Wednesday, February 5

Election season once again

Infographic by Tinig Ng Plaridel. For fair and accountable reporting
on the USC elections, check out their special section, Botong Isko.

It’s University Student Council election season once again in UP Diliman, that time of the academic year when social awareness and the many different brands of “activism” become fashionable. It usually doesn’t last very long: once the campaigns, dorm tours, debates and mudslinging wrap up and the elections are held, things return to normal overnight.

All the same, I’m not complaining. I’d like to believe most UP students keep abreast of matters of national importance and contribute to the public debate, if only during tambay hours and jeepney rides with friends home.

The single most important local issue that will dominate this cycle is the university’s socialized tuition scheme, which was recently modified by the system’s Board of Regents. This latest change includes adjusted thresholds for brackets and a new “super-rich” tier, for which tuition will be at P2,000-P2,500 per unit. That’s P500-P1,000 more than the current highest rate.

The proposed STFAP revisions speak to a bigger question about the public character of UP. Since the socialized tuition system was first implemented in 1989, critics have painted it as UP’s way of skirting its duty to provide free quality tertiary education to those who deserve it. Others argue that the STFAP makes education in UP more accessible to some at the expense of others who can afford the added burden anyway. They say that this, along with other measures such as renting out idle property, allows UP to continue to fulfill its mandate while remaining financially viable.

Yolanda will also be high on the minds of this year’s candidates. When it struck Visayas last year, various student groups quickly organized extensive relief operations. Kabataan Partylist, which is allied with the political party STAND-UP, organized the Tulong Kabataan volunteer network; the USC, dominated this year by KAISA, led the #IskoOperation relief drive. But the biggest question is how the different parties have responded to the plight of UP’s campuses in Tacloban and Palo, and what representations they have made with university officials regarding students from the Visayas campuses who have been transferred to other units, including Diliman.

We can also expect the discussion to include the controversy surrounding Congressional pork barrel, especially since the Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which critics have referred to as the President’s own pork barrel. Some quarters argue that discretionary funds are an indispensable for effective governance, while others charge that both the DAP and the PDAF are simply corruption magnets and should be abolished altogether. The SC is also poised to soon release its decision on the fate of the Reproductive Health Law, which was another point of minor contention around this time a couple of years ago.

This year’s elections will also be a referendum on how well the USC and the ruling party have performed over the course of the academic year. Last year, KAISA ran and won on the platform of “One Strong UP,” vowing to unite all of the university’s competing ideologies and leanings toward one common goal. The results of the elections will reveal whether UP students think that strategy has worked.

Furthermore, this year’s USC suffered a blow to its morale when it impeached Education and Research Committee Head Lemuel Magaling. The charges included absences and tardiness, as well as the allegedly unauthorized use of the USC logo for a video produced by STAND-UP, to which Magaling belongs. The Council was accused of politicking because of this, although all charges were later dropped and Magaling reinstated.

These are the issues that the student body will weigh when it casts its vote on February 27, and this is the landscape that the elected USC will face when it assumes office in June. Drastic changes are underway for both UP and the nation. In the end, UP’s student body must choose leaders who can best fulfill the university’s enduring duty: to serve the People.

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