biggest organizational sector in DLSU, to push for sustainable changes focused on bringing student potential to a reality.
Cabuhat, on the other hand, wishes to see a student government functioning on its own, and streamlining some of the overlapped roles the SC experienced. She also wishes that the USG continues to fight for student rights, as no other organization in the University is aimed at doing so as its primary responsibility.