This year’s SAMAHAN election has been marred with different controversies from various parties; however, the core purpose for this election remains—”for the student.” But what happens when those who advocate “for the students” become so engrossed in winning that they forget the real pulse of the very people they wish to serve? Is it still for the students or for the glory the position entails?
Minutes after AdDU-Commission on Elections (COMELEC) proclaimed the winners for this year’s election, OSA (Office of Student Affairs) immediately posted a memo declaring six positions null and void which were previously announced by COMELEC otherwise. They directed COMELEC to hold special elections for the said positions on the ground that was stated in Article 7, Section 3 of the SAMAHAN Central Board General Election Guidelines. The sudden intervention of OSA is questionable since it gave no further explanations after releasing the memo.
Before the results were announced, COMELEC Chairperson Angelo Timajo himself went to Atenews and clarified the misinterpretation that the COMELEC made. He, along with COMELEC Secretary-General Joselle Callado, confirmed to Atenews that the current interpretation of OSA, and three other University lawyers, was correct.
In contrast to the previous COMELEC announcement that lone candidates can be declared winners provided that there is a 50% plus one voters’ turnout and votes garnered are greater than votes to abstain, the COMELEC chair then echoed OSA’s interpretation that lone candidates can win only when they gain votes amounting to 50% plus one of the entire voting population, and not the voters’ turnout.
After the OSA’s memo, political parties were quick to act and demand an explanation, faster than they can release a statement regarding issues they claim to be advocating for, which only reflects where their priorities and sense of urgency are directed.
When supposed “student-leaders” opt for threatening and ruining non-partisan officers for the sake of winning, this only reflects how service and leadership are reduced to position and power. The effect, however, was immensely echoed when the student body voted where few of these supposed “student-leaders” did not make it to the 50% plus one cut, even going to as low as 37%, with one-third of the votes cast counted for abstain.
Members of political parties who claim to be speaking on behalf of the student body are not listening enough. Thirty-seven percent clearly says a lot. This may tell us how the students are divided or how undecided. And when the gap caused by division had become so wide, truth bridges that gap.
The electoral commission was said to be given two options; they should have opted for truth and not convenience. They knew what had to be done and undone. As an autonomous body, their responsibility lies with the students first—to maintain the integrity of the elections, to interpret the guidelines with due diligence, and to serve the interest of the students the best way possible—even if it means for them to right a wrong from nine years ago or more.
Though the act of OSA was unanticipated, and to some extent, disconcerting, the truth they speak shouldn’t be discredited altogether. Their action also raises another question, to what extent can the admin override decisions made by autonomous student organizations?
Mandated to oversee students’ activities, the OSA has the capacity to intervene when autonomous student organizations fail to follow their respective guidelines and by-laws. In this case, OSA’s intervention in the electoral process may be justified since COMELEC committed a grave misinterpretation in its election guidelines. Although COMELEC may insist that, at the end of the day, it is its interpretation that should prevail, this does not hold ground since the powers it possesses emanate from the OSA, and the latter is only performing its function based on a system of checks and balances.
In times of political adversities, especially when the electoral process is in question, there should be an institution separate from the student body and is independent of the electoral commission, which should monitor the electoral process. This was shown when OSA came to intervene. Student organizations, although autonomous, are still under OSA’s jurisdiction, which gives the latter all the right to intervene and regulate COMELEC. This will not only provide the student body the assurance of a fair and reliable election result but an election that is not subject to prejudice and is not influenced by the lone interest of one party.
The issue at hand is more than what others want to paint it to be. As stated in the Commission’s guidelines, “it is the COMELEC’s interpretation that shall prevail,” but notwithstanding the correctness or wrongness of their interpretation, does this provision grant them the unchecked prerogative to interpret the guidelines however they want it?
Where the student body’s representation is the subject—truth plays a crucial role, and the burden it poses falls not only upon the student body but also upon these autonomous student organizations whose allegiance should belong to the students. Unless a special election is held, the legitimacy of the six positions which did not make to the 50% plus one cut will always be doubted since matters like this cannot be left unquestioned; after all, we’re electing student-leaders, not event organizers.