UP students could lose voice in university decisions as SR term expires

Students across the UP system could lose their sole representative to the Board of Regents (BOR), the university’s highest decision-making body, as the UP administration has gone over a week in mulling the term extension of incumbent Student Regent (SR) Isaac Punzalan. 

This can spell trouble as the Board is set to meet September for the selection of the Chancellors of three UP campuses, including UP Manila which also holds the embattled UP-PGH.

The General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) in July 8 unanimously adopted a resolution allowing Punzalan to serve in a holdover capacity as the pandemic “prevents the holding of the selection process for the new SR within the usual timeframes and physical setup,” the resolution read. 

Punzalan presented this resolution in the July 30 BOR meeting, a day before his one-year term officially expired. 

UP officials have yet to respond after UP President Danilo Concepcion forwarded the resolution to the Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs and the University Secretary.

Concepcion said the issue was a legal matter that needed to be studied first, as the SR could only serve for one year based on Republic Act No. 9500 or the 2008 UP Charter.

The expiration of the SR’s term has called into question the lack of representation of more than 50,000 students across all UP campuses with the university entering its most uncertain year in recent history. 

How the SR is selected 

The same UP Charter provision that limits the SR’s term to one year also recognizes that the SR must be “chosen by the students from their ranks in accordance with rules and qualifications approved in a referendum by the students.”

The OSR has cited in its statements the selection of the SR is “exclusively a student affair” in which no administration can interfere with the process, in accordance to Article II, Section 3 of the Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS).

The CRSRS lays out the systemwide and autonomous process for the selection of the SR. In a regular deliberation, the GASC selects the SR annually through voting among a pool of nominees the search committees of any college or university presented. 

The GASC in its emergency convention resolved to authorize Punzalan to continue to hold office until a successor can be selected. 

The Charter recognizes the GASC as the “student council of the UP system.”

Punzalan said while he understands the administration’s hesitance since legality is in the question, this should not hamper them from ensuring student representation. 

“It’s one thing for them to question this actively, delaying action and not giving us enough time to be ready for an answer. It is also another if they are going to choose to actively work with us, work with the OSR, to ensure that students remain represented in the Board,” Punzalan said in an online interview.

[INFOG] Board of Regents
Graphics by Renz Joshua Palalimpa
Why it matters 

Every vote counts in the UP Board of Regents.

Led by Concepcion and Commission on Higher Education Chairman Prospero De Vera, the board consists of 11 members from private and public spheres — including the SR — who regularly vote on matters such as university policies and leadership. 

The Board will select the new UP Manila (UPM), UP Los Baños, and UP Visayas Chancellors on September 24, a crucial undertaking that will determine the leadership of the three campuses in the next three years. 

UPM University Student Council Chairperson Prince Turtogo said they need a Chancellor who will commit to “improving the system” as the university struggles to shift to remote learning, especially now when resources are strained since the university also holds one of the country’s COVID-19 referral centers.

“UP-PGH prior to the pandemic has been struggling with its operations because of the limited spaces, equipment, and the overworked, underpaid conditions of the health workers, to name a few,” Turtogo said. 

With only one UPM Chancellor nominee in tow, he said the position cannot remain vacant.

“Vacancy in the Chancellor post would be grave to UP Manila because she is expected to plan out and supervise the operations of the University,” he added. 

Punzalan said if the administration would reject the resolution to extend his term, this would raise questions on whether the BOR can proceed with any decision-making with the SR post vacant.

The rejection of the holdover can’t reconcile with the fact that an SR needs to be in place as mandated by the UP Charter,” Punzalan said.

The SR registered dissent votes in recent BOR decisions on academic policies such as the university’s shift to remote learning for A.Y. 2020-2021 and the approval of the deferred grading scheme last semester.

Future decisions concerning students’ welfare would be in jeopardy without the voting power of the SR, who consults university student councils in getting students’ pulse. 

Students are the largest stakeholders. We are around 50,000. It would be very drastic if our own voice is not given a platform inside the highest governing body in the university,” Punzalan said.

If ever they’re going to reject [the holdover term], we’re very much ready to answer back,” he added. 

With reports from Jan Felicia Cuyco

ERRATUM: An earlier version of this article indicated that the SR position was vacant. No notice of vacancy has been sent to Incumbent SR Isaac Punzalan yet after his term expired Aug. 1.

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