by Paolo C. Cansino*
While the course of public discussion is gearing already towards examining the specifics of the drafted SAMAHAN Constitution, it is vital for every Atenean to have a deep understanding and appreciation on why a Constitution to govern our student government is being problematized. To be able to fully grasp the rationale of having a Constitution would enable one to find meaning in actively participating in the crafting of the Constitution. So, why do we need a SAMAHAN Constitution?
There are three arguments that I find relevant in supporting a SAMAHAN Constitution: (1) it would give direction to SAMAHAN, (2) it would make student governance scientific and (3) it, fundamentally, would legitimize SAMAHAN as the government of the undergraduate students of Ateneo de Davao University.
First, we need a SAMAHAN Constitution because it would give “direction” to SAMAHAN. It is easy for every person within the SAMAHAN Central Board to name essences and goals for the student government to enshrine and achieve. To say that the end of student government is to “serve the students” is brutally vague. In every undertaking, if we take a step back from the superficial layer of the activities and projects that SAMAHAN initiates, we tend to ask the question as to where really do SAMAHAN intend to go. This fundamental question will lead us to varying, fragmented and, worst, contradictory answers. The SAMAHAN Constitution, being the fundamental law, shall lay down the essences and goals that should guide the student government in its journey. It shall serve as an objective that the student government must strive to satisfy and a standard to measure its success. The meaning of such a “direction” must be understood in its greater and long-term sense. This is fulfilled when there is a document which informs the student leaders of different generations and administrations to align their energies to a united goal. That document is the SAMAHAN Constitution.
Second, we need a SAMAHAN Constitution because it would make student governance scientific. Crucial to the success of any student government is to have a system that creates an environment conducive for accountability and efficiency. The system refers to a constellation of institutions and relationships that result to effective checks and balance, clear definition and division of powers and responsibilities and a democratic yet efficient way of interest articulation, aggregation, policy-making, implementation and evaluation. The current state of SAMAHAN is structurally defective: the executive, legislative and judicial powers are vested to the SAMAHAN Central Board which makes governance difficult and toxic aside from being confusing, inefficient and deficient of genuine checks and balance; the rules governing the current student government are observed and executed according to the interpretation of the current officers which can be influenced by the factions and party politics within the student government. The current draft offers a structure that promotes the ideals of a democratic government. Powers and responsibilities are clearly defined, a system of checks and balance is in place and standardization of ways of doing and even observance of jurisprudence are just one of the many gifts of supporting the proposed SAMAHAN Constitution.
And, third, we need a SAMAHAN Constitution because it would legitimize SAMAHAN as the government of the undergraduate students of Ateneo de Davao University. The SAMAHAN Constitution serves as the “contract” between the student government and the students. It defines the relationship and power dynamics between the two. In understanding the importance of a Constitution, it is important to be reminded that power belongs to us and we need to cooperate for our common benefit. Such cooperation is manifested when we agree to create institutions and systems that would serve our common interests and happiness. Having a student government would entail transfer of powers from us to a few officers who shall exercise, in a great extent, legitimate authority over us. Having such a dynamic, it is absurd and problematic to have a student government that does not emanate from our consent by way of a Constitution we have duly authored. Such a government holds no mandate from the people. A Constitution is the expression of our common interest to promote our common good.
With or without a Constitution, we, students, cannot escape the reality that we need to bind ourselves to a political community. The question then is on how we can make a political environment, through the student government, that promotes and safeguards our will. My answer is to have a SAMAHAN Constitution.
* Paolo C. Cansino is a 4th year Bachelor of Arts Major in Political Science, Minor in Philosophy student in the Ateneo de Davao University. He is currently the chairperson of the 2012-2013 SAMAHAN Constitutional Commission.