The Executive Committee (EXECOM) of the University Student Government (USG) failed to convene in the past academic year (AY) to conduct interviews for magistrate appointments, members of the Judiciary branch told The LaSallian. Members of the committee—which includes the Executive Board (EB) and the college presidents—allegedly postponed the meeting repeatedly.
“The problem was during the first term [of AY 2018-2019], hindi nag-convene yung EXECOM to do the [interviews] in the first place. What happened was they put off yung pag-interview ng [magistrates] in order to approve the [magistrates] later,” former Judicial Secretary Joshua Castro (‘18, ADV) said in an exclusive interview.
Candidates for the position first undergo a screening process within the branch, he explained, and those who pass are then required to undergo an interview with EXECOM. Once completed, the Legislative Assembly (LA) confirms the appointment through a resolution. Since the interviews never transpired, applicants were effectively blocked from being appointed.
The revelation shed new light on the perceived absence of the third branch over the past three consecutive terms, which Castro believed was the result of the strained relationship the branch had developed with other sectors of the USG in the aftermath of the impeachment case of former Arts College Government Student Services Chair Angeli Andan.
As previously reported by The LaSallian, the branch narrowly avoided a suspension over alleged violations of the Data Privacy Act raised by former Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE) Director John Lingatong. SLIFE was later found overstepping its jurisdiction, preventing the suspension from taking effect.
Setting it straight
Members of the Judiciary have also made efforts to set the record straight on misconceptions propagated by the other branches. During an LA session last August 1, former Chief Legislator Stella Santos claimed that the supposed absence of the branch has led to cases not being processed or filed.
“Kaya nga walang nai-impeach ngayon, kasi walang magistrate,” she told legislators.
(That is why no one is being impeached right now, because there are no magistrates.)
But Elijah Flores, Deputy Director for Council Officers in the Judiciary branch, countered this statement, saying that the lack of impeachment cases was not because there were no magistrates but because no cases were ever brought to their office.
“Actually, [for] the whole school year, wala namang lumapit sa amin regarding a case that they want to file against a USG officer,” he disclosed.
(No one approached us.)
As the arbiter of cases, the Judiciary branch itself cannot begin the investigation process and thus must rely on a plaintiff or complainant to raise concerns for the Judiciary to then investigate as a unit. “Para magkaroon ng kaso to begin with, kailangan talagang mayroong lalapit kasi wala kaming function as council officers and the Judiciary [branch] na sa amin magsisimula yung pag-file nung kaso talaga,” Flores explained.
(For there to be a case to begin with, someone must initiate and bring the case to us because the Judiciary [branch] and council officers do not have the function to start the case ourselves.)
The officers also rebut
Santos’s claim that there was a lack of magistrates to complete a quorum for
handling cases. According to them, there are no explicit requirements on the
number of magistrates needed to hear cases—only that a certain percentage of
them should be present. Article XVIII, Section 13 of the USG Constitution
states that at least two-thirds must be present during a hearing, while
complete attendance is required for impeachment proceedings. The same
guidelines are also outlined in the Judiciary’s
Rules of Court.
Nor is it required that more than one magistrate be present to preside over a case hearing. Castro cited a case in 2015 where a batch vice president was impeached after being found guilty of gross negligence. During the trial, only one magistrate delivered the verdict.
Lack of continuity
Though the branch is still fit for the job, the lack of new appointments posed problems for the Judiciary, as Flores elaborated that the then-incumbent magistrates were graduating at the time, which made succession planning difficult. “Once nag-graduate ka na, ‘di ka na part ng USG. So nagsi-graduate na yung ibang mga magistrate; unti-unting nagkawalaan na,” said.
(Once you graduate, you cannot be part of the USG. As the other magistrates started graduating, the Judiciary gradually ran out of personnel.)
Rafael Peña, USG Director for Council Officers, added that the University’s lean years impacted recruitment. With limited capacity, work around the department became sluggish. “For [the ID] 116, less than five [joined]. Two [are] active…because of that, it is hard for us to function when there is no continuity,” he explained.
However, Peña is hopeful that the organization will regain its footing as the year heralds new opportunities. “This term, we are trying to get back on track with the [ID] 118 and the [ID] 119. [Lack of members] is a problem every organization has. We want to fix [it]; we want to work given the limitations,” he expressed.
Ongoing remedial measures
In a previous interview with The LaSallian, former USG President Gabbie Perez said that remedial measures, in coordination with the DLSU College of Law, were underway for the Judiciary branch to revamp the training process. An ad hoc committee composed of members of the EB and the LA was also formed to handle cases should they arise.
Members of the branch, however, denied any knowledge or involvement in the supposed arrangement. “I think she was trying to cite a specific meeting with SLIFE…pero kasi, kaming directors concerned, wala kaming alam,” Flores pronounced.
(We, the directors concerned, were not aware of that.)
Officer in Charge Clifford Martinez, who effectively functions as the interim Chief Magistrate, added that he had had consultations with Commission on Elections Chair John Christian Ababan and SLIFE. He did not recall Perez being involved.
Fortunately for the branch, a solution to the impasse draws near.
In the first LA session for the AY last September 12, legislators moved to resolve these hindrances by drafting new guidelines for the Judiciary branch, in a resolution authored by FAST2017 representative Neal Gonzales, EDGE2018 representative Leonna Gula, EXCEL2020 representative Katrina Ignacio, FAST2018 representative Maegan Ragudo, and BLAZE2020 representative Urban Teh, equipping the branch with emergency powers to train new magistrates.
Martinez revealed that the initiative came from the newly-elected body, headed by USG President Lance Dela Cruz, who consulted with the branch’s officers. “We told [Dela Cruz] that [Judiciary] lacks the manpower before the resolution. We do not have any magistrates that have been interviewed by the EXECOM and LA,” Martinez recounted.
He added that the resolution was recommended by Dela Cruz to enact their proposition and to formalize a retention plan “so that this event may not happen again in the future.”