2020 GE postponed, new meeting guidelines formalized in first online LA session

The deferral of the 2020 General Elections (GE), new rules for conducting online Legislative Assembly (LA) sessions, and overdue batch government appointments were among the matters discussed by the LA last June 27 via Zoom in what had been their first online session.

Resolution on remaining USG operations

Last May 8, the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec) sought the Judiciary branch’s opinion on the constitutionality of postponing the GE due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Article XXIII of the 2009 USG Constitution states that the election of USG officers, excluding those from freshmen batches, must take place every third term of the Academic Year (AY). By May 17, the Judiciary had responded that a postponement would be constitutional if it is done through an LA resolution. 

As such, EXCEL2021 Batch Representative Katkat Ignacio, CATCH2T21 Batch Representative Jaime Pastor, FAST2018 Batch Representative Maegan Ragudo, 72nd ENG Batch Representative Ethan Rupisan, and FAST2017 Batch Representative Neal Gonzales authored an emergency resolution for transitional provisions within the USG.

The 2020 GE, which was originally scheduled for the upcoming term, has been postponed to Term 1 of AY 2020-2021. Legislators have also asked the DLSU Comelec to submit no later than the seventh week of Term 1 of next AY a draft of the “Special” General Elections Code.

The new code would ensure the overall accessibility of the elections, address data privacy and security concerns, and outline an action plan for the commission. The resolution also included what turned out to be a controversial provision to exclude incoming ID 120 students from the elections, stirring debate among floor members. 

“We believe that having freshmen, who have only recently entered the University, vote for Executive Committee-level positions…would not be fair to the [older batches] of DLSU [students],” discussed Pastor, who compared the exclusion principle to the age requirements set for the Philippines’ national and local elections.

Ignacio had a similar stand, arguing that it would be better for ID 120 students to familiarize themselves “with the problems of their batches…and understand the [University’s problems] first before they can get to vote.”

However, rebuttals were raised by Gonzales, Ragudo, and BLAZE2020 Batch Representative Urban Teh. The USG, DLSU Comelec, and political parties are responsible for educating the frosh on the issues and systems within the University, they asserted.

Omitting the frosh from the elections despite being members of the student body deprives them of their right to vote, Teh further remarked, referring to the Bill of Rights in the 2009 USG Constitution. Gonzales elaborated that the significance of student representation rested in being able to vote “for the person who is representing them”.

DLSU Comelec Chairperson John Christian Ababan, who also attended the session, was in favor of including the ID 120 students. “By Term 1, [the frosh] are already eligible students of DLSU,” he said.

The debate was ultimately settled by striking out the clause in question. Despite approving the clause’s removal, Pastor noted that they should still revisit the election code. Ignacio meanwhile added that the matter is “still up to the jurisdiction of Comelec”.

With the GE’s postponement, the resolution also mandated the extension of the term in office of all incumbent USG officers. However, to give ample consideration to the circumstances of the pandemic, the LA allowed officers from graduating batches and those with health and personal concerns to resign.

Incumbent USG officers are also permitted to file for a Leave of Absence for reasons “beyond filing for candidacy in elections” or for being on an impeachment case trial, temporarily repealing Article I, Sections 3 and 4 of the USG Code of Conduct and Responsibilities. Academic and personal concerns, such as family matters, financial situation, and mental well-being, are now valid reasons for their request to be approved. 

Officers may be on leave for a maximum of one term provided that they appoint an officer in charge “to ensure the [continuance] of [their] service”, Gonzales pointed out. Graduating officers, however, are only allowed up to four weeks of leave. Otherwise, they are encouraged to file for resignation.

Online LA session guidelines

To ensure that formal sessions can still be held despite the lack of on-campus access, Chief Legislator Willem De Castro authored a resolution that outlined new guidelines for conducting LA sessions online.

Under the new rules, the use of screen sharing functions is encouraged for presenting resolutions, while the raise hand feature would be utilized when legislators wish to raise concerns.

Attendance rules have also been revised to consider connectivity issues as a valid reason for excused absences. LA Representatives are expected to inform the Executive Secretary either a day ahead or at most three days after the session if their absence was due to internet problems. An excuse letter should still be submitted, as per previous guidelines, once they regain a stable internet connection.

Voting procedures have also changed; legislators are now required to “write out their votes on a piece of paper together with the date and signature,” according to the resolution, which itself was approved through the new voting system. Members would also need to flash the paper in the video call for proper documentation.

All sessions will be recorded, with the videos posted on the USG LA Public Information Office Facebook page for the student body to view. 

Appointments, ongoing projects

The floor resumed discussions on two 71st ENG officer appointments after deliberations were shelved due to incomplete attendance in their last regular session on March 8, days before the enhanced community quarantine restricted access to the Manila campus for students. Through two approved resolutions, Joan Encarnacion and Joanne Tung were appointed as Batch President and Batch Vice President, respectively.

Legislators had first included it in their agenda last February 28, but the resolutions were laid on the table after finding that the appointees’ endorsement letters lacked the college president’s signature.

The assembly also went over updates for their ongoing projects. Ragudo shared that discussions with the Dean of Student Affairs on the Safe Spaces initiative, a major program backed by the Office of the President (OPRES), are still ongoing. Meanwhile, Ignacio relayed that they are coordinating with the Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS) in developing a mental health screener and other proposed programs for students.

Pastor, on the other hand, noted that the ID 119 LA Representatives are collectively working on provisions to better define partisanship guidelines. Legislators in AY 2017-2018 had previously amended the USG Code of Conduct and Responsibilities to give elected officials more leeway in exhibiting partisanship, a divisive issue among officers and members of the student body.

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