A week before the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec) released its list of candidates, ruling party Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) announced that they were not fielding candidates “in the interest of the organization’s holistic refocusing, rebuilding, and reevaluation.”
The party’s decision to sit out this year’s make-up elections followed controversies involving their freshmen recruiters red-tagging and red-baiting members of the opposite party. Months before that, former Santugon President Paolo Teh also resigned from his post after facing public criticism over circulating messages of him refusing to join rallies because he was not “woke”.
Indeed, no candidates in Comelec’s roster ran under the blue-and-yellow banner. Instead, an array of independent coalitions across four colleges appeared as contenders for what would have been an unopposed contest for Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat), who is seeking a return to power after being flushed out by Santugon in the last general elections.
But a careful look into the backgrounds of the independent candidates reveals a certain similarity: most of these aspirants hail from the same party.
Different shades, same color
An investigation by The LaSallian has found that no less than half of the 33 independent candidates either ran as a candidate, participated as a member, or held a position under Santugon.
Independent candidates revealed in interviews and during the miting de avance that they are no longer affiliated with their former party. Even Jasmine Paras, who had previously publicly denounced and left Tapat and then joined Santugon, resigned from the yellow party. Ashley Francisco, College of Liberal Arts presidential candidate under TINDIG CLA, disclosed that “with the recent issues, circumstances, and events that have happened, I find myself no longer aligning with these values and principles.” For Hannah Prado, running for School of Economics college assembly president under PULSO, being a part of a political party made it difficult to connect with other students.
Having been members of Santugon—much more as candidates and winners under them—the independent runners hewed closely to tried and tested methods, adopting campaign tactics, speaking mannerisms, and sloganeering not unlike the blue-and-yellow brand. During room-to-room campaigns, they performed rehearsed speeches in formation. Online, they employed familiar design choices for their publicity materials and videos. The candidates also did not shy away from saying they have adopted Santugon’s consultative approach to leadership.
Nevertheless, they maintain that their coalitions’ platforms and visions are solely theirs. Tiffany Chua, ANGAT candidate for Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business (RVRCOB) president, affirms that “all of our visions and platforms…came from us personally and not from our former political party or affiliations.” LEAD candidate for 76th ENG batch legislator Alijaeh Go further assured during the miting de avance that their alliance has “not collaborated with any of the Santugon party in terms of our resource mobilization or even our own campaign resources or actual timeline.”
Jethro Turado (II, AB-ECM) believes that the independent candidates choosing to run despite their home party declining to field candidates “says more about the principles held by these candidates, but more importantly, the leadership structures that exist internally within their political organization.”
He argues that the party leadership lacks the influence to handle its members since they still sought to defect and run, and that the defectors lack “organizational accountability” for still pursuing office without calling out the lapses of fellow members.
The party declined to comment on the independent candidates and coalitions, explaining they were “busy with preparations for Santugon’s rebuilding.”
Legal, but a ‘hasty attempt’
The Omnibus Election Code, which governs the proceedings of every USG election, only requires that an independent candidate file their certificate of candidacy “without the affiliation of any political party.” It does not explicitly say they have to quit the party entirely, only that they are forbidden from associating with them in their campaign bid. DLSU Comelec Ad-hoc Commissioner Carlos Gaw Jr. confirms to The LaSallian that this was by design.
“Active members of a political party can declare themselves as ‘independent’,” he points out, “[but] they must detach and unaffiliate themselves from the political party when campaigning.”
While running as an independent is a perfectly legal exercise, Tapat Executive Secretary Azhley De Quiroz views the last-minute appearance of the coalitions as “a hasty attempt to distance themselves from the party.”
“Neither did these coalitions [address] the students’ apprehensions that they were past candidates or members of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon nor did they publicly denounce their affiliation from the aforementioned party,” De Quiroz argues. Batch legislator candidates from the coalitions acknowledged their past Santugon ties during the miting de avance, though they stopped short of criticizing their former party.
De Quiroz believes that DLSU Comelec should include more provisions around independent candidates, especially for those with past party affiliations, to ensure that “no personal agendas are being pursued.”
Asked whether they intend to require partisan candidates to resign before running independent, Gaw maintains that not having any affiliation is already “sufficient” and that DLSU Comelec has “no plans to include such provisions in the future.”
Turado agrees that DLSU Comelec should let the candidates run and let the student body make a choice. “It’s the people who will decide…if they still want to continue supporting an organization who cannot hold themselves accountable or consider a different brand of leadership.”