MANILA, Philippines – How will the Magna Carta issue shape the campus elections in the University of the Philippines-Diliman?
UP has always been a bastion of rights and welfare, not just of students, but of the entire country as well. For years now, the studentry, led by the University Student Council (USC), has been at the forefront of campus-related and national issues.
Ironically, when it comes to students’ rights, UP Diliman is divided. Different proponents have pushed the passage of the UP Diliman Magna Carta for Students’ Rights (simply called Magna Carta), a document that “define, defend, promote, and enforce students’ rights and welfare.”
Three political parties ran in this year’s UP-Diliman student elections: Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights (STAND UP), KAISA-Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA), and UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (ALYANSA). They are identified by the colors red, yellow, and blue, respectively. A number of independent candidates also vied for seats as councilors in the USC.
Drafted during the term of then-USC Chairperson Arjay Mercado, a member of the UP ALYANSA, the Magna Carta took 7 months to draft. In a referendum in January 2016, 94% voted for the passage of the Magna Carta.
However, with the entry of a new USC for academic year 2016-17, council support for the Magna Carta within was put to a halt. It was until January this year when the red-dominated council under the chairmanship of Bryle Leano voted to support the controversial document. (READ: When UP Diliman turned red again)
The issue blurred party lines, sparked outrage and public debates, and perhaps became the defining moment of this year’s USC elections in UP Diliman.
The question needs to be asked: Should a document codify and recognize the rights of the students?
The students’ answer to this question might be the tipping point of this year’s USC election scheduled on Thursday, April 6.
‘Document of surrender’
This year’s dominant party, STAND UP, insisted that it is not against the implementation of a document that promotes students’ rights and welfare, but only in the current version of the document itself. According to Shari Oliquino, the party’s candidate for vice chairperson, the Magna Carta is nothing but a “document of surrender.”
In fact, an earlier version of the Magna Carta was drafted way back in 2011 by Krissy Conti, a STAND UP alumna.
“Malinaw ang ating tindig na document of surrender ang Magna Carta at magpapatuloy ang laban para sa demokratikong karapatan (Our position is clear that the Magna Carta is a document of surrender and the fight for our democratic rights will continue),” said Oliquino, head of the USC Students’ Rights and Welfare (STRAW).
The pronouncement is based on Article X, Section 5 of the Magna Carta, which says, “the Board of Regents, as the highest policy-making body of the University, shall be the final interpreter of the Magna Carta.” The party argues that the troublesome section of the document basically waives the rights of the students in favor of the Board of Regents.
Aside from this, Ben Te, the party’s candidate for chairperson, believes that beyond the Magna Carta, the students’ democratic rights should always be fought.
“Naniniwala tayong dapat nating ipaglaban ang ating demokratikong karapatan (We believe that we must fight for our democratic rights),” said Te, a sociology major.
STAND UP has consistently raised questions on the document based on “legalizing” tuition and other fees increase (TOFI), the weakening of the student movement, and the surrendering of students’ rights to the Board of Regents, among others.
These contentions exist despite the fact that STAND UP, along with different representatives and councils from other colleges, including multi-sectoral representatives, were represented during the drafting process.
Recognition of students’ rights
On the opposite spectrum of the hotly-contested issue, Magna Carta proponents brushed off the contentions raised by the red party. According to LA Castro, this year’s candidate for chairperson under Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA), the different contentions were already answered for so many times already.
“Bakit hindi ito maintindihan ng ibang organisasyon (Why can’t other organizations understand this)?” Castro asked during UPFront, the biggest and most recognized debate for USC Candidates.
Benjie Allen Aquino, candidate for chairperson under Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA), chided the opposing party in spreading “misinformation” regarding the Magna Carta.
“Isang taon na nating kini-clear ang misinformation ng ibang grupo. Hindi tayo lumulubog sa kanilang level (We have been clearing the misinformation spread by other groups. We will not stoop down to their level),” Aquino said.
UP ALYANSA and KAISA UP have been supportive of the Magna Carta. Both believe that it will strengthen students’ rights and welfare inside the university.
The STRAW head during the time of the Magna Carta drafting was Councilor Pola Lamarca from UP ALYANSA.
Even some notable STAND UP leaders have personally expressed agreement to the passage of the Magna Carta. This year’s USC Vice Chairperson, Beata Carolino, has expressed support it despite the opposition of her party.
“These are all my personal stances and my stand regarding the MC, ones I have evidently and obviously not made blatant or public. Many people have asked me to clarify this and this is my response: I do support it,” Carolino said in a Facebook post.
Beyond ‘party lines’
Calling for an end to politicking, independent candidates expressed their thoughts on the issue. Independent councilor bets Carlos Cabaero, the incumbent School of Economics chairperson, Paolo Sevilla, and Juan Gonzaga have expressed their thoughts regarding the document.
“We hope that we can all help each other to ensure the passage of the Magna Carta,” Cabaero said at the Magna Carta Convention held last January.
Juan Gonzaga, former AIT Representative to the University Freshie Council, said that the Magna Carta “enumerates their rights and responsibilities.”
When asked during the Fast Talk portion of UPFront, independent bet Paolo Sevilla said “yes” to the issue of the passage of Magna Carta.
The future of Magna Carta
Whether the Magna Carta empowers the rights and welfare of UP students or not, UP students agree that they should always have the final say on policies that affect them.
They acknowledge that the Magna Carta might codify and recognize their rights, but if not used properly, these will just stay recognized on paper.
Support for the Magna Carta in the University Student Council is still uncertain. But right now, with the ongoing discussion and debate, the election could be a referendum for the codification of students’ rights, a referendum 2.0 for the Magna Carta. – Rappler.com
A Rappler Mover, JP Punzalan currently studies BS Business Administration at the University of the Philippines – Diliman