The University Student Government (USG) Judiciary branch organized a webinar last July 16 on Zoom and Facebook Live to discuss amendments to the 2009 USG Constitution that were ratified in a plebiscite earlier this year, the first successful vote to change the charter. The new constitution is set to take effect in Academic Year 2021-2022.
In his opening remarks, Chief Magistrate Jericho Quiro underscored the importance of understanding the charter, not just for officers of the USG but also for the entire student body. “The first step to a participative and vibrant democracy is knowledge,” he declared. “If the constitution is a document ratified by the people, then who better to execute and uphold it than you, the people?”
A ‘conventional’, ‘rigid’ measure
Judiciary Inspector General Elijah Flores gave a general overview of the constitution, which, he explained, serves as a permanent framework for the government and for how constituents—in this case, the student body—want to be governed.
“If nailagay dito (constitution) nang mabuti ‘yung mga kapangyarihan at dapat gawin ng mga departments and mga branches, the government and its departments cannot arbitrarily do something…They have to consult with the constitution to see if their acts are within the bounds,” Flores expounded.
(If the powers and duties of the departments and branches are well-defined in the constitution.)
He described the USG Constitution as one that is “conventional” because it is amended and drafted by a constitutional body and “rigid” as it cannot be simply amended through regular legislation. While these factors have ensured that the student government charter can resist “whimsical changes,” Flores noted that it had also made it more difficult to implement needed updates.
Before the plebiscite in 2021, there had only been one other instance that charter change was attempted. In 2013, the USG, under then-President Migi Moreno, embarked on overhauling the constitution through Project REFOCUS, and while its plebiscite overcame a legal dispute, it failed to muster enough votes from the student body. It would take another six years before the USG, under former President Lance Dela Cruz, would again attempt to pass constitutional amendments.
One of the major gaps in the 2009 constitution was the absence of the Laguna Campus Student Government (LCSG). This was because the Laguna Campus, which was originally called the Science and Technology Complex, only merged with DLSU in 2013, four years after the charter was completed. At the time, the LCSG was only mentioned in the supplementary guidelines.
“This is one of our actions to prove that we are One La Salle,” Neal Gonzales, former Legislative Assembly minority floor leader, who partook in the charter deliberations, said. “We are sharing a constitution, not just in DLSU-Manila but also with our brothers and sisters in Laguna Campus.”
Another item that had been left out for the longest time was the Office of the Ombudsman, which served as a disciplinary arm for the student government. While the office had existed in the early years of the USG, it was shut down in 2014 when legislators at the time voted to cease its operations as it was not explicitly defined in the 2009 USG Constitution. Though attempts were made to bring it back in 2016 and 2018, it was only this year that it came to fruition.
“You can be rest assured knowing that the Ombudsman will keep our USG clean, safe, efficient, and effective in serving students,” stated Vice President for Internal Affairs and former Chief Legislator Jaime Pastor.
Aside from institutionalizing the Ombudsman, the new charter also includes the recall process—a rule that Legislative Assembly members once rejected after hotly debating for three sessions—and highlights the Code of Conduct and the Student Handbook as references on how officers should compose themselves.
Pastor noted that with these provisions, USG officers “will always be held accountable and liable for their actions.”