After several months, the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman University Student Council (USC) now finally has its Chairperson and Vice Chairperson following the special elections on October 12, which saw a record-low 8.29% voter turnout.

Gaining more votes than abstentions, independent candidates Mary Sunshine Reyes from the National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) and Sean Kirby Latorre from the College of Mass Communication were elected as Chair and Vice Chair, respectively. Both ran unopposed.

Reyes garnered 1,349 votes against 623 votes while Latorre received 1,335 votes against 637 abstentions.

Furthermore, three councilor positions out of the four vacancies were filled. The newly elected councilors are Chloei Angeli Nuelle Antonio from NCPAG (1,110 votes), Alexandra Sophia Laquian from the College of Business Administration (1,073 votes), and Kristian Martin Mendoza from the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (995 votes). Benjamin Ambros King Sumabat from the College of Arts and Letters did not secure a position due to abstentions outnumbering his votes.

In contrast to the recent election, candidates from the regular elections last May received higher votes but were not proclaimed due to abstentions outweighing the votes.

In May, lone candidates for the USC’s top positions Jaira Marie Del Mundo and Theresse Jan Mangussad from UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (Alyansa) received 3,756 votes and 3,870 votes, respectively.

Independent candidate Matthew Wovi Villanueva (2,348 votes) and UP Alyansa candidates Christell Liani Advincula (2,316 votes), Lyle Julian Quiling (2,264 votes), and Jaemie Francine Talingdan (2,136 votes) were not proclaimed as councilors as the recorded abstentions (2,496 votes) outnumbered the votes they garnered.

The University Student Electoral Board (USEB), citing the Revised UP Diliman Student Election Code of 2010, emphasized the necessity for candidates to be “clearly elected at-large.”

“The majority of abstention votes in the above cited positions shows that there is no sufficient basis to declare the candidates superseded by abstentions as valid, elected representatives of the student body,” it said.

In response to the challenge, the USEB approved a special election to ensure valid student representation. The USC emphasized the significance of this move in a position paper, stressing the importance of student participation and autonomy in electing their representatives.

“Holding special elections aligns with our principles as we clamor for genuine student representation and democratic governance, doing so would directly involve the pleasure of the student body,” the USC said in its position paper.

“This gives them the liberty and autonomy to elect the standard bearers as well as the remaining seats for four Councilors, and not leave it up to the internal deliberations of the existing proclaimed officers or by rules of succession.”

Addressing the low voter turnout, UP Diliman Office of Student Projects and Activities Coordinator Jay-Ar Igno suggested various possible reasons.

“Bakâ medyo iba rin talaga siguro ang priorities ng mga estudyante or siguro din bakâ time pressured din. Puwede natin tingnan na bakâ kailangan [repasuhin] iyong time ng kampanya. Bakâ hindi sila masyadong nakapag-ikot pa sa mga face-to-face classes,” Igno told DZUP.

(Perhaps the students really have different priorities or maybe they also feel time-pressured. We can consider that maybe we need to [review] the campaign duration. Perhaps they haven’t been able to go around the face-to-face classes much.)

“I think marami pa rin ang nása transition period… We think na adjustment period pa rin kayâ mababa iyong voter turnout natin,” he added.

(I think many are still in the transition period… We think it’s still an adjustment period, which is why our voter turnout is low.)

However, Igno remains optimistic, “I think bagama’t mababa iyong turnout natin, puwede naman maikonsidera sila na representative pa rin sila ng mga mag-aaral natin dahil nagbigay táyo ng—we think—enough time na din na makaboto sila at makapagkampanya rin iyong mga kandidato. I think it’s a success pa rin naman.”

(Despite the turnout, the elected officials can still represent the student body. We believe we provided adequate time for both voting and campaigning. Overall, I see this as a success.)

UP Diliman Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jerwin Agpaoa echoed Igno’s sentiments but emphasized the need for more student engagement in future elections.

“Dati, kahit mga physical voting precinct iyong ating pinagbobotohan, at kahit isang araw lang ang ginugugol natin para sa ating halalan, ay ‘di hamak na mas malaki. So bakâ maiging mapag-usapan ng mga kaanib ng USEB kung ipagpapatuloy ba iyong ganong sistema dati, o kung marapat bang kombinasyon na ng online at onsite voting. May iláng panahon pa naman upang mapag-usapan at mapaghandaan,” Agpaoa told DZUP.

(Previously, even with onsite voting that lasted just a day, the turnout was significantly larger. It might be time for the USEB to consider combining online and onsite voting. We have time to discuss and prepare.)

“Ngunit, sa tingin ko ay sana magkaroon din ng mga programa at inisyatiba upang maiparamdam din sa ating mga estudyante ang kahalagahan ng pakikilahok, hindi lang sa halalan kundi sa malaking bahagi ng pagseserbisyo sa ating mga estudyante,” he said.

(But, I hope for more initiatives to help students realize the importance of participation, not just in elections but beyond.)

Agpaoa remains hopeful for the new USC officials. “Sana ay handa nilang tanggapin iyong hámon ng kanilang pagtakbo at pagkapanalo. Bílang bahagi sila ng makasaysayang bahagi ng ating Pamantasan, higit na inaasahan na maging ispesyal din ang kanilang pagtugon sa mga pangangailangan ng kanilang mga kapuwa estudyante,” he said.

(I hope they’re ready to embrace the responsibilities that come with their roles. As key figures in our historic institution, they’re expected to cater diligently to their peers.)

“Sana laging bukás ang kanilang pintuan para sa dayalogo sa pamunuan ng UP Diliman, upang higit na mapag-usapan ang mga serbisyong dapat ay inilalaan natin sa ating mga estudyante.”

(I hope they remain open to dialogue with the UP Diliman administration, ensuring optimal services for our students.)

The turnover and oathtaking of the next USC took place on October 23.

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