Thoughts on the proposed USG Constitution: Overkill on the Legislative branch
Kudos to the student-leaders who worked on the proposed USG Constitution. They have achieved what previous sets of student-leaders have tried and dreamed of, more organized structure for the University Student Council with features to ensure transparency and accountability. However, the document they produced and the structure it proposes to implement is far from perfect. This is the first of a series where I share my thoughts on the proposed USG Constitution.
Patterned after the Philippine National Government, quite literally, as some provisions of the 1987 Philippine constitution were sloppily edited, like the authors just used the ‘Find and replace’ function of Word to replace national government terms with terms used in the University. This has resulted to some provisions that sound awkward: “When the public interest so requires and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in executive session” Sec. 21, Art IV.
Makes one wonder what ‘public interest’ would require sessions involving student-leaders to be done under the secrecy of executive sessions.
In other words, adopting the structure, again quite literally, of the national government may be too broad and at times an overkill. Not even the more experienced and progressive University Student Council of DLSU Manila went down such path in setting up their Student government. A closer look at the DLSU Manila USG Constitution, the focus of their Legislative branch is not law-making, rather its legislative powers were clearly defined to be appropriate and commensurate to their nature as a body of students whose authority and scope are confined in a university, not a full-blown state or country. See how the Legislative Assembly of DLSU Manila defined their function and ‘legislative powers’:
“Section 3. The LA shall concern itself with discussing and deciding on the following matters:
3.1. Integral policies, existing operations, projects and programs.
3.2. Resolutions of University-wide, curricular and extra-curricular matters.
3.3. Resolutions on national and sectoral issues.
3.4. Representation of administrative and non-administrative units and committees requiring such inside the campus.
3.5. Budget allocation of the USG as presented by the Executive Treasurer.
3.6. Creation of standing and ad hoc committees whose functions shall be determined by the body.
3.7. Approval of the Election Code to be adopted by the Commission on Elections.
3.8. Approval of appointed USG officers for elected positions.”
Clear. Precise and well-defined functions that would give any student a clear understanding of the legislative branch would do. In contrast, the proposed USG Constitution defines the legislative powers of the UHSR as follows:
“SECTION 1. The legislative power shall be vested in the University House of Student Representatives hereinafter referred to as the UHSR.”
Right off the bat, one would ask, ‘What is legislative power?’
This is the biggest example of what seems to be an overkill: the grant of plenary legislative powers to the UHSR. Plenary powers, as renowned Constitutionalist Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ said, means the power to “legislate about anything under the sun.” In other words, it will be the UHSR who will decide for itself on what to pass laws about. The body having almost 50 members, spending students funds during their sessions sitting around debating and discussing matters and creating laws that would most likely be trivial and inconsequential. It would not be hard to see the UHSR running out of things to legislate on once they have passed the necessary ones to give life to the provisions of the USG Constitution. By then, you would have a body of student-leaders with nothing else to do but pass appropriation bills from time to time.
So with a broad and vague definition of what is the ‘legislative power’ of the UHSR, it really doesn’t solve the long-standing problem of the USC: undefined and vague functions of the Legislative board. It is because of this vagueness and ambiguity the Legislative board, historically, has been largely an inefficient and non-functional branch of the University Student Council. Regrettably, with the USG Constitution, both student-leaders and student body of DLSU-D are back to square one.
What could have been the better step to take? The authors of the USG Constitution could have just copied or used the constitutions of other more experienced and progressive student councils for guidance. Take any student, give them a side-by-side comparison of the proposed USG Constitution versus the USG Constitution of DLSU Manila and ask them which one has the better Legislative branch fit for a student council?
*The author served as Chair of the 2007 Students’ Constitutional Convention, member of the 2008 Student Election Code Convention and the 2010-2014 Student Handbook Revision Committee.