The University Student Government (USG) is currently considering major revisions to its constitution, which last saw big changes during the USG’s first year of adoption in 2009.
Having spearheaded the bulk of these changes, USG President Migi Moreno introduced Operation REFOCUS in an informal Legislative Assembly (LA) session last November 29. Moreno aligns the project with Operation Revamp, a major 2003 revision that called for the transition from an activities and government board like the Student Council (SC) to a more student-centric USG.
He states that the criticisms towards the SC ten years ago are the same criticisms towards the USG. Using his own observations over the past term and a half in tandem with former USG Presidents, Moreno underlines a lack of unity and coordination, continuity, inclusiveness, and a lack of general direction in the present USG system.
REFOCUSing the USG
With just three years after the major constitutional revision in 2009 served as the SC’s transition to the USG, the proposed amendments to the 2014 constitution already call for another overall restructuring of the USG.
The proposed changes are centered on the executive branch. According to the proposed constitution, the USG Executive Board (USG EB) will be composed of only three elected seats, in contrast with the current five elected seats: the President, an Executive Vice President, and an Executive Treasurer.
The Vice President for External Affairs and Executive Secretary will be removed, with its roles and functions reinforced through existing positions. Unlike the current structure, the three officers would be unified under one office, to be called the Cabinet.
Furthermore, the proposal introduces a new coordination board called the Executive Assembly, constituted by representatives from various student organizations and student sectors. This would allow a regular venue for different student leaders within the University to convene, assess and streamline their activities and initiatives.
Should the new Constitution be ratified, Batch Governments (BGs) will be dissolved and be represented through a Batch Representative, who performs the functions of the elected Batch President and Vice President. The representative will instead be aided by a Batch Council. Meanwhile, College Student Governments will see an expansion of their roles through the creation of a Management Committee, as well as other legislative functions.
Should the proposed 2014 constitution be ratified, the number of existing seats in the government will be cut to roughly half. This holds great implications for all the prospective candidates in the upcoming General Elections (GE) this March.
Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon President Robert Hechanova stresses that though Santugon is not entirely against structural changes like Operation REFOCUS, there are aspects that they particularly find questionable. Namely, he expresses concerns in the locking of the constitution for the next five years, and the possible efficiency consequences borne from trimming the executive board.
Says Hechanova, “To be very honest, I don’t want the USG to sacrifice, in terms of having people do various thrusts for various functions. I think unity is achievable with what the USG has right now… we work for the same mission and vision. It binds everyone together.”
He questions whether structural change is the main answer to the concerns raised in the past. “I’m just looking for proper justification for this transition,” he adds.
Although Hechanova also acknowledges the criticisms regarding USG running CSO-like projects and activities, he believes that these initiatives are other manifestations of serving the studentry under the mission-vision of the USG.
Hechanova mentions that Santugon is researching various ways to address the issues raised by Operation REFOCUS. He shares, “There have been talks where we plan the reconstruction of the Executive Board that is very similar to the SC structure, but not the SC structure as a whole… We’re looking into the possibility of moving the Vice President Internals & Externals into two different positions, to handle two different student functions.”
Hechanova has temporarily declined to share how these developments will affect their campaign and Plans of Action in the upcoming GE.
Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista, meanwhile, has declined to release a statement on Operation REFOCUS and their GE preparations as of press time.
On the other hand, Minority Floor Leader Vani Altomonte questions the constitutionality of the due processes that the proposed constitution underwent.
According to Altomonte, in the drafted resolution, the Judiciary’s Chief Magistrate Rem Serrano, College of Computer Studies Magistrate Mark Englis, and School of Economics Magistrate Angel Pascual signed as co-writers of the resolution.
Under the Philippine constitution, the Judiciary serves as a separate and autonomous body with the power to settle controversies regarding grave abuse of discretion or problematic jurisdiction in any part of the government. Granted this, the Judiciary is required to maintain neutrality. In accordance, Almonte attests that deliberations and excessive collaboration between the three branches is therefore unconstitutional.
“They can be there as a consulting body, but they cannot function as co-authors,” states Altomonte, later questioning, “How are we sure that the decision will not be biased, when the Judiciary [itself] is part of the writing process?
However, he expands that under the University’s setting and the USG Constitution, the unconstitutionality of the act is a legal gray area. As of press time, the issue is being researched and discussed within the minority floor.
Other proposed amendments to the USG constitution include in its definitions of the roles of the different officers and offices the elected and appointed representatives from the DLSU Science and Technology Center (STC). It also assigns the EXEDEP as the main operational arm of the University in the STC Campus, to communicate and streamline information and other events with that of the main campus.
Two additional Constitutional Commissions would also be added, namely the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Activity Processing, a revision of the current Department of Activity and Approval Monitoring.
The Judiciary would also undergo several revisions. The group of Magistrates would constitute the Supreme Court; the College Magistrates would constitute the Collegiate Court and Campus Court. The STC Campus Magistrate would also be included in the Court.
A notable inclusion to the Judiciary’s functions would be provisions allowing for a judicial review, which clarifies the function of the judiciary, also stipulating that any student is eligible to petition for a judicial review of any executive or legislative act.
The proposed 2014 Constitution contains only 17 articles, much less when compared to the 2009 USG Constitution which has 29, and the unratified 2013 USG Constitution which was drafted with 30.
Moreno explains that many of the articles in the Constitution have been merged to eliminate redundancies and to group together related provisions to avoid confusion when browsing through the Constitution. Should the proposed 2014 Constitution be ratified, the implementation of these amendments will be regulated by a transitory committee.
Progress on the LA floor
The amendments are currently under review by the LA, and should these be passed, a plebiscite involving the entire student body will be held. This plebiscite was initially scheduled to be held at the end of the current term, but due to the prolonged deliberation process of the LA, as well as consecutive delays on the LA floor, the target date has been postponed to a later date in the third term.
The first formal session on the proposed 2014 Constitution was held on December 6, 2013. In the week prior to this, Moreno spearheaded an informal session with a short discussion on the rationale behind the proposed amendments.
The December 6 session covered the first four articles of the proposed 2014 Constitution, namely: name and seat; membership; declaration of principles, purposes, and policies; and the declaration of rights, duties, and responsibilities of students. Articles I, II, and the first parts of Article III were passed without major changes and much contention from the legislators.
The first major arguments were raised when partisanship was named as a possibility given the provisions under Article III, Section 13, which states that “the USG shall provide avenues for different political views to support proposals in the legislative process,” and in Article IV, Section 8, that says “every student shall be encouraged to participate actively in extra-curricular and civic affairs and in the promotion of the common good.”
Altomonte claimed that these provisions may allow for partisanship within the USG. The body went into a discussion on the grounds for partisanship but it was decided that issue will be laid down and the discussion continued in the next session.
As part of the agenda, the first part of Section V: Legislative Branch was discussed but amendments were not finalized, as the LA went into a lengthy exchange on whether or not the LA should be given the power to approve appointed officers in the USG.
The minority argued that in order for the LA and Executive Branch to have equal powers with regard to appointment and selection of officers, the appointed officers of the EB be approved by the LA, more than its power to lay down the qualifications for selection.
The proponents and the remaining majority, however, stood by the amendments in the proposed Constitution, arguing that to ensure a check and balance of all branches, the LA’s duty is to set the qualifications, while the EB will appoint. In the event of appointed officers not meeting the qualifications, the Judiciary will step in to resolve the matter.
Due to time and other constraints, the body agreed to lay the matter on the table for further discussion and resolution in the next session. Following the University calendar, the LA will resume office at the beginning of the third term in January. The remaining twelve articles, including the bulk of the amendments which propose changes in the Executive Branch, as well as the amendments left unresolved in today’s session will be discussed in the next LA session on January 10, 2014.
Moreno has expressed the need to conduct the plebiscite, if the amendments are passed, by the end of January at the latest so as not to coincide with GE preparations. However, given the delays, it is uncertain if the plebiscite can be held within this period.
The LaSallian will be pursuing this story as it continues. Discussions on the amendments will be ongoing for the remaining LA sessions of the 3rd term. Students may consult with their batch LA on the developments of the plebiscite, or sit in during the LA sessions held every Friday at 2:30 pm.
The soft copies of documents pertinent to the plebiscite can be accessed through these links: