It was in 2018 when the University Student Government (USG) last saw an unopposed candidate for executive president. This year, Raphael Hari-Ong of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon vies for the position unopposed, banking on his promise of a “genuine Lasallian experience” to garner enough votes from the student body. Hari-Ong offers his experience as a former finance staff for the executive board and BLAZE2024 batch legislator to institutionalize and improve student services that are yet to be made sustainable for future batches to enjoy.
The LaSallian: Your previous work in the University Student Government covers finance-related responsibilities. How do you think this will benefit your work in office, compared with the previous USG presidents who were known for working on student-focused advocacies?
Hari-Ong: In the Alex Brotonel administration, I was the chief operating officer of Cid Gernandiso, the current executive treasurer. When I was a frosh, I was elected as the batch legislator for BLAZE2024. So, when it comes to my USG experience, it’s boiling down to the two branches of the USG, which [are] the legislative and the executive side. When it comes to the finances, it’s really important as the USG president na with the executive board and the approval of the LA, you all agree on how you’ll be budgeting the funds in the next academic year. But, since it’s the Term 2 elections, what the current admin will have as the budget, ‘yun ang matu-turnover sa amin, so it’s really important na ma-budget namin siya in a way na hindi masasayang.
The LaSallian: Your strengths as a finance person seem to make you fit for executive treasurer. Why did you choose to run for executive president instead?
Hari-Ong: Actually, in the postponed 2023 General Elections, I was supposed to run as the executive treasurer, but when it came to the current special elections, I realized na ‘yung purpose ko, hindi pala siya nagsa-stop sa finances. Nakita ko ‘yung everyday experiences natin as Lasallians na may mga hindi pa rin tayo nakikitang policies or initiatives. More than representing the whole student body, it’s really having an on-ground presence with every Lasallian and building relationships with them. It’s something that I’m really passionate about. More than that, I really want to provide different projects and initiatives with my executive board that will provide “your genuine Lasallian experience” to the whole Lasallian community.
The LaSallian: What traits and attributes do you think are unique to yourself and how will that translate to your work as USG President?
Hari-Ong: One of the things I’m most proud of is that I have a strength of being consultative. Being in the LA, napakaimportante ‘yung pagco-consult mo, not only with the DLSU admin [but] even with the majority and minority floor leaders. I do believe na isa ‘tong strength sa pagiging USG president kasi alam naman natin ‘yung mga proyekto at inisyatibo natin, hindi siya nagre-rely solely on USG. Kailangan kinokonsulta natin ito with the different admins involved, kasi dapat may approval nila, because if not, mahihirapan din ‘yung USG kasi paano kung hindi pala siya feasible?
The LaSallian: How comfortable are you with leading a bipartisan executive board?
Hari-Ong: Ever since I was a frosh, I really did understand already that once you are an elected, wala tayong partisanship within the USG. Napakahalaga na as USG leaders, after the elections, wala na tayong kulay in office. Kasi, ibig sabihin nito, dapat lahat ng student sectors, lahat ng Lasallians ay narerepresenta natin nang maayos within the University Student Government. If we will retain the colors inside the office, mahihirapan tayo in a way na iba-iba tayo ng values, beliefs, and all. I’m not saying we compromise our values and beliefs, but it’s more on having a mutual respect for one another. At the end of the day, lahat naman tayo ay USG leaders and lahat naman tayo ay may isang goal lang, which is to serve a better purpose for the Lasallian community.
The LaSallian: How will you find a compromise for co-officers who dissent with whatever advocacies or platforms you are trying to push?
Hari-Ong: I guess in a bipartisan USG, it is important na nakikipag-usap tayo sa isa’t isa. Kung nanggaling man kayo ng different parties nung elections, may mga proyekto tayo at inisyatibo na magiging compromise in a way. Kasi nga nung elections, iba ‘yung na-campaign natin, but it’s important na lahat tayo ay magkausap nang maayos in order to really assess ano ba talaga kailangan natin. There will be some things that will be compromised, but it’s important as well na ‘yung values and beliefs natin are for the student body.
The LaSallian: What presently implemented projects by the USG do you intend to continue and which ones do you plan to cut?
Hari-Ong: One of the things that I really plan to continue, upon consultation with the student body, is the 24/6 pantry of the Brotonel administration. Nakita natin gaano nag-benefit at gaano nagustuhan ito ng students. But it’s also important that before we continue that, kailangan i-assess muna natin kung talaga bang feasible pa ba siya in our administration or if magugustuhan pa ba siya ng student body. In terms of cutting, wala pa naman akong nakikita na gusto kong i-cut, but it’s more on assessing all of the projects of the Brotonel administration. Kasi aminin natin, maganda naman ang mga napatakbo ni Alex Brotonel, but it’s important na kailangan natin malaman kung ito pa ba ang kailangan within the next academic year.
The LaSallian: What projects do you plan to prioritize once you step into office?
Hari-Ong: One of my proudest plans is the “Healthcare Empowerment and Access for Lasallians,” which focuses on the different healthcare campaigns. Magfo-focus tayo on partnering with different LGUs (local government units) and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in order to have, for example, free vaccinations within the University. Nakita natin in the past administrations na medyo hindi natutunan ng pansin ‘yung healthcare. The next one would be the “ID on Wheels,” which is the national satellite government ID service for the whole Lasallian community. Mag-iimbita tayo ng different government agencies such as DFA, LTO, and SSS din kasi alam naman nating kailangan natin iyon before we work. Ito ‘yung mga gusto natin i-prioritize para mabigyan natin ng convenience ‘yung Lasallian community.
The LaSallian: Do you have any priority bills that you will push?
Hari-Ong: As USG president, I want to prioritize the institutionalization of Pride Month activities. We have seen na napakaganda nung feedback natin from the recent Pride March and gusto natin ma-sustain ito in the long run. Working with the Legislative Assembly, ‘yung student sectors na ito ay matuunan pa ng pansin in order to make sure ‘yung sustainability aspect nito. Let’s say, kahit mga 20 years from now, makikita natin na ‘yung DLSU, may Pride March pa rin na magaganap.
The LaSallian: What are your thoughts on the state of Lasallian activism? And what are your plans regarding it?
Hari-Ong: Lasallian activism is something na kailangan natin bigyan ng importansya. Under the Legislative Assembly, one of our projects is “Liwasang Lasalyano” kung saan magbibigay kami ng space sa CADS (Cory Aquino Democratic Space). Alam naman natin…once you’re a student activist, may possibility na ma-redtag, ‘yung safety mo ay at risk. Having a democratic space within our University is something to ensure the student body na pwede niyong lahat ‘yan (demonstrations) gawin dito at safe kayo.
The LaSallian: But that seems to echo the stereotype of Lasallians being privileged, hiding behind the fence. Do you plan to participate or engage in national rallies outside campus?
Hari-Ong: Yes. It’s really important na sa national issues natin ay dapat may stance tayo. Paano makikita ng student body na may pake tayo? Napaka-importante na in all of these issues, dapat may pake ang mga Lasalyano. And what better way to let the students feel that than by initiating different rallies like what the past administration did.
The LaSallian: Studies have shown that unopposed candidates tend to perform poorly compared to candidates with competition, as they have no incentive to improve their platforms. Do you think this is an issue for you, an unopposed candidate?
Hari-Ong: I don’t think it’s an issue for me because at the end of the day, ang kalaban ko pa rin dito ay sarili ko. Technically, may kalaban pa rin ako, because I really have to earn the trust of the student body. And, together with our executive board, mabibigyan namin ng pansin ‘yung mga problema nila, mabibigyan namin ng solusyon kung anuman ang mga kailangan natin bilang mga Lasalyano…I believe there are already testimonials for me on how never ako nang-iwan ng mga trabaho as well as all of the things that I did. All of my college life was for the benefit of the student body.
The LaSallian: What DLSU and studentry do you envision at the end of your term?
Hari-Ong: Our executive board vision is “your genuine Lasallian experience.” At the end of our term…I really want to assure the student body that your USG will be here for you in order for you to have a sense of purpose, sense of fulfillment—na talagang mafe-feel mo na nirerespeto ka, at safe na safe ka dito.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.