“If you talk to any active Tapat or Santugon member [and] they tell you that they don’t hate each other, they’re lying,” twice-elected Student Council (SC) President Omar Mercado breezily says about college politics during his day. The year was 1990, and the University was aflame with the political upheaval in the wake of the 1986 People Power Revolution. It is in this context that the two school political parties, Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) and Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon), were forged to be the organizations they are today—reflecting the often polarizing political beliefs of the time period.
Speaking of “heated” general elections, animosity, and barbed words from both sides during his time, Mercado—who ran under the banner of Tapat—shared that it was not uncommon for both parties to claim themselves as the “better” one.
With their beliefs as contrasting as their colors, this rivalry has endured for decades—their ideologies drawing both criticism and support. The LaSallian sets the record straight with party leaders of past and present as we untangle the values and principles that define DLSU student politics.
Back to square one
With the political activism of the post-EDSA years reaching its fever pitch, 1990 SC President and Santugon founding member Paul Meim wanted to take a different approach. “My vision was for Santugon to provide another option [that is] different from traditional [Lasallian] politics, [which] was very macro and focused on outside affairs of the DLSU Community,” he explains.
This vision was translated into policies that tackled issues such as tuition fee increases and scholarship grants. It was a Santugon that emphasized “servant leadership, and not self-glorification” and “having a strong sense of being Christian”—values that harken back to some of its founding members’ ties to the Campus Peer Ministry.
Mercado, on the other hand, led a Tapat that was very much concerned with national issues—something he admits to have caused friction in a student government composed of members from both parties. Defining Tapat as a “pro-student and pro-people organization,” Mercado highlights that the party has been engaged in mass action since its early days, from the 1984 student barricade against a tuition fee hike to protests on hazing and the presence of American military bases in the Philippines during his term, eventually reaching the point where they were threatened with expulsion. “It was hard during that time; it was not popular to be very ‘militant,’” he reveals.
A ‘united left’
The Tapat of Mercado’s time was “an alliance of organizations who wanted social change,” with members of varying leftist stances. However, fervent anti-communist sentiment caused the party’s members to err on the side of caution. “During our time, you wanted change, but you never identify yourself as being ‘left,’” explains Mercado.
Today, Tapat has proclaimed their stance of a “united left,” similarly welcoming different leftist ideologies across the political spectrum as their predecessors had. Current party President Martha Delos Santos remarks, “Structural and [systemic] change can be achieved through unity and collective effort.”
The party’s Vice President for External Affairs, Hazel Modesto, affirms Tapat’s advocacies such as indigenous peoples’ rights, gender equality, and the SOGIE bill. While they have publicly identified as “left-leaning” for some time now, the threat of red-tagging is something that is always in the back of their minds. To this, Modesto says, “Oo nakakatakot talaga pero sino ang magiging boses ng mga pinatahimik at saka ng pinatay? Now more than ever, we really need to fight for a just and free society.”
(Yes, it really is terrifying, but who else will be the voice of those who were silenced and killed?)
Standing with the times
As an organization that has strived to “prioritize the internal Lasallian community,” the Santugon Meim recognizes is one that is focused on the cultivation of student leaders who are capable of creating impactful and sustainable change. While this has provided them a platform to constantly evolve and realign their values, it has also limited them to an ever-changing political stance.
Even now, Santugon is firm in refusing to identify themselves in the political spectrum. Party President Gelo Casipe extolls their commitment to liberal democratic ideals of individuality and civil liberty, saying, “We all follow a principle that is grounded [on] the core value of individuality—giving value to the interests, beliefs, and rights of every member.”
This nebulous catch-all stance ensures that Santugon will “adapt accordingly” and consciously advocate for the issues that are relevant in today’s political climate. Santugon President Gelo Casipe emphasizes that this viewpoint is “not in the context of abandoning an initial stance but rather as a sign of responding to the call of the times—in growth and development.”
More concerned with representation and acknowledging all political views rather than radical movements, Casipe shares that viewing the political spectrum as a “measuring stick and not a strict form of direction for future actions” allows the party to step back and view the “bigger picture”—something they believe can determine what is best for the welfare of the student body.
While their political ideologies remain ambiguous, Santugon is unyielding in its values. Leading with their core values of family, integrity, faith and responsibility, individuality, and passion for service, their vision for a “University that is involved, engaged, and empowered” continues to stay true to their roots.
“The values that we embody remain unchanged, but the way we actualize them by our actions greatly depend on the ever-changing call of the times—it can and should evolve as needed to ensure it continues to be relevant,” stresses Casipe.
Stand your ground
Though the issues faced by the Lasallian community continue to evolve, both Tapat and Santugon still remain guided by their founding principles. Delos Santos highlights that “Tapat has always, and I mean, has always publicly identified as the left-leaning political party in DLSU.”
With a clear history of consistently being active in national and University affairs, the red-and-orange has been vocal in its commitment to progressivism. “I think Tapat will remain true to its principle of wanting social change, despite it not being very popular,” Mercado says.
In contrast, Santugon continues to be “a unified response to the call of the times,” focusing on the development of empowered student leaders and a liberal society. “The party should continually improve and be catalysts for social change when the need arises and not be dormant or passive,” Meim posits.
Moving forward together
While these differences may create tension between both parties, Mercado shares that in the end, their passion for service is what they consistently returned to. A similar sentiment is expressed by Meim who explains that their service to the student body came before any title.
As Mercado recalls, “Anytime there was an argument, we always [went] back to the love of the student, and it will solve issues, problems, whether you come from Tapat or Santugon, [when] you come back and see what’s best for the students.”