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Keeping in step: USG, DLSU Comelec migrate online, bare plans for coming terms

In recent weeks, the University Student Government (USG) was faced with the arduous task of transitioning their work online, while also continuing their ongoing plans and projects.

Before quarantine measures took effect over different parts of the country, the USG had aggressively pursued, among other things, the Safe Spaces Initiative, the Mental Health Task Force, and the USG Constitution amendments. USG President Lance Dela Cruz admits that continuing these initiatives will be a challenge. Rather than grind to a complete halt, student leaders across the different branches of the student government have looked to regain their footing. 

Back in session

The Legislative Assembly (LA), in limbo since the suspension of physical classes last March, are now formally meeting online. In deliberations led by Chief Legislator Willem De Castro, the USG body formalized the use of Zoom as its platform for the time being. As new problems arise, the LA is set to revise and implement policies for the third term and the following academic year (AY).

The assembly also agreed to adjust internal processes: voting procedures, for example, were amended to require legislators to write their vote and include their signature on a piece of paper and present it to other members in the video call.

To promote transparency, LA sessions will be recorded and uploaded to the USG LA Public Information Office Facebook page.

The LA is also continuing its ongoing projects, such as the DLSU Safe Spaces Initiative, a program backed by the Office of the President. FAST2018 Batch Representative Maegan Ragudo, a proponent of the program, shares that she is working closely with Dean of Student Affairs Nelca Villarin for the policy’s second revision.

Meanwhile, EXCEL2021 Batch Representative Katkat Ignacio cites that the Office of the Vice President of Internal Affairs is working on expediting the grievance process. Issues on pre-enlistment and enlistment are also being looked into, “so that it can be brought up and possibly changed in the coming term or the next academic year,” she states.

Improvements on the University Mental Health Policy, such as the creation of a mental health screener, are also being developed in partnership with the Office of Counseling and Career Services.

Automated election to be revived

The shift to online learning has also made the General Elections (GE), originally scheduled for Term 3, impossible. DLSU Comelec Chairperson John Christian Ababan says that this is the first time that the GE has been postponed for an entire term. 

“We usually see delays in the election because of weather disturbances, but never postponing the entire elections,” he emphasizes.

Last June 27, the LA resolved to defer the GE to Term 1 of AY 2020-2021. The term of office for incumbent USG elected officers was extended, while an option to resign was given to officers who either have personal concerns or are graduating. The USG constitutional plebiscite—which was originally set to be held alongside the GE—was also pushed back.

During the same session, DLSU Comelec was tasked to create a draft of a “Special” General Elections Code to accommodate an online or “modified face-to-face” mode of elections for Term 1. Ababan points out that the current elections code, which calls for physical campaign activities, is incompatible with the proposed online setup. Activities like the Miting de Avance and Debate will also have to be reviewed.

However, this would not be the first time that an online or “automated” method was considered for GE. As early as 2018, DLSU Comelec bared plans to hold elections online. The initiative’s goals were to improve efficiency, reduce paper waste, and increase voter turnout. Despite its modest ambitions, the plan was bogged down by testing delays, preventing it from being used in the 2018 GE.

Ababan wants to ensure that the automated elections proceed without incident, conveying that Term 3 will instead be used for preparations. To safeguard the elections from cheating, the Comelec chairperson discloses that the commission will coordinate with the University’s Information Technology Services Office to bolster data protection.

Maintaining momentum

Similar to the LA, the USG’s executive branch is all set to return to work online, expanding their projects to address the needs of students in an online learning environment. The centerpiece of this renewed effort is the Lasallian Student Welfare Program (LSWP), a USG initiative in partnership with the Office of Student Affairs, to provide students technical and financial support.

Dela Cruz discloses that funding allocated for canceled face-to-face activities will instead be diverted to LSWP and other pro-student initiatives. “If the situation does not change and our economy falls deeper into a recession, more Filipinos will suffer and more students will need support,” he details.

Meanwhile, Vice President for Internal Affairs Jolson Cruz says that his office is coordinating with DLSU offices to improve online learning on AnimoSpace. 

“We need to make sure that our online learning policy is humane and is in consideration of the struggles of our students,” Dela Cruz notes. 

Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste, on the other hand, reveals that his office had remained active at the height of the community quarantine measures over Metro Manila, conducting donation drives to provide personal protective equipment, masks, and medical gloves to the Philippine General Hospital. 

“We’ve also been working hand in hand with our community leaders and lawmakers in order to better navigate around the new normal, not only for our students, but also for our frontliners who from the very beginning have been braving this fight for the entire country,” he expounds, adding that he and his team will continue to find ways to provide other learning opportunities for students and extend aid to communities greatly affected by the pandemic. 

The LaSallian has reached out to Chief Magistrate Clifford Martinez for details on the Judiciary Department’s plans for Term 3. However, as of press time, the publication was only told that these were still under deliberation.

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