Unity in securing our representation

A referendum is essentially a good thing. But this referendum doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It comes at a time when there is a pending proposal in Congress to cut UP’s maintenance and operating budget in 2009 by PhP 200+ million, which will justify another round of tuition and lab fee increases. It comes at a time when the administration, through UP President Roman, admitted on cable television the strong possibility of increasing tuition once again.

The SR (Student Regent) has traditionally stood against these whenever he sits at the BOR (Board of Regents), an arena dominated by administrators and political appointees. The referendum, I believe, is a cunning way to challenge the presence of the SR in the BOR, and effectively neutralize the representation especially at this crucial juncture of our university’s history.

Think of an ordinary organization seeking recognition from the OSA (Office of Student Affairs), in order to be eligible to use the university’s facilities. For more than a decade, this organization has existed with is own constitution and rules on selecting their organization officers. In a sudden turn of events, this year, before the OSA recognizes the organization, it asks the formation to submit its constitution and rules on selecting its organization officers to a referendum by all its members. It’s quite an added burden, which was largely unnecessary because of an already existing democratic and working mechanism. Perhaps it may not be a problem to ordinary organizations with around thirty members, but think of it this way, 60% of the members rarely show up at the tambayan. UP has 55,000+ students. Even in the most heated student council elections, turnout has never exceeded 50%. The administration knows this. It’s a challenge it knows will be difficult, logistically, for the students to fulfill. It’s the challenge that will give them the space to maneuver and to do what it seeks to implement while the selection of the SR is uncertain.

Some groups try to create the atmosphere that it’s okay for the referendum to fail because the OSR (Office of the Student Regent), as a public office, will not be abolished anyway and that the law abhors a vacancy in public office. True enough, the OSR will not be abolished, and that the current SR will remain in a hold-over position. However, for how long until the other members of the BOR challenge her presence? This propaganda line doesn’t take into consideration the historic tendency of the UP administration to intervene in what is supposed to be a purely student affair, whenever it suits its interests.

In 1991, President Abueva shunned the nominee chosen by the students and appointed his own SR. In 1999, the administration expelled the sitting SR from school, and consequently the BOR booted him out of the board, because he wasn’t a student anymore. These, despite the legalities that supposedly ensure student representation in the board.

Current SR Abdulwahid is a graduating student. She will cease to be a student in a few months. The administration and pro-administration groups can assure us all they want that there shall be no vacancy in the OSR but we all know what the administration has done and is capable of doing in order to take advantage of the situation in case of such a vacuum.

Fortunately, in 1999 a replacement was chosen after the student regent was ousted, but that was when the CRSRS was in practice and recognized. In the event of a failure of a referendum this year, there will be no mechanism to replace SR Shan, in case she ceases to be a student, or if, god forbid, something terrible happens to her. Indeed we will have an OSR, but we will be unable to choose a new SR. That’s where the vacancy comes in.

Granting without conceding that the law really abhors this vacancy, and that it won’t happen. And in case it does, we can file a case in court to assert our rights and our representation. This is exactly the kind of space pro-tuition increase administrators is seeking to roll the dice for another round of hikes.

Instead of the SR or the OSR and the students uniting in principle to oppose such moves, we shall be concerned still with validating and securing our representation in the board. That’s where the delay comes in.

I’m similarly frustrated, honestly. Student councils have bickered and campaigned for amendments last year. All of us had the chance from June to December to argue over this and I’m really disappointed that even after they have failed to gather popular support and to be accommodated, they insist on their political agenda and divide the students at a time when unity is imperative in securing our representation. Last year, from June to December, they campaigned for amendments and consulted with their constituents. There was very little favorable response among students. Ask for the qualitative and quantitative results of their consultations. There is no unbiased clamor for these amendments. The fact is that these amendments have been campaigned for year in and year out by the same political force who have their own interests in mind. Year in and year out, when the GASC convenes, these amendments are rejected by majority of student councils system-wide.

Last year, despite their effort to gather support for their amendments, the students aren’t biting. And what’s more, they didn’t submit their amendments on time, despite the fact that the mechanism for amendments wasn’t repealed by RA 9500 (the new UP Charter). I was personally willing to concede and accommodate whatever they want, even if I don’t agree with the merits of their arguments in favor of amendments. But given the results of their consultations, there really is no un-colored clamor for amendments even in their colleges. It really just comes from the same political force whose efforts are frustrated every year. All I see is blue and yellow. It almost makes them similar to pro-administration congressmen hell-bent on pushing for charter change without any clamor from the constituents they supposedly represent, except for the clamor within their frustrated political parties with vested interests.

I also want some amendments (albeit not the ones they push for), but I believe the time had past for all the bickering and arguing over them. We all had the chance, we all had the time, from June to December last year, to exercise our duties to consult our students. Pinag-awayan at pinagpuyatan na natin ang mga debate tungkol dito. Now is the time for us to unite in securing student representation in the BOR. If we really feel so strongly about amendments or whatnot, student councils can deliberate on it as early as April once the referendum has succeeded. If the referendum fails, wala rin naman tayong magiging arena to debate on these proposals.

Unwillingness to settle for this compromise is for me quite unreasonable–taking into consideration all the pressing issues we’re going to face in the next few months, from budget cuts to tuition increases. Putting it in another way, the willingness of some groups for this referendum to fail just because their amendments weren’t accommodated now (and justifiably so), at a time when we’re facing further attacks on our rights as students, is preposterous and selfish. We can’t afford uncertainty. We can’t afford any delay. It is imperative for us to secure student representation in the BOR now.

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