After previously being unable to discuss possible amendments on the current University Student Government (USG) Constitution, the Legislative Assembly (LA) met again in a session last October 25 at Conference Room 1D of the Faculty Center to continue deliberating on possible revisions.
With the absence of Chief Legislator Willem De Castro, BLAZE2021 Representative Robin Lim served as acting Chief Legislator for the session.
An overlap of roles
Minority floor leader and FAST2017 Batch Representative Neal Gonzales put forward suggestions to merge the organizational structure of the Office of the President (OPRES) and the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA), including their duties and responsibilities. Citing Article VII, Section 2 of the USG Constitution, he proposed, “The Office of the President shall absorb the role of the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs.”
Gonzales disclosed that he consulted incumbent Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste and past USG figures regarding the matter, including former Vice President for Internal Affairs Adrian Mendoza, former Chief Legislator Norbs Sarigumba.
“[It] makes sense because [the] President, in the Philippine setting, is more inclined [to the] external side,” Gonzales quoted the former Vice President for External Affairs, who he said supported the decision. Gonzales also noted that the OPRES and the OVPEA were “somehow related” in the creation of University-related projects and activities.
The minority floor leader claimed, “We feel like there should be more responsibility [for the] Office of the President.” He reasoned that the duties of the OPRES remains centered around “overseeing” and “giving directions” to other offices.
This was not the first time that the LA proposed the merger of the OPRES and the OVPEA, according to Gonzales, with one such plan considered during Sarigumba’s term as Chief Legislator. However, the plans did not push through as then LA representatives were unfamiliar with the USG Constitution.
“Yung time nila (Sarigumba), hindi pa nila na-practice masyado yung constitution [and] for us to change the constitution, it needs to take effect muna,” he explained.
(During Sarigumba’s time, they were not able to practice the constitution as much, and for us to change the constitution, it needs to take effect first.)
While the previous Assembly was not able to push through with the revisions, Gonzales mentioned that Sarigumba believes the merging of the two offices may be more applicable this time.
But members of the majority floor, including floor leader and FAST2018 Representative Maegan Ragudo and CATCH2T21 Representative Jaime Pastor, voiced objections against Gonzales’ statements about the amendments and presented their own counter-arguments.
Pastor stressed that the proposed changes would condense the power of both the OPRES and OVPEA into one office, which he feared might give the USG President too many functions to oversee. “The OPRES already has to manage all the USG units, which is still a difficult task to do,” he argued.
The CATCH2T21 Representative also emphasized that the decision should not be permitted, as the OVPEA “still has a lot of work to do as their own office.” Pastor added that some of Leviste’s programs cater to advocacies external to the University. “That’s where the difference lies between the OPRES and the OVPEA,” he noted.
Pastor elaborated that the duty of the OPRES is to serve as a representative of students to the University administration and other organizations, while the OVPEA handles representation to bodies outside of the University.
Similar to Pastor, Ragudo argued that Gonzales’ proposal would mean “adding burden to the OPRES.” Additionally, she claimed that moving the work of the OVPEA to the OPRES would shift the direction of the latter to become more on the external side instead of primarily representing the student body.
“Paano natin masasabi na represented ang student body kung ang mandate na ibibigay natin kay OPRES ay very external?” she countered Gonzales.
(How can the student body be [properly] represented if the mandate we are giving to the OPRES is very [external-oriented]?)
With barely any progress made by the end of the session, the discussion was shelved, as only Gonzales, EXCEL2020 Representative Nina Bermejo, and BLAZE2020 Representative Urban Teh voted in favor of the amendment. Nevertheless, Ragudo agreed that the aforementioned roles felt “very overlapping” and unclear. She promised to collaborate with Gonzales’ minority floor to clarify the roles of the USG Executive Board.