After failing to field candidates in the 2018 General Elections (GE), Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) made an unprecedented comeback to the University Student Government (USG), and making history along the way by winning a majority of the seats—a feat the party previously had not accomplished in the USG’s decade-long existence.

Then-GE 2019 candidate Lance Dela Cruz stood at the forefront of the campaign as the party’s bet for the Office of the President. Formerly serving as a Legislative Assembly (LA) representative and Tapat’s Vice President for External Affairs, Dela Cruz sits down with The LaSallian to demystify the student leader steering the USG into its 10th year.

You took a year-long break from serving an elected position in the USG, opting to focus on helping lead Tapat. What factors led you to make that decision?

I was supposed to run for LA [representative] that year, but Tapat got disqualified. It was a wake up call for us [that] if we want a progressive movement to remain alive and well in the University, we would have to do something about it. It was more of going back to our roots: Saan ba nagsimula ang Tapat? We started reviving our international and national partnerships…I felt like it was the best way for me to help out.

(Where did Tapat begin?)

How do you plan on balancing the personal, academic, and social aspects of your life as a student leader?

The thing that I learned in my past positions was that when you have a good team behind you who [is] empowered, who sees the value of what you’re doing, you’ll be able to execute your plans. But I have to admit, it takes sacrifice and pwedeng hindi mo ma-sacrifice yung academics mo or yung studies mo, but something will be sacrificed along the way.

This batch of USG marks the first instance Tapat held majority of the elected positions. How significant was this achievement for you and for the party?

When we stepped into office, we [had] already mapped out the entire year. The question was not even “How will we win?”, [but] “How will we revive the progressive movement?” We slowly rebuilt Tapat’s name back up again to the point na [students] know what Tapat is. [Tapat events] would be something that can be associated with the word “progressive” [or] “leftist”, which is what we want to do. I think our alumni and our members saw our win as something that is important especially now [that] there is a need for strong youth leaders to help defend our democracy.

Isn’t “leftist” a label that would turn off people?

The political left [is] very wide. You can say that Joseph Stalin was left, but you can also say that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [are] also leftists. When we tried to bring out the word “leftist” last year, we tried to associate it with eliminating social inequalities [and] social injustice, [promoting LGBTQ+] rights—mga ganung issues para when the word “leftist” is being used by Tapat members, it would resonate with Tapat’s ideology of being from the left of [the] center [of the political spectrum].

The previous USG’s platform ran on “sustainable student governance”, which attempted to curb discontinuity between succeeding USG batches. How do you plan to continue this initiative?

To put it bluntly, I’m not sure what “sustainable student governance” means talaga. But I think there are some initiatives from the previous Executive Board, especially under the Office of the Executive Treasurer, that we will be carrying over and improving on. But more than that, what we want to do is to continue what we started two years ago. More than half of my platform was something that we worked on when I was an LA. Most of my initiatives that I will continue will come from two years ago more than last year.

As an LA representative, you pushed for the return of the Office of the Ombudsman. As USG President, how do you plan to continue this?

[For] the Office of the Ombudsman, [based on] what is written in the Ombudsman Act, we’re trying to look for a way to ensure that the constitution isn’t violated and that we’re still abiding by the by-laws. Most likely, it will be handled by the Judiciary. They’ll be training [the future Ombudspersons] along with the next batch of magistrates para pag napasa yung Constitution next year, may functioning Ombudsman office na. We will start preparing para come next year, [the USG] would have a fully functioning Ombudsman to ensure that the USG remains transparent and corrupt-free.

(They’ll be training the future Ombudspersons] along with the next batch of magistrates so that once the Constitution is passed next year, there would already be a functioning Ombudsman.)

How will you steer the USG to be more involved in national issues?

We started na. Yung voter registration project, that was something that I was supposed to do when I was in [the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs] of Tapat. But elections came and ‘di pa bukas yung voter registration, so I brought it over to the USG. I think that the first step is to get people to register.

The objective [after voter registration] is to go down to the community level and provide good voter education programs to communities around the country.

Aside from that, we have a couple of national affairs engagements. We’ll be having a call for advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and then we will be partnering with LGBTQ+ organizations around the country to help them form their own LGBTQ+ organizations here in the University. Universities tend to be active in advocacies, so let’s bring that to La Salle.

You’ve also been involved in activities like lobbying for the SOGIE Equality Bill and campaigning for Akbayan and Otso Diretso. How did you become actively involved with these causes?

My dad was a union leader [of] Philippine Airlines (PAL) before when I was [around] two [to] three years old. I remember kasi usually susunduin namin siya nung mom ko from work. My dad kasi was a flight attendant sa PAL. After namin sunduin, we would go to the board meetings ng mga union leaders ng PAL, and that’s where they would strategize on how to ensure that their rights as employees [are] not violated. I picked it up pretty early in my life na [fighting for workers’ rights] is the right thing to do.

I [also] applied for an internship [under] Sen. Risa [Hontiveros] where I was able to get more connections to national partners. They really provided us good mentors [who taught us] bill-making, legislative lobbying, [and] political communications, [which] I’m applying now in the USG.

How do you reconcile religious beliefs with your advocacies like the contentious SOGIE Equality Bill?

It’s not really against my religion the way I see it…I feel like some religious groups are interpreting the Bible differently and that leads to discrimination, violence, and hate. But we must always remember that the right to religious freedom does not give us the right to discriminate. More than an issue of religion, it’s really an issue of equality and human rights. I don’t think [that’s] against Catholic faith.

Which leaders would you look up to as personal role models?

It would be Jose Diokno, yung father ni [former DLSU College of Law Dean] Chel Diokno, for the reason being na he was a senator during [a] time when it was fatal to be one. He stood his ground, he stood firm, and [he] upheld his principles, and that is [essentially] what I try to [do…] to stand my ground [and] to always uphold what I believe in—the same way he did.

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