After two years of resorting to virtual means, candidates vying for posts in the UP Diliman (UPD) University Student Council (USC) have finally returned to onsite activities and reinstated the traditional forms of campaigning. Room-to-room (RTR) promotions, election forums, debates, and the miting de avance were all conducted in an in-person setting.
Yet those are not the only things that changed. After two years, the dominance of the ruling party Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) will soon end after it announced its withdrawal from the USC elections to focus on addressing cases of sexual harassment within the organization. This, after several chapters and candidates splintered from STAND UP after survivors disclosed the party’s mishandling of the cases through a public forum.
As such, UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP Alyansa) now has the upper hand in terms of the number of fielded candidates. With seven councilors and the only party that has candidates for the chairperson and vice chairperson positions, they have the number to claim the majority in the council should they beat the votes for abstain and other independent councilor candidates. If so, this will be the party’s comeback after five years of being out of power.
Challenges to Participation
Similar to last year’s slogan of “Ka-Alyansa tayo sa pagpanalo ng bukas,” UP Alyansa’s current tagline still forwards the central message of student participation in enacting change. The tagline “Kasama ka sa pagbabago” underscores the brand of “democratic and participative governance” that the blue party promises to engender under their leadership. Engaging the students is a critical move, especially considering that last year’s elections recorded the lowest voter turnout since 2009.
By urging the participation of the council’s constituents, Alyansa intends to steer students toward the ultimate end of forging safe spaces in the community, as highlighted in their general plan of action (GPOA), under their eight-point safe spaces agenda. As issues on their rival party’s botched response to harassment incidents surface, Alyansa is keen on championing mechanisms for accountability and security.
Alyansa’s vision was promoted to students through their slate’s campaign efforts that largely focused on RTRs. With catchy tunes and entertaining lines meant to create a recall of the candidates’ names, students like Jhana Rose Clarito from the College of Engineering said that these efforts of incorporating names into jingles stuck to them.
Yet, urging students to take part in the party’s program will require more than just entertaining them. “I think there wasn’t enough time na diniscuss yung platforms or programs nila,” Clarito said. Given the quick nature of RTRs, there is only so much that the candidates could share, but the inability to impart much of their plans raises questions on how students will be driven to participate in platforms they are not informed about. Even the party’s GPOA was released on the party’s Facebook page only two days before the last day of the campaign period.
Hurdles to Safe Spaces
With the survivors of STAND UP’s mishandled cases coming forward, more students have aired their experiences of being victimized by abuse from the formation’s members. As part of Alyansa’s crusade for safe spaces, the party extended its sympathies and called for accountability. “We understand the challenges that STAND UP is facing and we hope that they will be able to address these concerns in a manner that is respectful and just to the victim-survivors and to the alleged perpetrators of abuse be held accountable,” Nicko Gonzales, chairperson of UP Alyansa, told the Collegian when asked for a statement regarding the issue.
However, Alyansa’s RTR alleged practice of using survivors’ narratives in its campaign was deemed disrespectful by others, as Sher-Anne Rediang lamented in her question to Alyansa during UPFront, the official miting de avance and elections forum for the USC. Contrary to Alyansa’s thrust for a victim-centered approach, Rediang expressed feeling disregarded by the party due to its candidates’ use of their stories without their consent. Alyansa responded that they never claimed to speak on behalf of the survivors.
Addressing the concerns of the survivors coming forward will be vital in proving the party’s commitment to cultivating safe spaces, as enshrined in their specific plans of action (SPOA).
In fostering these spaces, Jaira Del Mundo, Alyansa’s candidate for chairperson, advocates for the resolution of fraternity-related violence (FRV) cases through a two-pronged solution, she shared in an interview with the Collegian. First is at the local level: create empowering spaces where survivors can come forward without fear. Then, on the national scale, by joining in the review of the Anti-Hazing Law.
Alyansa’s staunch opposition to FRV is an integral component of their call for accountability, a pursuit that will be arduous as both the new president of UP and the chancellor of UPD are members of fraternities entangled with recent cases of FRVs.
To make sure that accountability will still be exacted despite the leadership of fraternity members in the UP administration, Del Mundo’s SPOA includes “BOR-in-Review.” This seeks to monitor the UP Board of Regents (BOR) and the UPD administration by conducting a bi-monthly evaluation of the board and other offices. The results of the consultation will be the foundation for the calls that the council will lobby for.
But doubts about Alyansa’s ability to carry the calls of their constituents were raised due to their decision not to endorse former Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo in the last UPD chancellor selection despite widespread support from the community. Therese Mangussad, the candidate for vice chairperson, said they opted to forward a set of crafted demands instead of endorsing a candidate.
Restraints to Robust Campaigns
Issues about representation can also be gleaned from the perceived lack of plans for communities of UP, academic freedom, and other campaigns on a national scale.
Candidate for Councilor Jaemie Talingdan plans to launch “Kabahagi ng Komunidad” to tackle concerns within the UP community. The program entails regular dialogues with vendors, workers, and residents in UP while amplifying their calls through forums and information drives. Candidate for Councilor Jiez Relampagos also plans to make vendors and jeepney drivers beneficiaries of their income-generating projects. And amid cases of demolitions and displacement, the most that Alyansa offers is a review of the UP Master Development Plan.
When former USC Community Rights and Welfare Councilor Ajay Lagrimas asked about Alyansa’s plans for Village A and their role in reviewing housing policies, Mangussad answered that she will maximize the League of College Councils to “enjoin their power and capacities,” a response that Lagrimas deemed incongruous with the needs of the urban poor.
Addressing community matters and combatting state attacks have to be rooted in active involvement in issues of national concern. Del Mundo’s “Government Watch” will create an independent monitoring body to hold the current administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to account. Since threats hound even those that monitor the government’s infringement of people’s rights, Alyansa’s capacity to mobilize the students and merge them with other sectors will be definitive of their campaign’s success.
The verdict on the sufficiency of Alyansa’s efforts to mobilize students toward their shared goals will be determined by the votes to enter the polls. After all, triumph isn’t certain yet for Alyansa as the threat of an abstain majority may thwart votes for the uncontested standard bearers.
No specific provision in the student election code details what will happen in the case that abstention garners more votes. However, a 2016 decision sets a precedent when the University Student Electoral Tribunal (USET) of the College of Law nullified the proclamation of the law representative to the USC due to higher votes for abstention. USET agreed to hold special elections after.
Even in the remaining positions, an outright majority isn’t guaranteed as the bid of nine other independent candidates for councilors pushes through. Eight of them have organized to support each other in their campaigns.
If the sole party remaining in the race manages to clinch the USC this year, UP Alyansa must stay true to its commitment to nurturing a safe space founded on collective participation. With an assailed academic freedom against the backdrop of growing threats to people’s liberties, genuine student representation in the council becomes more imperative in weathering the perils that the university and the nation confront. ●
Dec 2, 2023
Night handler hazing allegations, fraternity involvement, and public clamor call into question the UP Fair’s effectiveness as an advocacy platform.
Dec 1, 2023
Despite an increase in public school applicants, their portion of qualifiers decreased in the shift to UPCA, casting doubt on the adherence of the admissions process to providing democratic access.