Present to represent: Unraveling USG’s transparency initiatives

Accountability and transparency have always been concerns raised against the University Student Government (USG). Last December 8, the USG made new headway by publishing on its Facebook page a transparency report containing the attendance records of Executive Board (EB) members, college presidents, and batch government officers. The Legislative Assembly (LA) also released its own transparency report on the same day.

These published records, however, were incomplete, as the post clarified that the excused and unexcused absences had yet to be finalized and were still being verified by the USG Executive Secretary.

Delays in approval

Executive Secretary EJ Baillo reveals that delays on the part of the officers were to blame. “Nagkaroon kasi ng problem with ‘yung mga approval of the unexcused and excused absences because ‘yung mga officers did not submit their excuse letters on time,” he elaborates. He also notes that a deadline has been established going forward.

(There were problems in approving unexcused and excused absences because the officers did not submit their excuse letters on time.)

Internal manuals within the USG have guidelines on meeting attendance and absence considerations. Officers are given an unlimited number of excused absences, which includes academic schedule conflicts, health concerns, and any other valid reasons permitted by the Executive Secretary. Meanwhile, only three unexcused absences from meetings are alloted for the entire academic year (AY). Exceeding this maximum would subject an officer to a judicial trial and possible removal from office.

Baillo clarifies that despite delays, last term’s attendance record has already been updated, though there are no plans to update the transparency report posted online. Instead, future reports will reflect whether the absences declared are excused or unexcused, he says.

Based on last term’s transparency reports, three Executive Committee (EXECOM) members—USG President Lance Dela Cruz, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business President Nathan Driz, and Gokongwei College of Engineering President Madeleine Tsai—have incurred at least three absences in the five meetings they had last term. Only College of Science President Julia Brago scored a perfect attendance.

Meanwhile, six LA representatives have at least three absences in 14 meetings, comprised of 12 LA sessions, one joint session with EXECOM, and their first electeds meeting. Only two legislators had an unblemished record.

Attendance concerns

Officer attendance in meetings has been a contentious issue within the USG. For years, elected officers faced impeachment cases simply due to accumulating too many unexcused absences. Article XX of the 2009 USG Constitution, which contains the Articles for Impeachment, outlines five grounds that an elected officer can be impeached for; most notable of these is gross negligence of duty, which covers, among other things, attendance. Of the eight impeachment trials held in the last five years, all of them involved gross negligence of duty, while half of them were concerned with absences.

More recently, widespread attendance problems have led to issues across all branches of government. In the previous AY, the EXECOM was unable to convene multiple times, thus failing to appoint new magistrates to the Judiciary branch, whose operations were impacted by these delays.

Baillo says that the current batch of EXECOM members strove to push through with these meetings so that the magistrates could be properly screened, adding that they have also finalized appointments in other USG units—such as the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Elections, and the Department for Activity Approval and Monitoring.

Legislators, meanwhile, had their own set of problems last AY. Multiple sessions had to be called off simply because they could not reach quorum, leading to delays in approving resolutions.

Chief Legislator Willem De Castro shares that he is “blessed” that the current batch of LA representatives have been “willing to attend sessions and present resolutions”. He, however, admits that the previous term had been difficult since they needed to hold additional sessions on Wednesdays—apart from their regular Friday meetings—to finalize constitutional amendments ahead of the plebiscite scheduled for next term.

‘You voted for us’

Aside from attendance records, disclosure of the financial figures of each government unit is also being planned. However, Baillo says that concerns over data privacy have kept them from publishing the official numbers, as they are currently “not so sure if anoyung puwede naming ipakita sa student body.”

(We’re not so sure how much information we are allowed to divulge to the student body.)

The Office of the Treasurer (OTREAS) has consistently published a budget transparency report since 2017, allowing students to see the amount spent by every unit on each of their activities. Executive Treasurer Kevin Wu has not responded for an interview as of press time.

College of Liberal Arts President Jose Antonio Felipe, meanwhile, shares that his college’s financial reports—which are also from OTREAS—are available on the Arts College Government (ACG) website.

Minutes of different meetings can also be obtained, though Baillo clarifies that releasing these publicly is not among their plans and that requests for copies are still subject to his approval. “I’ll be open [for it] naman if kailangan ng minutes, but then ‘di namin kaya lahat na ipo-post sa USG [social media pages],” he says. He, however, notes that he does plan to publish minutes for LA sessions.

(I’ll be open for it if the minutes are needed, but then we cannot post them all on the USG social media pages.)

Felipe highlights similar plans, adding that the initiative would also aid the ACG in being more transparent with their projects. “We plan to post project progress trackers as well; we’re building a template for that, so that we can just use that every time we have a project,” he explains.

De Castro, on the other hand, bares plans to set up livestreams “to let the students see what is happening during LA sessions and [observe] how we create policies for the betterment of the students.”

Whatever the initiatives in the works, the importance of transparency is nonetheless clear. Felipe argues that USG units “don’t understand the value of students knowing what’s happening,” which led them to being not as transparent before. This gap, he reasons, prevents leaders from being held accountable since students “don’t know what they’re doing.”

“At the end of the day, it’s the students who lose interest. Parang they’re not part of the process of building the project kasi they don’t know what these [elected officers] are doing,” Felipe explains.

De Castro believes that students have the right to know their elected officers’ attendance. Baillo shares similar sentiments, noting that in his five years observing the USG, attendance in meetings is something that has not been widely publicized to the student body.

“You voted for us, so dapat alam niyo na itoyung mga officers na pumupunta sa meetings and sinoyung hindi, sinoyung laging absent, para may accountability,” he argues. (You voted for us, so you deserve to know which officers attend meetings, which ones don’t, which ones are always absent, so that there can be accountability.)

*With reports from: Ian Kevin Castro, Maxine Ferrer, Bea Francia

Frank Santiago

By Frank Santiago

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