A CALL TO RESPECT THE ELECTORATE
In a statement released last week by the student council of the UPD College of Mass Communication (CMC-SC), it was said that:
“Also, these colleges with amendments were asked to show the body the quantitative and qualitative data of the consultations they said to have made. As transparency was requested, they refused to show any data. A representative of the Law Student Government even admitted they did not hold consultations with the students of the said college, citing constraints in schedule. We ask: if these amendments did not come from a consensus from the students, how can democracy be ensured, then.”
We feel that we need to respond to this and clarify the matter as there are insinuations of non-transparency and non-consultation. We do this not for the benefit of the CMC-SC (because we owe it no explanation) , but for the benefit of our constituents in the College of Law .
First. There is no single way of conducting a consultation. Given the block system in our college, it has always been customary practice for the LSG EB to conduct its consultations through the General Assembly of Representatives (GA)—a body composed of block presidents—and for the latter to present its concerns to the former, simply because this symbiosis has proven to be most efficient and expedient.
Last December, the LSG conducted its consultation by circulating a primer on the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) and Codified Rules on Student Regent Selection (CRSRS) prepared by the Law Representative, as well as the primer and open letter released by the incumbent Student Regent. The GA representatives were then asked to discuss the matter with their respective blocks and to submit to the EB any proposal that they may have to amend the CRSRS of 2007. None of the blocks were able to submit any proposal, so when we reported to the SR, we specifically indicated that there were no direct proposals from the blocks, but there were proposals coming from the EB itself. There is nothing unusual about this. As an EB, we are authorized under the LSG Constitution to represent the students in all matters affecting student rights and welfare. And as students, we, too, have a right to suggest rules that would eventually govern the selection of our student regent.
It is true that the EB was unable to conduct room-to-room (RTR) discussions, as it had originally planned, because of constraints in time and our individual schedules. But as pointed out above, our standard consultation practice has always been through the GA. Whether or not such will be supplemented with RTR discussions is discretionary. Even so, the LSG Secretary did notify the GA representatives that members of the EB would be willing to discuss the issue/s further in their classes should their blocks request us to do so.
No student council has a monopoly on the best way to consult its constituents. And if our own constituents point out the flaws in the way our consultation was done, we will acknowledge them and consider alternative ways to consult. But it is not for one student council to dismiss the efforts of another simply because of differences in method. Invoking the presumption of regularity is not a tactic to evade transparency; it is a presumption born out of respect for and a belief, in good faith, that each council conducted its consultations as sincerely as it could.
Second. “Consensus” and “majority” are not preconditions to a valid proposal of an amendment to the CRSRS. The CMC-SC asks, “if these amendments did not come from a consensus from the students, how can democracy be ensured, then.” Without even going into why democracy is not synonymous with consensus, we wish to point out that this question proceeds from a false premise: i.e., that an amendment must be proposed by a majority before it can be considered by the LSG, or by the GASC. Nowhere in our history, not even in the CRSRS of 2007, is there such a requirement. Please note that there is a difference between a proposal and its resolution. The former does not require a majority or any number for it to be validly made, but the latter does, which is why we have voting requirements whenever we hold the GASC. Deliberative bodies like Congress, and boards of both public and private corporations, do not require majority of its members to propose a matter before they deliberate upon it.
Third. Assuming without conceding that the amendments we proposed are “invalid” for having been “invalidly” done, there are still valid proposals from other student councils, other students. Including the proposals in the referendum is not equivalent to passing upon its merits, because that is precisely what the students will be deciding for themselves on January 26-29. Our point was simply to subject ALL the proposals, including the CRSRS of 2007, to the students’ vote. Thus, we suggested that the phrasing of the question be: "Which proposal do you think should govern the selection of the next SR?", and that the answers be "Proposal A (CRSRS of 2007), Proposal B (CRSRS of 2007, as amended by Student Council X), Proposal C (CRSRS of 2007, as amended by Student Council Y), Proposal D (CRSRS of 2007, as amended by Student Council Z)..." and so on. There are other ways to present the question, but it is clear that the referendum question, as it is currently worded, is oversimplified.
Obviously, a broader phrasing of the question would not foreclose the possibility of the CRSRS of 2007 being ratified through and through; thus, this should even be seen by its proponents as a chance to be vindicated.
To “unite” and ensure the approval of the CRSRS of 2007 now and to push for amendments later, may sound like a good compromise, but it is unlikely to happen. Because assuming the referendum (with its current phrasing of the question) does proceed and it succeeds, would it not be disrespectful for the GASC to immediately amend a set of rules that has been ratified by majority of the UP students?
We do not see how an expansion of the referendum question can threaten the OSR. The point is to have alternatives presented to the student body so that the Office may be strengthened and be made more credible. If there is anything we all agree on, it is that conducting a referendum is logistically and financially taxing. But since we have resolved to “rise to the challenge”, we must make sure that our undertaking is properly done. Why insist on taking short cuts when we already have the chance to maximize direct student participation?
Clearly, the danger of a failed referendum comes from the narrow and oversimplified phrasing of the question. By limiting the answer to a YES or NO, the issue has been severely slanted to appear as either an affirmation or rejection of the OSR, when the question does not even have to be answerable by a mere yes/no to begin with. A vote of yes/no only amounts to approving/disapprov ing the CRSRS of 2007, and not the OSR itself, because the law and jurisprudence provide for mechanisms to ensure that the OSR will not be vacant. Thus, it is patently dishonest to claim that if the CRSRS is not approved, we will have no SR, or that we will be at the mercy of a Malacañang appointee (see Referendum FAQs).
All these limiting of choices, the silencing of the minority, remind us of the dictum of an extremely conservative, right-wing leader—that “there is no alternative”.
But there are alternatives, and we call on our SR to allow us some options. There is no better way to ensure the failure of a referendum than by pushing a reasonable electorate up against a wall.
- The Executive Board, UP Law Student Government 2008-2009
15 January 2008