University Student Government (USG), by virtue of the democratic form of government of the Philippines, exists of, by, and for the students within the University, thereby ensuring the welfare and proper representation of the student body. A guiding belief is then crucial for the USG to remain independent, completely autonomous and free from influences of particular sectors in the university: non-partisanship.
As stated in ‘Policies’, Section X of Article III in the USG Constitution, “the USG shall pursue an independent stand, not dictated by any other sector, other than the students.” These sectors include the political parties.
Free from partisanship?
However, the nature of USG having elected members coming from either one of two political parties – Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat) and Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) – posits a doubt on the possibility of USG being entirely free from political influence.
Migi Moreno, current USG President who ran as Independent Party last General Election, affirms that political parties have indirect influence to decision-making in the USG. He says, “Political parties exist to form leaders who run during elections. Given that, it is a reality that it is part of their job description to influence their candidates and members towards their vision of what USG should be.”
Like many other student organizations, USG is composed of elected and appointed members from various backgrounds, and working along with the members is sometimes not promising. Former presidents of USG – both Cabe Aquino and Jana Cabuhat – have shared in the previous September 2011 and March 2013 articles of the The LaSallian of their difficulties in working along with members of USG because of differences in political party and vision for USG.
However, Moreno views this as a challenge that can be overcome once the roles and functions of USG is clearly defined. He explains, “The USG is generally faced with a challenge of clarifying its identity and purpose. The confusion arising for elected officers who come from political parties is when they assume the identity of a USG elected officer without having a clear understanding of the identity and purpose of USG.”
Mixed party government
Although political parties have their influence in USG, the elected and appointed candidates are expected to leave their political affiliations and work as USG members for the benefit of the students.
Santugon President Robert Hechanova agrees with these expectations and says, “Yes, I do believe it is essential for the USG to remain [autonomous]. Once part of USG, the officers should focus on the rights, welfare and development of their constituents, not on the advancement of the party they are from.”
Asked what programs the political party has that would instill independence and responsibility among the candidates, Hechanova answers that various modules on critical thinking, Lasallian values and relevant issues are prepared. The party is also said to closely monitor the performance among its elected candidates whether or not they are fulfilling their promised platforms during the elections.
Tapat, on the other hand, believes contrarily.
Jerick Maala and Jam Padilla, Tapat President and party representative of last month’s concluded case regarding USG’s Code of Conduct, believe that the political party is not a sector in the University but a student organization. Asked how significant autonomy is in the USG, Maala says, “It is not possible, more than I would just like to believe that it shouldn’t be.”
Maala furthers, “Our USG upholds principles of participatory democracy, and as is the case, the USG, by democratic principle, cannot be withheld from external influences because even if we elect our officers into position, we still continue a power struggle with them because their mandate emanates from us, the electorate. “
They believe that USG can reach an independent stand by promoting participatory democracy as mentioned in the USG Constitution and by having discussions and debates that reveal ideological differences.
Chief Magistrate Rem Serrano, asked if USG is guided by any majority ideology because overall seats in the USG are taken by people coming from a particular political party, believes otherwise and explains, “The minority also has their say and our USG President was independent. Our USG is composed of people with different ideologies that are always for the collective interest of the students alone.”
Regardless, Moreno believes unifying the USG is possible, despite ideological differences.
He suggests, “We can slowly attain this by constantly reminding everyone in the USG of the purpose of why they are in the USG in the first place, and it will all go back to its founding principles which will help us in clarifying the collective identity and purpose of everyone in the USG.”
The vision for Moreno is to refocus USG into a representative body of the students, making sure of close coordination among the stakeholders in the university and delineating its identity and purpose as sole and autonomous student representatives.