It’s been a rough month for student organizations.
The student body was met with multiple issues at the start of Academic Year 2018-2019 from a suspension order on the University Student Government Judiciary; a sudden change of director in the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE); and a month-long moratorium, which halted operations under the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) and the USG from September 10 to October 10.
Cases filed, suspension of Judiciary
Over the past month, one of the controversies that arose at the opening of the academic year was the attempted suspension of the Judiciary Department of the USG by SLIFE. Former Chief Magistrate Christine Hizon discloses that such a suspension was due to claims that the Judiciary violated “the privacy and reputation of the students, ‘the integrity of the name of the University and its image,’ and the Data Privacy Act,” which according to the former Chief Magistrate was emphasized by SLIFE to be punishable by imprisonment, fines, or both.
This, she explains, was brought about by their recent decision in a case against former Arts College Government Student Services Chair Angeli Andan, where the defendant was found guilty of gross negligence and incapacity to perform her duties as chairperson. After the hearing was adjourned, Hizon explains that Andan proceeded to SLIFE to raise her concern. Thereafter, former SLIFE Director John Lingatong ordered the Judiciary to suspend activities.
Hizon adds that their unit was also informed of Andan’s intent to file cases against the Judiciary, The LaSallian, and the plaintiff for harassment. “Although this claim of harassment has no solid basis, we were all only doing our duty and responsibility to the USG and the whole student body,” she reiterates, and continues, “The officers involved are public officers of the USG; the students have the right to know what is happening in the USG as per the admin code.” The LaSallian was the lone student media group who covered the said impeachment trial.
When asked regarding their action in response to the SLIFE mandate, Magistrate John Eric Voo cites that the Judiciary issued a four-page retort which reiterated their department’s functions and that all their decisions are based on “facts and evidence.”
“All of [those decisions] have merits and [are] grounded on the USG constitution and its bylaws,” states Voo, while explaining that court rulings are “final and binding, and irrevocable.”
Voo also cites that SLIFE allegedly mentioned that the court ruling was “ruining the image and reputation of the USG,” and responded in the same retort that there would be no cases to process if officers followed—and not violated—the constitution.
“We mentioned, ‘why [is it that] officers are willing to run and grab the credit of [their] titles, credentials, and rewards, but [are] not willing to take the repercussions of their mistakes, provided that they were proven guilty of violating the constitution and its bylaws?’” the magistrate contends.
The said suspension, however, did not materialize as it was found that SLIFE was overstepping on its jurisdiction and could not enforce the ban. “After meeting with SLIFE, together with the Dean of Student Affairs Nelca Villarin, we were informed that SLIFE has no power to suspend us because SLIFE is only an adviser,” clarifies Hizon.
In addition, the chief magistrate stresses that SLIFE also has no jurisdiction to change their decisions as magistrates due to the USG being “an autonomous body.” “They can only offer advices. Nothing more,” caps Hizon.
Effects of the activity ban
Earlier this month, operations of the affected student organizations and USG units were suspended, delaying activities such as the Annual Recruitment Week, which was moved to the first week of October, as opposed to its original schedule of September 17 to 21.
In the case of USG units’ supposed projects for the first term of the academic year, Gokongwei College of Engineering Interim College President Iliana Tan cites that one of their major projects that got postponed due to the moratorium, namely the ASEAN Student Engineering Camp. Tan laments that the adjustments to the schedule were “stressful”. “We already set the timeline para mapush siya sa October 13 to 16. Pero ‘yun nga, because of the activity ban, we have to adjust din on how to schedule it,” she discloses.
Hizon, meanwhile, adds that the Judiciary was not covered by the moratorium, as she clarifies that the ban mostly affects procurement activities done by different batches, which the department did not have scheduled during the period.
Tan further adds that facilitating institutional events handled by respective college governments and batch government units was troublesome on their part due to the lack of officers that can work. An example she cites is the organization of Teachers’ Month in the University, which was supposed to run from September 17 until the following month, but was not carried out.
“Wala kang officers kahit yung pili lang or yung informally assigned. Medyo mahirap siya in terms of execution kasi ikaw lang gagawa if wala kang people to make it with you,” she expresses.
(You won’t have officers even if you handpick or informally assign them. It is slightly difficult in terms of execution because you will have to do all the work if you have no people to make it with you.)
She further expounds that she speculates that there may have been informal recruitments for the said student units in charge of institutional activities. This statement was clarified as she states, “Siguro the [USG] Executive Board is taking advantage of the activity ban as they’re using the elected officers as manpower, kasi marami din ‘yun. Kasi they’re like 50 plus.”
A change in SLIFE Director
Aside from issues in student activities, there was also a sudden unannounced change in the position of Director for SLIFE. As of September, Patrick Lo, who previously served as the Leadership Formation and Action (LFA) Coordinator, has taken over as the officer-in-charge of SLIFE.
Lo shares that the appointment was an “administrative decision”, and adds that administrative posts only last for a year, but retention in the position can be renewed annually.
In terms of turnover of processes, he explains that this would not be much of a concern since he is knowledgeable of the in and outs of the office, after serving almost two years for SLIFE. For this academic year, he hopes to improve the office’s structures and processes.
“Here in SLIFE, the goal really is to facilitate, and to make sure that the student organizations would have an easier and a much more inspiring experience in doing activities, rather than seeing us as a hindrance,” he elaborates.