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A dream of USG: From the vision of Saint Anthony Tiu

The General Elections (GE) is upon us once again. Student representation in the University expresses itself through the University Student Government (USG), and this year is a momentous occasion in the history of the USG as it marks the 10th anniversary of its inception.

Reason

Initially known as the Student Council (SC), its subsequent transformation into the USG is only a chapter in its long history. During Martial Law, student governments were abolished—and the University’s SC was not spared. In its place, the Council of Student Organization (CSO) was created as an activity-making body to fill the void left behind by SC’s dissolution. Although the SC returned in 1982, the SC and CSO remained separate bodies.

In 2003, then SC President Saint Anthony Tiu (CHE, ‘04) drafted a revolutionary proposal that would transform the SC into a system with three branches, patterned after the Philippine government. Though he was unable to see the USG during his term, future presidents would revisit his idea—thus, the USG was born.

Tiu put forth the proposal after he and his Executive Board felt the need to address the problems plaguing the SC at the time. The first issue they wanted to address was the SC’s identity. ”We felt that the SC and student organizations supplied a lot of activities but it did not address student apathy. Instead of addressing the apathy maybe the SC became the cause to increase it,” he explains in Filipino. Students at the time did not really know the difference between the SC and CSO as they were both activity-making bodies. In a previous article with The LaSallian, he explained that there was “a lack of long term sustainable envisioning of plans.”


Vision

After coming face to face with the SC’s identity crisis, Tiu put it upon himself to clearly establish what the USG would stand for and what its role would be in the University. The USG in his proposal “should be considered by the University to be co-equal and co-determinant.” According to him, co-equal means that representatives had the ability to vote on policies, while co-determinant means that they are given the opportunity to defend their stances.

Beyond being co-equal and co-determinant, the USG he envisioned would be completely autonomous from the administration. Despite being autonomous on paper, Tiu questioned the SC’s autonomy, “One manifestation is the fact we still needed the administration’s approval when we do activities. We respect their inputs and we value them but it’s a manifestation that they don’t trust us and they don’t give us true autonomy.”

He envisioned the USG to have its own system to review and approve projects that was completely controlled by students without any administration interference. “That is the true manifestation of autonomy,” he declares.

However, Tiu said that if the USG of today is still facing the same problems as the SC of his time, then his vision of a truly autonomous student government has not been realized. “It may be a different name from the SC back then but if the operations, the system, the mentality, the mindset, and the way things are done—if they’re still the same, then that means that it’s not the real USG,” he argues.

He suggests that if this were the case then the USG should revisit his proposal, understand the true essence of what the USG should be, and adapt it to address the current issues. Tiu remains firm, however, that the USG should primarily provide the student body services and representing the sentiment of students regarding national issues while moving away from short-term activities.

What comes next?

Even if Tiu is no longer in the University, his hope for the future generation still shines through. He asks the current student representatives to envision the USG 10 years from now and move toward that vision while they are still in office. He emphasizes that they must create a legacy that would benefit future generations of Lasallians. “Think long term. Make sure you have a very strong vision and make sure you dedicate your one academic year in the [USG] to realize that,” he adds.

But governance is not a one-way street, there must be a collaborative relationship between the student government and the students it wants to represent. “Always challenge the current USG. Are they really performing the main roles of a student government?” Tiu encourages the student body to question the services and activities that the USG are spearheading and if they are the appropriate body to lead these. “If some [other] organization can do this, then they’re not acting like the USG. Instead of being the solution, they’re being part of the problem and they’re just continuing the cancer of the old days.”

To better understand the current reality of our student government, we must look back and study the purpose of its inception. By internalizing the struggles of the past, we can better address the problems of the present.

By Drew Beltran Acierto

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