There’s no other way to say it. This year’s University Student Government (USG) General Elections was a disaster. Only 35 percent of De La Salle University’s student body came out to vote, a sharp decline from 62.05 percent in 2014 and 72.23 percent in 2013. This came on the heels of the disqualification of over 100 candidates in the midst of the GE campaign period due to technicalities in their Certificates of Candidacy and other pertinent requirements.
To add to that, the five-day voting period was marred by accusations of voter harassment and electioneering. These only contributed to the already declining students’ perspective on the USG and the GE. A former USG officer even mentioned to me that the only thing lacking for the GE to truly mimic Philippine politics is vote buying though I hope that this never becomes a part of the University’s political culture.
Many students have cited that they refuse to vote because of how ridiculous the political landscape in DLSU has become. There is a growing sentiment among students that the USG, which was patterned after the Philippine government, is an exact microcosm of it–not only because of the structure of positions but more so because of the rampant dirty tactics employed during election season.
The worst part about this nightmare is that it’s far from over. The USG Executive Board positions have yet to be filled along with several other positions and special elections will have to be held in the near future. At the rate that things are going though, the possibility of another failure of elections is not so far fetched.
Instead of denying these stories or sweeping them under the rug, the major stakeholders of the USG–including those elected and appointed to office, the GE candidates, and even the Commission on Elections–should concentrate on making a concerted effort to change how things are done and the overall negative perception of DLSU politics through concrete action. Students invest their time to vote and participate in USG activities, and just like any other investor, if they do not see a noteworthy return on their investment, it becomes highly probably that they will choose to jump ship. Elected officials derive their power from the masses and if these people refuse to vote, then they are obviously not content with what they are seeing.
To win back the attention of DLSU’s student body, the attitude by which candidates participate in the GE and elected officials work within the USG must change. Majority of the student body can only feel the presence of the USG during the campaign season, whether it be the GE or the Freshman Elections, which gives people the mentality that candidates are only in it for the position. Obviously, this is not the case for all officials of the USG and I have encountered several upstanding officers who serve because it is their passion to do so, but the effort of all officers must remain at a consistently high level even after the elections and throughout the whole year.
The focus of one’s candidacy must swing back to genuine service and away from any personal goals that might get in the way. The number of seats that a party wins should not matter as much as the amount of service that their candidates can churn out for the student body. This facet, though overlooked quite often, is actually the founding principle of the USG formulated by then-DLSU Student Council (SC) President Saint Anthony Tiu over 12 years ago. The move to switch to the USG from the SC, as stated by Tiu in a 2013 interview with The LaSallian, was to solve the issue of overlapping with the Council of Student Organizations (CSO). The goal in mind was to distinguish the USG from student organizations and move away from activity creation. The USG, according to Tiu’s plan, was meant to “create policies, advocacies, and services for the student body.” In short, this isn’t your ordinary student council. The USG was meant to be a souped up and concentrated version of the SC that would go beyond activities and focus on serving and representing the students.
The cure for this lies within the people running the USG. After each GE, 76 (or in this year’s case, 75) officials are put into office to lead the student body. These elected officials comprise less than one percent of the student population, yet they are among the most powerful and influential. If we really want the comparisons to the Philippine government to stop, this is where it starts. In order to fix the problem of “student apathy” and bring back interest in the USG, the mindset by which this University’s politicians approach the GE as well as their duties when elected must change. The focus has to be on service once again and if not, the lack of student participation might threaten to make the USG obsolete and leave students without any form of representation.