USG partisanship raises fears over ‘unfair’ advantages

In the heat of the Miting de Avance (MDA) last November 22 for the 2019 Special Elections (SE), familiar faces stood among a crowd clad in red and yellow: elected University Student Government (USG) officials were cheering on the sidelines, supporting candidates running under their once home parties.

Members of the USG’s Executive Board (EB) were there. USG Executive Treasurer Kevin Wu and USG President Lance Dela Cruz, who both won under Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) in the previous General Elections (GE), were spotted next to their former party mates, while Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste, the sole member of the USG EB who ran under Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon), rallied alongside the party.

College presidents were there, too, with some even taking the stage to show their support for either party’s bets—Dela Cruz even joined one of them. Batch government representatives across colleges were also on the sidelines.

In prior academic years (AY), such acts would have been prohibited—attendance was tolerated, active participation was reprimanded—but not so this year.

Unfriendly amendment

In the third term of Academic Year 2017-2018, the Legislative Assembly (LA) passed a resolution that amended the USG Code of Conduct. This small change effectively legalized a degree of partisanship among elected officials.

Who was not informed of such amendment was John Christian Ababan, Chairperson of the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec). He reveals that his office was not even approached before amendments were made to the Code of Conduct.

He recalls, “Nalaman ko lang na nagkaroon ng amendments noong last term, when the incumbent officers were actively campaigning for the candidates.”

(I only found out about the amendments last term, when the incumbent officers were actively campaigning for the candidates.)

Prior to the amendment, Article V, Section 1.1 of the USG Code of Conduct prohibits officers from engaging in “any form of publicized activity that promotes a particular political party so as to uphold the independent stand of the University Student Government.” The rules were instead rewritten to merely disallow officers from utilizing “resources of the USG in any way that promotes a particular political party.”

The old provisions of the USG Code of Conduct also bar “wearing any paraphernalia that promotes a candidate or a political party.” But the amended provisions removes these restrictions, simply prohibiting USG officers from using official USG social media accounts to support candidates or political parties. Nothing would prevent them from using their personal handles, nor were they barred from physically campaigning.

Although the amendment disallows “directly or indirectly promoting a particular party” during events initiated by the USG or its government units, the SE are an exemption, as they are under the care of Comelec.

‘Double-edged sword’

The LA’s decision to allow partisanship has raised eyebrows among the student body, who fear that such freedoms might translate to bias or discrimination. Ababan himself expresses concerns regarding the changes, comparing it to the “national setting” where candidates would ask government officials in high positions to support their campaigns.

“I find it unfair, kasi the elections should be a battle of platforms and ideals, not of popularity and endorsements,” he shares.

On the other hand, Dela Cruz sees partisanship as a “double-edged sword”. While he acknowledges that students may view the USG’s new ability to support a candidate or political party negatively, he believes that resorting to a total ban of partisanship would not be the “best solution”.

“We came from these political parties [and] received mentoring and training from them,” Dela Cruz says, emphasizing that the principles of the political parties have become key to forming the ideals and beliefs of USG officers.

Yet a USG officer’s decision to support a specific political party or member “should never be a hindrance from making sure [the USG] fulfill [their] duties,” Leviste asserts. Although he personally admits to being indebted to his home party—Santugon—he affirms, “The students and school must always come before my loyalty to the political party.”

While Leviste tacitly supports the decision to allow partisanship, he nonetheless stresses that USG student-leaders should never “impose [their] beliefs toward [their] constituents,” sharing that it is the USG’s “service” to the student body to only provide “the best and most relevant programs and policies.”

Ababan raises the same concern, as he sees partisanship as “distracting” USG officers from their duties. He says that the focus of the USG should be “to implement projects that helps its constituents” and that political parties already have “enough machinery” to support their candidates on their own.

FOCUS2018 Batch President Jillian Roxas shares similar sentiments, admitting that partisanship also has its limits. “[Partisanship] should never translate into bias or unwillingness to compromise,” she says, explaining that partisanship must not cross “a fine line”—or risk creating prejudice.

Though, any issue that may come out of the partisanship amendment can “easily [be] prevented” says USG Executive Secretary Earl Joseph Baillo, through proper discourse, implementation, and regulation of the revised Code of Conduct.

Unclear boundaries

While Leviste reveals that the amendment would give USG officers “more leeway to express political support” for candidates running in a GE, he still remains critical of the amendment, stressing that terms such as “USG resources” are too vague.

Instead, he calls for a review of the new amendment, as the USG has had “enough time to see the effects” of allowing partisanship.

Baillo also believes that the Code of Conduct must be revisited and that clear limitations should be set, adding that members of the Executive Committee, which include the EB and college presidents, have raised concerns over the code “after the events that occurred during the SE [2019] MDA.” Wu could not be reached for further comment as of press time.

Arden Bacallan

By Arden Bacallan

Ian Kevin Castro

By Ian Kevin Castro

Enrico Sebastian Salazar

By Enrico Sebastian Salazar

Contributor of University and Vanguard since TLS 58. Internal Development Manager in TLS 59. Currently designing the new website.

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