Age of Consent

On the issue of the UP Student Code and national issue of the Constituent Assembly

It was modern thinking that placed a high premium on Consent as a foundation of law. Consent has a transformative moral power, but it has its own pitfall: it can transform a wrongful action into a rightful one. If Manny Pacquiao had knocked down Ricky Hatton outside of the ring, he would have been prosecuted for serious physical injuries.

Still, this philosophy stems from the core belief that all men are reasonable, and that Reason will then lead us all to a single, unassailable conclusion. This legal theory, stridently discussed in Malcolm Hall, is relentlessly tested in practice.

We note two particular instances: in proposals for a new code for student discipline in Diliman, and for a constituent assembly to change the Charter. When the UP administration moved for the codification of student rules sometime in 2005, students were only allowed piecemeal participation. In a university where 80% of students are older than 18 years — the age of consent — the lack of active and inclusive student participation is suspect. The drafting of the Code undermines the basic right of students to be consulted, represented, and decide in the formulation of policies that affect their rights and welfare.

UMAKSYON last year joined 100 other student organizations, in submitting to the Board of Regents an 18-point demand “reclaiming the rights of student organizations in the University of the Philippines”. The document specifically demanded student council control over two properties; softer rules on organization and assembly; and secure student representation or participation in important campus activities.

In contrast, the draft Diliman Student Code emphasizes that the use of university facilities and the use of a tambayan is a grant, a privilege. It also offered stricter guidelines on student organizations, and barely promised solutions to staffing and appointment issues of student publications and representatives. What the draft code puts forward is a simpler procedure for discipline cases.

The mismatch is worse on the national arena. Charter change during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has never had the support of the people. Yet still, at a time when citizens are clamoring for economic palliatives — jobs, higher wages, a more beneficial agrarian reform, lower tuition — the Philippine Congress decides to start changing the charter.

Personal political interests have always found their way into the legislature, but never before as daft and brazen. The House of Representatives approved House Resolution 1109, which converts Congress into a Constituent Assembly, before midnight of June 2. The Assembly, which finds no difference between members of the lower and the upper chambers, is legally infirm. It would be, in straightforward terms, a usurpation of power of the Senate by members of the House of Representatives. Standing to benefit from nine years of similar political machinations is Mrs. Arroyo, one of the slyest UP alumni ever to sit in office.

Amidst some of the worst scandals in political history, she was safely tucked in the immunity of public office. Charter change, a new run for office, and a whole motley of exit plans promise to unreasonably, but permanently keep her untouchable. It will be one large question of political survival for Mrs. Arroyo — and for the Filipino people — after June 30, 2010. As we mark every milestone: her last State of the Nation Address in July, election day in May next year, it won’t take a legal education to answer: would Coercion succeed where Consent cannot?

Ugnayan ng Mag-aaral Laban sa Komersyalisasyon (UMAKSYON) UP College of Law

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