Additional requirements for the selection of the student representative to the Board of Regents – as stipulated in the new UP Charter- have endangered the representation of students in the highest policy-making body of the country’s premier state university.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Since 1987, a lone student representative sits as an official member of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Board of Regents (BOR). From that year until 1997, the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (Kasama sa UP or Association of Student Councils in UP), a system-wide alliance of UP student councils, selects the Student Regent from among themselves. In 1997, the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) formulated and approved the Codified Rules for the Student Regent Selection (CRSRS). For more than a decade, the CRSRS was used as a guideline in the selection of the SR.
In April 2008, the Republic Act 9500 or the UP Charter was enacted. Section 12 letter g of the Charter states: “One Student Regent, to serve for a term of one (1) year, chosen by the students from their ranks in accordance with rules and qualifications approved in a referendum by the students.”
The referendum for the approval of the CRSRS has been set from January 26 to 31 of this year.
In an interview with the Philippine Collegian, Theodore Te, UP Vice President for Legal Affairs said that for the referendum to take effect, a voter turnout of 50 percent plus one of all bonafide UP students must be reached.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Student Regent Shahana Abdulwahid said Te did not cite any basis for his proposed 50 percent plus one formula. She said that voter turnout for UP student council elections ranges only from 30 to 40 percent. Thus, she said, reaching the required percentage of voter turnout for a referendum to take effect – even before a Student Regent could be selected – would be very difficult.
Besides, she said, the referendum is a ‘logistical nightmare.’
She said that not all of the 55,00 students in the entire UP system know the existence of the SR. “How would you encourage them to vote in the referendum? They must first understand the relevance of having a student representative in the BOR.”
Abdulwahid said that a failure of the referendum is tantamount to losing the lone student representative to the BOR. “There would be no rules to start with,” she said.
Abdulwahid’s term should have ended in December last year. She has been compelled to hold over until a new SR has been selected.
She said further, “In a way, [the referendum] challenges the present rules [governing the selection of SR).”
Abdulwahid said the referendum places the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) in a disadvantageous position.
Abdulwahid related that the proposal for a referendum came from one student leader in UP Manila. She refused to name the proponent. She said that before the enactment of the UP Charter, they opposed the inclusion of that particular provision.
Abdulwahid revealed that ‘pseudo-progressive student organizations’ in UP have been proposing amendments to the CRSRS but were rejected by the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC). She said the same groups wanted to include their proposed amendments to the questions to be submitted in the referendum. She said that these groups see the referendum as an opportunity to push for their amendments.
Among the proposed amendments include the additional academic requirement for SR; deletion of Kasama sa UP; and some proposed changes in the voting mechanism.
“If their proposed amendments have merit, why are these being rejected? The proponents could not prove that such amendments are needed,” Abdulwahid said.
Abdulwahid said she has been accused of being partisan because of her affiliation with STAND UP, a political party in UP. She said however that only six out of 51 student councils in the entire UP system demanded for the inclusion of the proposed amendments to the final questions. “They are a minority. I would be questioned if I accommodate their demand.”
She said the OSR is a product of the long struggle of students for student representation. “As the biggest constituency in the university, the students need to have a voice in the implementation of policies affecting them.”
In an article, JPaul Manzanilla, former UP Student Regent and former chairperson of the University Student Council (USC) in UP Diliman, said that from 1908 to 1968, university policies are determined without the student population’s full knowledge. It was only in 1969 that a “student observer” had been allowed to observe the proceedings of the BOR. From 1970 until 1972, then President Ferdinand Marcos appointed the student council chairpersons as regular members of the BOR concurrent with their student council tenure.
Manzanilla’s article stated that in the early 80s, the Kasama sa UP campaigned for the reinstatement of the position of the student regent. The alliance rejected Marcos’ hand in the appointment of the student regent and demanded that the SR must be selected by the students themselves.
In 1987, then President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 204 modifying the composition of the BOR to include one student representative.
In another interview, Alvin Peters, national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), the biggest alliance of student councils in the country, said the school administration must not intervene in the selection of the SR.
Peters deemed that the requirement for a referendum is an imposition provided for in the UP Charter. He said it is a threat to the student movement.
The NUSP leader said the referendum would have serious implications to the gains of the student movement.
Peters said that other state universities and colleges (SUCs) may also opt for a referendum, thereby undermining the existing rules in the selection of student representatives in highest policy-making bodies of universities. “The UP referendum may be used as a pretext to intervene in the existing mechanism of students to choose their own representatives,” he explained.
Peters said the historical context of student representation in state universities’ highest policy making bodies must be taken into account. “It is a product of a long struggle by progressive student leaders. It is part of the historic struggle of students for democratic reforms.”
Peters challenged the UP students to defend their right to representation. He said the existing rules must be upheld as a reaffirmation of the historic victory of students.(Bulatlat.com)