History of the Constitution
For a brief background, SAMAHAN does have an existing Constitution that they currently follow since 1982. It even predates that of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, thus making it rather outdated in terms of its constitutionality to the latest laws of the land. Not much is known about the origins of the said 1982 SAMAHAN Constitution, except for the fact that it was not ratified, at least according to records. Also, the governmental structure from the said Constitution mirrors certain aspects of the 1973 Philippine Constitution, mainly because it was made at the time of the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. To cut the whole thing short, the 1982 SAMAHAN Constitution vests both Executive and Legislative powers all in the hands of a few people, who are the officers of the SAMAHAN Central Board. It doesn’t even have its own Judicial Branch, which is of utmost importance not only to uphold the principles of the constitution, but also to resolve matters involving students and the student government officers in the execution of the functions of the latter. Thus we only have one such major branch of the student government, the all-encompassing SCB. The Philippine Constitution was amended during 1986, and in 1987 a new Constitution was ratified. The 1982 SAMAHAN Constitution is still following some provisions under Marcos’ 1973 Philippine Constitution. In short, it is structurally historic, an artifact that belongs to the past.
Movements to Change SAMAHAN
In the past few years prior to this academic year, if not every year, each administration of the SCB has tried to initiate its own Constitutional Commissions (ConComm), for the sole purpose of finally achieving a student-ratified, student-made Constitution. And in every year that they tried, for various reasons, none of them succeeded. The said reasons ranges from a conflict of interest between SCB and ConComm, lack of support from SCB (which was always the case), lack of time, lack of resources, lack of prioritization, and lack of political will, among others. It was only during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years that the creation of the draft gained momentum. Last year, the draft reached the level of the Student Affairs Committee, only to be recalled by the SCB to reintroduce it to students of the new academic year.
The final draft of the 2014 SAMAHAN Constitution has already undergone three public readings, and has been approved and endorsed by the SAMAHAN Central Board to the Office of Student Affairs last October 11, 2013. In turn, the Office of Student Affairs, after thorough discussions with the Constitutional Commission, endorsed the draft to the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) during the start of the year 2014. After careful analysis and deliberation, SAC finally approved the draft last February 28, and thus prompting the start of the Constitutional Plebiscite. Through-out the whole process of drafting the said document and before the constitutional plebiscite ends, it is imperative that the Ateneo student body know the rationale behind ratifying the said constitution.
It is safe to say, as the person who oversaw the drafting of the said document, that the Constitution is far from perfect. There are provisions that were omitted, that would later on become loopholes in between the exercise of duties and function of SAMAHAN officers. There were also instances of reconsiderations, just like that of initially scrapping the idea of having a SAMAHAN Vice-President, which was absent during the three public readings, and later on included in the final draft submitted to SAC. Also, the inclusion of the Commission on Audit, which was also not present during the three public readings, was among the last-minute considerations that were added to the draft. But these said changes after the third public reading were done as a result of the discussions with the Office of Student Affairs through the Assistant Director, Atty. Niceforo Solis, along with the final suggestions of the different Deans in the Student Affairs Committee.
Arguments in Favor and Against its Ratification
With all these matters at hand, there are certain arguments that can be made for or against the need of having such constitution. These arguments are based on either ideal or real situations that can be applied not only to the current political landscape of SAMAHAN, but also to that of its immediate future. The question now here is this: Is there really a need for a SAMAHAN Constitution?
The arguments in favor of this question have something to do with the ideal situation of SAMAHAN, under the 1982 Constitution. The said constitution provides a rather limited avenue for student participation, as evident in having only one major branch of the government. This form of government doesn’t even translate into SAMAHAN as a ‘Student Government’, but rather as a ‘Student Council’. According to John Klopf in his book ‘College Student Government’ (1960), a ‘Student Council’ “is the representative of the student body as a whole. Almost all member of this council is elected by all the students, and responsible to all of them. However, it might also mean that each representative is removed from the individual student because he is responsible to a large group.” Thus, the current format of SCB is therefore a Student Council.
The Division Representatives convene together in meetings, together with the so-called “Top 3” (President, Secretary-General and Treasurer) to discuss what is best for the Ateneo student body as a whole. And although each Division Representative supervises his/her own Division constituents through a Student Executive Council (SEC), they are still more obliged to the SCB as a whole, rather than their respective cluster of courses. Ideally, the concerns of their respective Divisions should be the primary focus of each Representative, as it is the grassroots level of the student body. Each Division, in its entirety, composed of all the clustered courses therein, is where student participation starts. Only then should they convene in SCB to discuss all matters, after they have consulted their own Division constituents to matters concerning them.
The solution to this is the proposed 2014 SAMAHAN Constitution, wherein decentralization of specific powers and duties ideally returns back the decision-making process to the students, rather than to a few selected student leaders. This supports the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and thus is a practical idea for a democratic SAMAHAN.
On the other hand, there are also arguments against the ratifying the constitution based on the reality of the current SAMAHAN. We are blessed in having a very supportive school administration. It is seen in the variety of engaging activities, both academic and non-academic, either initiated by SCB, or the various clubs and organizations of the students. There really isn’t a pressing problem or concern that seriously undermines the integrity of SAMAHAN, and there never has been, at least in recent history. The SCB hears all inquiries of the students, ranging from academic concerns, supporting their activities, and even caseworks, and they are responding well to those matters. Yes, the 1982 SAMAHAN Constitution is not ratified, but that problem is only on paper. In reality, the system works. And it has been working very well for quite a while. If the system works, why do we need to change it?
Another supporting idea against the revision of the document is that it should be the students who are supposed to cry out for a change in political scenery, not a select few student leaders. The purpose of having the SCB alone as the main driving force in pushing for a new constitution is not a representation of the will of the whole Ateneo student body. It is the initiative of a few, concerned, and obliged student leaders. The annual concept of “making a new constitution” for the sake of glory and recognition of each SCB Administration is flawed. It shouldn’t be a “pet project” of every administration for the sake of ratifying a constitution, which is causing no such imminent problem in reality.
With due bias by virtue of being one of the framers of the said document, I am in favor of the Constitution. As written by the previous ConComm Chairperson Paolo Cansino in an opinion piece about the Constitution, “It would give direction to SAMAHAN and at the same time, would make student governance scientific and legitimate.” The document does not guarantee or promise to solve all the ills that are currently limiting SAMAHAN. Instead, the overlaying complex structure, in itself, shall become a solid foundation for interpretation and application of the different functions and powers of the diversified branches of the student government. The cooperation and harmony between the different branches and their distinct tasks will eventually be the key in the success of the draft’s actualization. Though that might not always be the case, the various systems of checks and balances between the said branches would prove to be necessary to stabilize the separate powers vested in the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative. What makes the structure complex will eventually be its own protection against underperformance, misconduct, misinterpretation and abuse of discretion of any SAMAHAN officer or office.
Vision for SAMAHAN and its Immediate Future
The swift transition period from the 1982 to the 2014 SAMAHAN Constitution will have its pros and cons. Ideally, transition should happen at least one academic year after ratification, but not for SAMAHAN. The reason for its immediate effectivity upon ratification is that the 2014 SAMAHAN Constitution’s ratification is only merely a month after the 2014 SAMAHAN Elections. With the transitory provisions stating that those elected during the last Elections shall be recognized as officers under the new Constitution, and that they have yet to start their term, it is imperative that the effectivity shall be immediate to test the structure of the new Constitution. To test the waters of a very immediate effectivity is a challenge to the Incoming SAMAHAN Officers. On whether they will manage to stabilize the transition or not, will determine the success of the said Constitution, and will set the standards for the future of SAMAHAN.
Furthermore, the 2014 Constitution will not serve SAMAHAN forever. I suspect that in 20 years or more after ratification, the needs of the future SAMAHAN will call for another constitutional amendment. Just like the 1982 Constitution, the document will eventually be inefficient to serve the future SAMAHAN, and will limit the conduct of future student governments. New rights and privileges being clamored by the students of the future will eventually surface, and SAMAHAN shall reopen the discussions of changing its structures to accommodate its growing populace. But that is not our concern today, as SAMAHAN is now geared into voting in favor or against the said document, which will determine its future.
The idea of a new constitution is rather polarizing. The ideal situation that supports the ratification of a new Constitution is rather unproven. The same cannot be said for the real situation that shows that there is no need for a new constitution, as it is rather a form of complacency. Should SAMAHAN stay as it is, play safe and not take the challenges of starting a new Student Government? Should we opt to risk and approve a Constitution that is structurally rigid, yet largely idealistic or possibly infeasible? I say this, take the latter question and answer it for yourself during the following academic years. Ratify the Constitution, and take part in the undertaking of a long-overdue phase of structural changes for SAMAHAN. Be one of the agents of positive change by saying YES to the Constitution, and at the same time, embody the ideals of its provisions by being a part of a bigger, more functional, democratic, and representative SAMAHAN.
*Cel Lord P. Delabahan is a fourth year AB Political Science student and the chairperson of the 2013-2014 SAMAHAN Constitutional Commission.