2021 USG EB looks back on performance despite shortened year

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For the Lasallian community, 2021 was a year of many firsts, and the same holds true for the University Student Government (USG). Extenuating circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated DLSU’s first-ever online elections, and alongside it, the USG’s first fully online administration. 

Needless to say, for the current USG Executive Board (EB), many adjustments needed to be made as soon as they rose to their positions—with little time to enact them. As their term draws to a close after only two-thirds of a year, the EB shares with The LaSallian their insights and experiences during their short-lived tenure.

Maegan Ragudo, Office of the President (OPRES)

The LaSallian: As the USG president, what are your experiences, considering you only served for a short period of time? 

Ragudo: Despite the challenges and the limitations…we were able to represent the strong opposition of students with the proposed 2.5 percent tuition fee increase in the multi-sectoral consultative committee for tuition fees…We were also able to do a series of consultations and consultative checks with our constituents…numerous surveys for the effects of tuition fee kung pabor ba ang students…We also supplemented this by convening our student leaders through the convention of leaders (COLE), we had qualitative surveys…We conducted focus group discussions through COLE. Nalaman natin ‘yung struggles ng ating student leaders and their organizations…With the student census, we will be able to continuously have the data that we need for future issues…kung kinakailangan natin mag-lobby for specific academic reliefs in light of the pandemic or the worsening conditions.

This year, we are slated to revise the entire student handbook for 2021 until 2024. We included specific amendments to the grievances, the Students’ Charter, and the zero-tolerance policy for all forms of violence. Itong zero-tolerance policy will ensure our right to organize and mobilize in student organizations

The last thing I’ll mention is, we are in the process of formulating our blueprint for our education recovery plan…Right now, we’re in phase two. I believe we were able to respond to the pressing needs of the students and kahit super limited ng time. We will be able to at least leave behind concrete foundations on how to effectively recover from the pandemic. 

The LaSallian: One of the most notable endeavors of the current USG was to push the administration to implement academic easing by means of gathering data on the students’ situations. If the next EB were to undertake a similar effort, how do you think they can do it better?

Ragudo: For the past few months…we’ve been using data gathering and quantitative surveys to assess the situation of students. Every time magkakaroon tayo ng higher community quarantine classification or…ECQ (Extended Community Quarantine) or even a typhoon. My suggestion for the next EB would be to lobby or negotiate for more concrete guidelines or measures in line with the differences in community quarantines. For example, if magkakaroon tayo ng ECQ, dapat may naka-prescribe na tayong measures…If it’s ECQ, then we can recommend to the academics council that professors are…highly encouraged to extend deadlines for their requirements…Babawasan natin ‘yung synchronous classes. 

We also need to reassess and redefine the way we’ve been learning…Masyadong naka-depend ‘yung learning [on] synchronous activities. What we can do instead is to focus on student-teacher feedback or dialogue…We’ll have our synchronous lectures uploaded online…focusing instead on the feedback system. Kahit magkaroon ng emergency situations, lectures can still be accessible online. 

To recap, my first suggestion would be to really stipulate specific measures that will be specific for each quarantine classification or natural calamity. Next would be to redefine the way we’ve been learning. A shift in our curriculum, in our delivery of online courses, and at the same time emphasizing the need for student-teacher dialogue because at the end of the day, iba pa rin ‘yung…nagkakaroon sila ng dialogue, especially for a major requirement, may back and forth situation. 

Cate Malig, Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA)

The LaSallian: How would you assess your performance from one to 10? What are the aspects that you could have improved on?

Malig: I would honestly give our office’s performance rating, a seven out of a 10…admittedly, I would have wanted for us to do a lot, to have had more projects, especially last term. But unfortunately, I was very sick…which was something that I had really not anticipated happening…This really hampered a lot of our plans, especially as we were still in the planning phase.

I think, just in general, from the get-go we really had to pick and choose which projects we had to prioritize, given the limitations and resources, in time, obviously, and human resources in the USG right now…I think something that we had to establish early on was that we have to highlight quality over quantity. And I think albeit, we had a lot of challenges, both from last time and this term, I definitely think we were able to select which ones were the most important in our agenda and implement them to the best of our abilities.

The LaSallian: Do you believe that you were able to address the current concerns/issues of the student body? If so, what were these specific issues/concerns? 

Malig: I think establishing a committee on crisis and response, specifically in our office, really helped in ensuring that we were not only responsive—we were also proactive in terms of being more consultative with the student body…and relaying assistance as much as we could, given the limitations in USG resources.

So in terms of the kinds of policies that we were going to lobby to the Academics Council or to the Vice Chancellor for Academics, they were really guided by what was going on with the student body…And then we really focused on advocacy building. We had a lot of advocacy projects and initiatives and we really spent a lot of effort in preparing or laying the groundwork in anticipation [of] the 2022 national elections…Those kinds of projects that really highlight…the issues that are important to the student body [have] been something that we’ve…always made sure to highlight in everything that we did. 

And most importantly, we’ve been able to rebuild some of the most important linkages external wise, between the USG and the greater Lasallian community in the country. We’ve really made sure that, as we promised, the advocacies that we’re building within the USG do not just start and end with the USG, and it’s definitely something that I would want whomever the successor would be to continue as well, or to even build on and extend and make their own.

Jaime Pastor, Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs (OVPIA)

The LaSallian: What were the biggest adversities during your tenure? How did you overcome them and still achieve your goals?

Pastor: There’s actually a lot of adversities that I faced during our tenure, as Vice President for Internal Affairs. First of which was definitely the two-term set up for our time in the USG. A lot of the work that our office would do is usually based on fixing enlistment as well as other academic policy-related concerns, and I do not think that two terms [were] enough to fully flesh out what our plans would be for the University…though, I am proud to say that…we still made sure that we’ve gained feedback from the students, as far as data analysis on what the students sentiments are regarding enlistment. 

Another adversity that our office faced was that the spread of COVID-19 is definitely real…There [were] many occasions during our tenure that our officers were severely affected by COVID-19…we gave them the space to recover. And then [we also] made sure that whenever there was work that had to be done but they could not attend to it…other officers within our team would be able to work on it as well so that we can keep the progress going. 

The LaSallian: Many have questioned the credibility of the online USG election. How have you strived to prove that, despite this, you rightfully deserve the position you were given?

Pastor: First off, with [regards] to the online USG elections…was that it actually received the highest turnout over the recent USG elections, which proves…a lot of students…voted for the USG officers who are currently in office at the moment. Nevertheless, for what our office has achieved…we ensured that we accomplish what our campaign promises were. One of our main promises [was] to attain optimized student services…through two major avenues, the student services manual and our tracking system…manifested in our student services software in all academic processes in the University…consolidated into one platform. 

We’ve linked up college governments and linked their Facebook pages and their own websites for their own colleges so that all information that students need regarding any academic process will be consolidated into one hub. Our student services team is currently making plans to release an offline version of the student services help.

With [regards] to the tracking system, we recognize that we did not publicize much of our efforts toward creating it….hopefully within the next academic year or so, the admin will start to slowly implement our vision of a tracking system for the University. So that any processes that the students need to encounter such as payment or any enrollment-related concerns [involving] Animo.sys or MLS (My.La Salle), will be properly accommodated by the University offices through the tracking system that we hope to implement in the next academic year or so. 

Noel Gatchalian, Office of the Executive Treasurer (OTREAS)

The LaSallian: How did you manage to represent the Lasallian community authentically, especially with the online setup?

Gatchalian: We were able to represent the Lasallian community authentically by being able to be financially accountable and transparent. Our different projects that we have implemented are: number one is the Lasallian Scholarship Program; the Lasallian Scholarship Week in partnership with all the colleges; the Achiever Scholar Program; the Student Allowance Program; the Student Loan Program; the Dean’s Lister Grant; the PWD Subsidies Program; Helping Hands; and Lasallian Hustle. 

We also have this sector [composed of] PWDs, that’s why we have initiatives for our PWD Lasallian students. We also want to incentivize and give acknowledgement to our Dean’s Listers. We also have a lot of financial literacy webinars to show the students on how to be financially literate in their everyday financial transaction. Other student services programs…is the OTREAS front desk, because…a lot of students are having a lot of concerns when it comes to accounting…We have the hashtag, #ReleaseTheFees. 

Some students [were] asking how [are] OTREAS [and] the USG able to fund this especially at a time like this? We have four kinds of funds: the operational fund, the depository fund, the student government allowance fund, and Achievers’ Scholarship funds. For these funds, we place values, we place money here to make it more sustainable for the students. We have three fundraising activities (FRAs) that we have accomplished. Number one is the One Kit, One Student. We sell kits to students…so that they may sponsor a kid in Santa Ana elementary school. Right now, we actually just launched Project Reinforcement, championing medical frontliners. This is targeted toward our medical frontliners. Lastly, in collaboration with the Office of the President and with the School of Economics, we have fought for a zero percent Tuition Fee Increase (TFI) for the next academic year.

The LaSallian: One of the current USG’s main projects was to give scholarships and grants to students in need. Do you think your efforts were sufficient? If not, what were the barriers and challenges you faced?

Gatchalian: I believe that the efforts of my office [were] sufficient because we were able to provide a lot of financial assistance to those who are in need. There’s the potential to do more, [but] what I can say is we tried our best. It was really difficult planning and executing our different scholarships and financial grant projects. There are actually a lot who have filed for a Leave of Absence (LOA) because of financial constraints. Even if they file for a LOA, for me, they’re still part of the DLSU community. In the next month that I am in office, we have different initiatives that we’ll really try to reach out to the other sectors of the student body and to reach out and help more students as well.

Annika Silangcruz, Office of the Executive Secretary (OSEC) 

The LaSallian: Throughout the pandemic, the remote setup has posed the challenge of keeping in touch with the student body and knowing how they are doing. Do you believe that you have done enough to help the USG overcome this?

Silangcruz: I believe that the USG has exerted a lot of effort into looking out for the student body. You can see this in the students…‘yung constituency checks and crisis response surveys that were released by both the OPRES and the OVPEA. So as the USG, we’ve also made it a point to be more consultative and ensure that the student body is well represented in all lobbying efforts. As Executive Secretary, I think I’ve done my best in helping the USG overcome the difficulties of communicating with students [amid] the setup. 

But I also have to admit that there were lapses on my end. Because as an office that’s mandated to ensure proper information dissemination and effective communication with the students, it wasn’t really an easy task, especially because we had to rely mainly on social media platforms such as Facebook to reach out to students. At the end of the day, we have to remember that not everyone has…the same capacity to be online all the time, especially because our priorities at home have become more pressing because of the situation now.

The LaSallian: How did your tenure prepare you for your future goals and aspirations in life?

Silangcruz: The past 10 months in the USG and OSEC [have] definitely helped shape me into the person I am today. Before my role as Chief of Staff and then now as the Executive Secretary, I wasn’t really someone who was comfortable in taking up leadership roles. So when I first started out as OSEC, I had tendencies to micromanage…my co-officers, and then I also thought twice about a lot of things and my own decisions. 

In the end, I think my tenure has helped me grow and become more assertive when I speak out. But most importantly, it’s really helped me become more confident with the decisions I make, unlike before where I really doubted and had to get like the thoughts of other people before… pushing through with the decision. So because of this…through my tenure, I’m definitely more ready to take on new challenges and achieve goals in my post-University life.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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