History was made in General Elections (GE) 2019: for the first time in over a decade, Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon)—arguably the leading party for most of the University Student Government’s (USG) brief existence—conceded a majority win to Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista, who was in the midst of a comeback after failing to field candidates in the prior GE.

Aside from losing by numbers, Santugon had also lost strategically. Having dominated Executive Board positions for years, the party now only has one representative, Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste, holding a seat at the highest level. Colleges where there was a strong Santugon presence have also been upturned, with their only College President hailing from the Gokongwei College of Engineering.

Bouncing back

In the aftermath of the GE, the party has taken steps to rebuild its image and be more responsive to current social issues. Prominent members of the party participated in mass demonstrations during the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, marching alongside other youth groups toward Quirino Grandstand.

“The youth should never forget,” Santugon President Marga Dela Cruz proclaimed to protesters during the rally proceedings. “We can forgive, but we should never forget.”

When Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo responded to a challenge to commute to Malacañang last October 11, the party issued a statement stressing the importance of having long-term solutions for the current mass transportation crisis. “Spokesperson Panelo’s commute yesterday morning does not encapsulate the toiling daily Filipino commuters endure,” the statement read. 

But Santugon—whose moniker means a united response to the call of the times—has not always been proactive in responding to current issues. Dela Cruz admits that, until recently, speaking out and empowering members to speak up was “never really in [the party’s] culture”.

“People felt like we weren’t really saying anything, but now we want to change that and show that we actually do have a voice,” she explains.

Mavi Gacosta, Santugon Secretary-General, also concedes that their less-than-stellar results in the last GE was because the party’s platforms were “not exactly meeting the needs and wants of the students.” However, she asserts, “But that’s fine because despite our mistakes, we recognize them. We just have to take a step back. We have to analyze what we did wrong and move forward.”

Addressing environmental misconceptions

Reception to their initiatives has not always been positive. Last September 29, Santugon posted on their Facebook page a project to “help save the Mangroves”, baring plans to plant a seedling for every five likes the post garners. As of September 30, the post has reached over 6,000 likes, and Santugon has committed to planting 1,212 seedlings.

While the initiative was well-intentioned, some students have questioned the party on the project, alleging that it may cause more harm than good. The LaSallian had previously reported on environmental conservation initiatives that, due to poor planning, exacerbated problems instead of solving them. University Fellow and marine ecologist Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan had also written about the incident in a piece for 2401, DLSU’s official newsletter, in 2006.

In his article, Licuanan cited a project spearheaded by the then Marine Biological Station, which is now known as the Br. Alfred Shields FSC Marine Station, in the late 90s—mangrove trees of the wrong species were planted along a shoreline in Lian, Batangas, the community where Santugon intends to conduct its own environmental advocacy. The trees ended up stunted and occupied areas that could have otherwise been used for more suitable flora.

Charlie Del Rosario, Santugon Executive Vice President, clarifies that the initiative is in line with the One Million Trees and Beyond project of De La Salle Philippines (DLSP), as DLSU previously committed to planting mangroves specifically.

She also reveals that the party had consulted with the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA)—their partner in the initiative—who assured them that the aforementioned incident  cited in Licuanan’s article was an “isolated case”. COSCA could not be reached for further comment as of press time. 

Del Rosario further clears up the issue by saying that the team had done their research and will make use of Avicennia marina, a mangrove species that she says is endemic to the selected area. “We’ll be planting alongside the community, the Lian Fisher Folk Association, and using the right type of mangroves—Avicennia marina,” she explains.  

‘Nothing concrete yet’

Further strengthening their plans of empowering Lasallians in terms of social responsibility, the political party is presently creating more programs and initiatives related to not just environmental issues but also health, though Del Rosario notes that these plans are not yet final. “We’re still researching [for] these initiatives. Nothing concrete yet, but definitely in [the planning stage],” she states.

Moreover, Dela Cruz says that they have been in recent contact with the Office of the Vice President. “We’ve been trying to see if we can partner up with their initiatives to further immerse ourselves with other communities,” she shares, adding that they are looking into supporting farming communities. 

Prospects for the upcoming Freshman Elections have also been under consideration. Jannah Sandico, Santugon Outer Core President, shares that the party follows a “micro-macro approach” in instilling values in their leaders. “Micro meaning we have to start within ourselves and the people within the University before we progress and reach out to bigger things,” she expounds.

However, the party’s goal has never really been to win elections but to “empower quality leaders that have potential within [the] University,” explains Dela Cruz. 

Whether or not these initiatives will change the dynamics of student politics in the upcoming elections remains to be seen. In last year’s Special Elections, Santugon swept the ID 118 seats, winning 17 out of 21.

By Isabela Marie Roque

By Frank Santiago

By Helen Saudi

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