STATEMENT ON BYPASSING THE MANILA COLLEGIAN RE THE UNIVERSITY STUDENT COUNCIL’S MOVE TO REMOVE ABSTENTION AND 50%+1 SIMPLE MAJORITY ON USC’S ELECTORAL CODE
At an emergency meeting last July 13, the 42nd University Student Council (USC) of the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) and six out of the seven college representatives voted to amend Article IX of the university’s election code, regarding the Determination of Winning Candidates in the USC. The amendment, which will be effective for the ongoing elections for the 43rd UPM USC, was applied to Section 1 and 2.b of this Article of the Code. The portion of Section 1 to be removed states that “Should there be only one candidate running for the office of the Chairperson or Vice Chairperson, the number of votes for that candidate should exceed the number of abstention votes.” Section 2.b which was removed in its entirety states that “In the event that 7 candidates or less are running for the position of University Councilor, the candidates must garner a simple majority of the total number of votes (i.e. 50%+1). In this case, the number of councilor seats shall be dependent on the number of candidates who were able to reach the simple majority of votes after the general and special elections.” The University Electoral Board (UEB) did not agree to this amendment except for the total removal of abstain option.
The Manila Collegian and other campus publications of the University were not invited to nor involved in this emergency meeting, nor in any other meetings of the USC where these amendments to the election code were discussed. There was also no consultation with the wider student body to get their input on these proposed amendments to the election code. The Manila Collegian opposes this bypassing of the student body and of the campus press in a decision that will affect all of their democratic rights as constituents of the University. The publication believes that this action will not resolve the current situation of campus politics.
The aforementioned emergency meeting was convened at around 6 p.m. on July 13, where the concerned amendments, proposed from their previous joint meeting, were approved. Considering how important this matter was and how it should have been published during the session since it entails the rights and welfare of the student body, the meeting should have included the university’s official publication, but as previously stated, no invitation nor advance notice was provided.
It is not the first time that The Manila Collegian or any other campus publication has been kept unaware of and excluded from the USC’s special and emergency meetings concerning election-related topics and issues. Prior to the July 13 emergency meeting, the USC had several emergency sessions to which no media were invited.
The Manila Collegian is concerned by these recurring incidents, so we requested the USC at around 10 a.m. yesterday to explain why there were no invitations to the media for the mentioned meeting and to provide us with the minutes. However, their response did not address our query, and the minutes are still not ready after almost half a day of waiting. Furthermore, this is also not the first time USC has kept us waiting for an answer for a significant period of time, as one of our news correspondents has previously experienced this from them while writing an article about politics in UPM.
Prior to the July 13 meeting of the USC, the said news correspondent of The Manila Collegian reached out on July 1 to USC chairperson Querobin Acsibar regarding the details of the proposed amendments and the process or steps the body aims to take in the amendment, specifically, how the student body will be included in the decision process. However, Acsibar responded that the details are still unavailable as an emergency meeting is still pending but did not mention any form of invitation for the publication to attend. By July 5, the same correspondent sent the interview questions to Acsibar to gather details in place of a live interview which may hinder the earlier release of the article. After receiving no updates on the matter, the correspondent followed up on July 9; however, Acsibar only responded around July 11 in the evening, informing the staff that a meeting was yet to be conducted as they are still waiting for the final system to be used in the elections.
The response of the USC indicates that only the final decision on the matter will be provided. At the same time, The Manila Collegian was excluded from covering the decision-making process, although our questions point to the details of the proposal and their subsequent steps. In the timeline discussed, the editorial board also followed up the USC on the lack of invitation for us to cover their emergency meetings. However, we received no immediate response.
With the issue of low political involvement of UPM students, hastily amending the UPM Election Code may seem like the best solution to avoid having no student representation at all. However, this may serve only as a bandaid to the root problem, and worse, a detriment to exercising the students’ right and freedom to choose.
Any amendments to the UPM Election Code made without the knowledge and participation of the student body will forcibly shape their decisions and, in turn, the results. Specifically, even if the abstention is still in place by submitting a blank field, removing the explicit abstention choice from the poll will combine the abstention, non-votes, and invalid votes into one and further lower the election turnout. Moreover, if a candidate is not required to exceed the abstention votes and/or garner a simple majority of the total number of votes, an officer deemed unfit to lead by the student population may be declared the winner. The students’ conscious and deliberate acts to voice their distrust and ambivalence will be disregarded. This is why student publications, and students in general, must be kept up to date on election decision-making at all times.
As the official student publication of the University, it is our duty to serve the studentry. This bypassing of the press is a blatant disregard for the free press and its mandate to be one of the foundations of the students. Every student has the right to know the truth through responsible and active journalism within the university. Dismissing members of the press is denial of the opportunity to be open to intensive discourse.
As a student publication that is centered on amplifying the calls and demands of the student body, The Manila Collegian, alongside with the different campus publications, will strive to defend the democratic rights of the students.
The Manila Collegian condemns the bypassing of campus press in all of the USC’s meetings regarding the institution’s move to remove 50%+1 Simple Majority and Abstention in the USC’s electoral code. Every decision that involves the student body should be publicized and properly covered, hence the presence of student publications. The publication denounces this move to impede students’ freedom to choose. Increasing political participation and voter turnout of the university should not hinge on hampering students’ democratic rights. It is rather a challenge that our student leaders should bear to solve the root causes of dead campus politics, not a burden that our constituents have to grip.
The Manila Collegian stands firm to its genuine service to the studentry. Magna est veritas et prevaelebit. The truth is mighty and shall prevail.