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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Clarifying Why UP Students Should Vote YES in the Student Regent Referendum on January 26-31, 2009

Peddling ‘democracy’ and other myths:
A response in defense of the Office of the Student Regent

No word perhaps is as misused, abused, and twisted to fit the interests of a selfish few than the term democratic. The past few days we have been assaulted by a flurry of statements from certain student councils and political formations calling for the democratization of the Student Regent selection by subjecting their personal proposed amendments to the impending referendum to approve the selection rules. These groups have gone to the extent of expressly endorsing the failure of the referendum by enjoining the students to register a negative vote. At a juncture when the potency of our student institutions and, in essence, the power of our collective action, is undermined, there is no other recourse than to expose and resist such semantic deception and divisive intervention.

The referendum is not the proper venue for amendments to be adopted. The Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS) in its current form provides ample mechanisms for student councils to propose amendments to the same. As the CRSRS is still in effect, student councils have yearly been given until the first day of October to forward their proposed revisions, which these councils failed to do. This, however, is not merely a matter of technicality. The wisdom behind such prescription lies in the need for the approval by student councils across the UP system through the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) of any and all proposed amendments to the rules.

To obstinately insist on subjecting such amendments to the referendum is an act of arrogance and is in itself antithetical to the concept of democracy that these same groups relentlessly invoke. These student councils are practically asking that the assembly be bypassed, and that the position of the other councils on their amendments be effectively muted. It is worthy to note that these same revisions are the ones that have been, time and again, rejected by an overwhelming majority of student councils across UP through the GASC. Again, to ignore this historic position of the majority on such proposals runs counter to the idea of democracy that the groups in question so glorify.

A few words on the proposed amendments, nevertheless, are imperative. Apart from the fact that former Student Regents have been selected without a minimum academic requirement, as now proposed by some student councils and organizations, but have exceptionally discharged their duties, the inclusion of such condition conflicts with our collective position that the Student Regent selection is and must purely be a student affair and poses unjustly discriminatory effects.

These councils yet again posit that the selection process can be democratized through "proportionately" allowing one vote for each council. While a 'one council-one vote' scheme would sound appealing especially in the usual yet elementary and restrictive appreciation of 'democracy', the bigger problem lies in the fact that the current allocation of votes (2 for autonomous units, 1 for regional units) is precisely so in a conscious effort to preclude monopoly of the position by the unit with the most number of colleges. Certainly, this is not the brand of 'democracy' we would like to partake in.

The deletion of the role of the Kalipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP) in the CRSRS has further been the subject of their proposed amendments. The CRSRS is clear as to the function of KASAMA sa UP by virtue of its historical role in the re-establishment of the Office and thus mandates the alliance to provide the necessary historical perspective on the institution and the selection process. The GASC remains the highest decisive body as regards the selection process. To remove the alliance's significance as enshrined in the CRSRS is to betray the Office's very history and ignore the historic collective struggle of the alliance's member-councils to defend the Office from unceasing attempts to strip it of its liberative power of representation.

There is no misinformation to the claim that a failed referendum may result in the vacancy of the Office, and that such may pave the way for intervention by the administration. The fear that stems from an unsuccessful referendum is that such may leave the Office vacant until the CRSRS is approved, and consequently, the students will have no representation in the Board of Regents, UP's highest policy-making body. While pertinent laws state that the incumbent remains in position should no successor to a public office be appointed or selected, such opinion, however, fails to note that the current Student Regent is set to graduate and would thus no longer be qualified to hold office.

More importantly, a vote in the negative is a tacit invitation for administration intervention. UP President Emerlinda Roman has confirmed the possibility that the administration may recommend any student for the position only if the students would approve of such. Knowing the administration's conception of 'student approval', as shown in the manner by which the 300% tuition hike, for example, was treacherously approved and justified, a failed referendum presents us only with unfortunate scenarios.

Ultimately, a vote in favor of the selection rules is a vote for the Office of the Student Regent and for genuinely democratic student representation. The fact remains that the mandatory conduct of a referendum undermines the capacity of the GASC to administer its own affairs and refuses to recognize the autonomy of the assembly itself in formulating its own rules on the conduct of the selection process that have always been upheld by the majority through its own democratic devices. It must be remembered that the provision in the new UP Charter mandating the conduct of the referendum was insidiously inserted, without any democratic consultation as its basis, by a former UP Diliman Student Council chairperson affiliated with a particular group which now asks us to 'check the OSR’.

It is in this repressive nature of the referendum that we are now calling on the students to unite in voting 'yes' to precisely prove to the administration and to these reactionary student groups that no deception and intervention shall deter us. The pursuit of true democracy, after all, can never be claimed by a selfish few who advance their vested interests and hunger for power in the guise of spurious claims of promoting ‘democratization’ and ‘student participation.’ Most importantly, democracy lies in a conscious and concerted effort to defend our democratic institutions especially when false and opportunist student leaders not only miserably fail to do so, but even connive towards such repression.

Vote YES! January 26-31, 2009 Student Regent Referendum. Bring your student I.D. or Form 5 and vote in your respective college precincts, all over the UP System.

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