Text by Christina Quiambao
What you need to know:
- The postponement of the USC elections is a first in the university’s post-Martial Law history.
- As the USC Vice Chairperson has been vacant since August, college councils are left with no convenor.
- The USC will elect the next Chairperson and Vice Chairperson with the OVCSA and OSPA as facilitators.
University and college student councils in UP Diliman struggle to address vacancy problems as members continue to resign after the first month of classes.
Among the 20 college student councils and the University Student Council (USC), at least 75* members have vacated their posts due to various reasons.
The holdover term started after the Diliman student council elections were postponed in March as the coronavirus pandemic struck the country. This left the USC 2019-2020 term to continue indefinitely into the new academic year.
Some of these resignations came from council members who graduated last July and have already fulfilled their regular term.
With their term’s end nowhere in sight and without a Vice Chairperson to convene them, the League of College Councils (LCCs) are left worrying about the unification of student representation.
What happened in the USC
The USC, which stands as the highest student representation in the university, faces a leadership vacuum after the recent mass resignation of its members.
15 out of the elected 38 council members have already resigned as of Oct. 5, citing reasons such as focusing on other responsibilities, academic workload and mental health concerns.
USC Secretary-General Richard Pagaduan said that it was a unanimous decision by the three political parties in UPD in their meeting with the OVCSA to postpone the elections for the meantime.
“Ang pinaka-reason ay para hindi maexhaust ng online means ‘yung election campaigns, election events, election activities na ginagawa during the normal times,“ Pagaduan said.
While waiting for the official guidelines from the President’s Advisory Council (PAC) and Board of Regents (BOR), the USC chose to focus on other endeavors instead, such as the Isko Operations, an existing project to aid those in need of relief goods.
“Well basically on limbo ‘yung everyone, unsure kung kailan matatapos by that time. Hindi pa rin alam kung ano mangyayari on academics, wala pang results ‘yung PAC, BOR,” Pagaduan said.
As resignations started to pile up, the USC continues to struggle in filling the increasing number of vacancies in their council. These positions perform crucial roles in addressing students’ grievances and forwarding their concerns with the administration.
Office of the Student Projects and Activities (OSPA) Coordinator Crizel Sicat-De Laza said that the USC elections were only postponed three times in the history of UPD. The last time scholars were unable to vote for the USC was due to its abolition during the Martial Law period.
“Malalagay sa history na itong 2020, 2021 na batch dahil ito ‘yung pinakaunang pagkakataon in recent years na wala na namang election,” Sicat-De Laza said.
Local councils assuming dual roles in holdover term
College student councils face a similar problem, with some student leaders taking on double roles just to bridge their constituents to college administrations and to address concerns on financial assistance and remote learning.
Six out of 11 members of the College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) resigned on Sept. 5, leaving the remaining members to assume two positions as the holdover term progresses.
Raffy Purisima, the incumbent CMC Representative to the USC and Communication Research (CommRes) representative, is one of those members who took on the double roles. Last year, he was elected as the lone CommRes representative.
Compared to other college councils, CMCSC was one of the few that did not release a call for appointments for the vacant positions in their council.
“‘Yung appointments, as much as we want, hindi na talaga namin siya pwedeng ma-stretch out of the bounds of our constitution,” Purisima said.
Taken from Article X Section 1 of the CMCSC Constitution: “Any permanent vacancy in the office of the Chairperson shall be filled by the Vice Chairperson. Permanent vacancy in any other office, except that of the Department Representatives, shall be filled by the Council members through an election among the Council.”
To address the vacancy problems, Purisima said they temporarily merged and removed positions that were not urgently needed in the online set-up.
“Considering na lima na rin lang kasi kaming natira, ‘yung dalawang committees [Students’ Rights and Welfare and People’s Struggles] na ‘yun ay ilan sa mga committees na pinag-merge na lang para at least ma-lessen ‘yung work at ma-integrate ‘yung nag-e-exist within those committees,” Purisima said.
They also opted to call for applications to their affiliates program as a way to decrease the load of the five council members remaining.
“[Affiliates] will assume the roles like us, continuous communications with the admin, ang hindi lang nila ma-a-assume is ‘yung magiging part sila ng decision-making body nu’ng mismong council,” Purisima added.
Better outcome but less manpower
Another local college council that took a big hit was the School of Economics Student Council (SESC) after 11 out of 19 members resigned before the semester started.
SESC Interim Chairperson Andi Paguiton said that the council was prepared to address the vacancy problems despite having one of the highest numbers of resignations among the local councils.
“I think we were all fortunate that it was all planned out. We actually sat down and agreed on an IRR [Implementing Rules and Regulations],” she said.
The IRR states that the Interim SESC will consist of incumbent members and officers-in-charge until the next student council elections can be held. The SESC also reduced its number of council members from 19 to 16.
“We decided to merge positions based on the workload given the online setting because an online school year would entail different work from something more physical,” Paguiton said.
Moving forward for the student body
The two highest positions in the USC are vacant after the resignation of former USC Chairperson Kenneth Eser Jose and the decision of Councilor Tierone Santos to reject the Vice Chairperson position.
The USC will elect the next Chairperson and Vice Chairperson with the OVCSA and OSPA as facilitators.
To help the USC grappling with limited manpower, Sicat-De Laza said the OVCSA’s “definite plans” for them in the future are underway.
“Hindi pa namin masyadong napagiisipan kung sa susunod na semestre ay papayagan na ng online elections kasi nakikita nga namin mukhang hindi na kakayanin ‘yung holdover ito,” Sicat-De Laza said.
The USC has yet to internally decide how to address the vacancy problems, Pagaduan said.
“Ang sinuggest ko pa lang ay baka pwedeng i-merge ‘yung mga committees or tignan kung ano ‘yung mga committees na pwedeng gumalaw sa skeleton workforce ng USC, pero hindi pa rin siya masyadong napapag-usapan since ‘yung focus ng concerns ay mainly sa members pa rin,” Pagaduan said.
With no Vice Chairperson to convene the LCC, college student councils cannot help but express concerns over the future of USC as a unifying body of LCCs.
“Considering na maraming issues ngayon within the university then ‘yung college, andoon ‘yung importance na magkaroon ng LCC convener lalo na sa pagbuild ng campaigns and other unities ng LCCs,” Purisima said.
Students’ first line of defense in opposing unfair academic policies have always been to tap their elected leaders. With indefinite vacancies for crucial leadership positions, remaining council members will have to carry the burden of addressing their constituents’ concerns until the next student elections.
*The number of resignations came from released resignation letters by the student councils and was confirmed by them. Other resignations were not considered due to lack of visible updates from the council nor responses from the emails Tinig ng Plaridel sent them.
ERRATUM: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Pagaduan is included in the meeting of the three political parties in UPD with the OVCSA.