From past to present: The USG in the face of evolving concerns

On February 4, protesters swarmed outside the Senate compound to oppose the Congress’ attempt to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Civic groups were urging senators—who were about to hold a plenary session on the issue—to reconsider.

But it was not just rights advocates present at the demonstration. Student groups, including delegates from the University Student Government (USG), were also on the ground, and later inside the Senate building distributing copies of a statement on behalf of the student body.

This is but one of the ways the USG demonstrates its role as a policy and advocacy-driven student government. Every year, a new batch of student leaders helm the USG, and with it comes another set of problems they need to face. The LaSallian catches up with current and former USG presidents to discuss the different issues they faced during their terms.

Problems faced

Incumbent USG President Gabbie Perez shares that the USG was undermanned and delayed at the start of her term. The 2018 General Elections (GE) left a lot of government seats unfilled, while the imposition of the activity ban postponed planned activities across student organizations.

Pram Menghrajani’s term, on the other hand, saw major administration changes, where both the University’s President and Chancellor had new appointees. Like Perez, however, she also faced a setback at the start of her term when GE 2015 ended with a low turnout.

As the first President under the USG Constitution in 2010, Lorenz De Castro faced issues unique to his time, especially since all eyes were on the first batch of officers. Kicking off his term without a budget, De Castro found it difficult to serve students through projects and programs, forcing them to create fundraising activities to compensate.

Issues then, issues now

For Perez, Menghrajani, and Mikee De Vega, one issue that they all encountered during their respective terms was the administration’s push for a University Break (U Break) shift. In 2016, the administration proposed to move the break from Friday to Monday to deter “excessive drinking” on Thursdays.

Surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews with key administrators were some of the initiatives that Menghrajani took to make student sentiment clear. It worked, and the administration agreed to not change the schedule.

In 2017, however, the proposal was raised again, but, as De Vega puts it, “There was more political will within the administration to push it forward.” This time, the initiative was backed by research that concluded suspensions occurred most often on Mondays. Despite the USG’s best efforts to dissuade administrators, the U Break shift pushed through.

Menghrajani and De Vera both believe that properly relaying student concerns to University administrators remains a challenge. “How do we communicate student interests in such a way that they are taken as seriously as adult issues, as opposed to students whining about things they supposedly don’t understand?” De Vega asks.

Lasallians in a national context

As a student government driven by policies and advocacies, it comes as no surprise that the USG would find itself taking stands on various national issues. De Vega believes that as Lasallians, it is the duty of the USG to “care for the last, the least, and the lost.”

De Castro, on the other hand, says that more can be done to help those in need, “Awareness is not always about current news, but knowing the real situation on the ground and having faith that things can still get better. Involvement does not have to be full time, but being in communion with people [with the] talents to share with others.”

For Menghrajani, it is crucial for the USG to remain engaged in this kind of conversation, especially since the existing political parties today were founded in response to the national issues in the 80s. “Veering away from national issues goes against the very existence of the USG [and] also goes against the goal of contributing to nation-building,” she emphasizes.

While issues affecting students evolve over time, one thing remains certain: the USG, at its core, is there to serve the best interests of the student body, whether it is inside or outside the University.

Drew Beltran Acierto

By Drew Beltran Acierto

Frank Santiago

By Frank Santiago

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