By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The high cost of tuition does not only prevent students to continue with their studies, it also takes away democracy.
Ynik Ante, a BS Development Communication student, won as the new University Student Council (USC) chairwoman in the recently concluded student council election in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). But the Central Electoral Board (CEB) of UPLB did not proclaim her victory because of her inability to pay her tuition before the CEB meeting ended on Feb. 29.
Because Ante still has unpaid balances, the CEB declared Marion Joyce Divino who ranked second in the USC chairpersonship race. The CEB asserted that Ante is not a ‘bona fide’ student due to unpaid fees.
The election was held on February 22 to 23 and was extended until February 24 due to delays and irregularities because the election was automated. Political party Sakbayan where Ante belongs said it was the university’s second time to conduct an automated election.
“How irrational could it be that the same body that recognized Ynik (Ante) as a candidate and as the one who got the most number of votes be the same body that questions yet again her being a bona fide student, and refuses to proclaim her as the chairperson-elect?” Sakbayan chairwoman Ma. Cristina Madeja said.
“Where is democracy in UP? Shall we concede that money is the deciding factor for students to attain their right to education and live in a democratic university?” Ante said in a statement. “CEB’s decision is a clear disrespect not only to the party I am affiliated with, but to the students who already chose their leaders. This is a repressive measure, a harsh reality, Iskolars ng Bayan face due to skyrocketing tuition.”
According to Sakbayan, Ante garnered 1,479 votes and led the polls by 36 votes against Buklod UPLB’s Divino who obtained 1,443 votes.
Sakbayan was founded in 1996 and the widest alliance of student formations in the UP system with 60 member-organizations. Divino, on the other hand, came from Buklod-UPLB, a political organization established in 2004. Sakbayan was able to win majority of the SC seats this year, it said.
“It is enraging that in UP, the student council chair-elect is prevented to be proclaimed for the mere reason that she is incapable of paying her tuition on time,” said incumbent USC chairwoman Pura Beatriz Valle.
Ante’s legitimacy to run for the USC chairperson post was also questioned by the CEB before the campaign period began, Sakbayan said. Ante was enrolled on a promissory note approved by UPLB Chancellor Rex Victor Cruz. But her status as a bona fide student was already deliberated on and approved upon the certification of the Office of the University Registrar, thereby, allowing her candidacy.
Valle said that not all CEB members approved the body’s decision but the Sakbayan asserted for the approval of Ante’s candidacy and now for her proclamation because of two reasons. “One, we uphold and assert for the democratization of the election by providing the best opportunity for student participation. Moreover, we respect the integrity of the decisions of the students, and that we do not allow the CEB’s reason as precedent ceasing this decision to be implemented.”
Meanwhile, according to Madeja, the proclamation of Divino was railroaded by a certain Mark Lester Chico who presided during the said CEB meeting on behalf of OSA Director Lt. Col. Vivian Gonzales. Chico is the university’s Student Organizations and Activities Division head and the officer-in-charge of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA).
“It seems to us that the CEB meeting was railroaded by Mark Lester Chico as he moved that the body proclaims Divino as the new chairperson without even hearing the side of our candidate or any representative from our party-alliance,” Madeja said.
Madeja said that Valle who was present during the CEB meeting informed them that some members of the CEB were waiting for Ante to pay her tuition before 4 p.m. The supporters immediately helped raise the amount necessary to pay Ante’s tuition. “For a few hours, they were able to raise around P11,000 ($261). Ante was able to pay at the University cashier, and had her papers stamped ‘Registered’ before office hours of February 29,” Madeja said.
She added that according to Valle, when the CEB learned that Ante has not yet paid her tuition by 4 p.m., they adjourned the meeting with the resolution not to proclaim Ante. But according to Valle, the decision was not unanimous.
“The CEB is not authorized to decide who to proclaim as the USC chair. This role is reserved to the students alone. All the CEB has to do is to proclaim the winner based on the election results. They could not tamper with the facts, and lambast the integrity of the student election.”
Fight of students
“Sakbayan’s fight is not only ours, but the fight of students and other stakeholders of the university. I will take my oath before the students, and not before the CEB. I will join and continue our struggle for sufficient state subsidy and the democraticization of UP,” Ante said.
Meanwhile, she wishes to resolve the student council issue as soon as possible to address “more pressing matters in and outside of UP”.
“As the CEB continues to delay our proclamation as the new USC chair-elect, our opportunity to consolidate our united efforts to fight the impending tuition and other fee hikes is hampered,” Ante said.
Ante is also a member of the youth group Anakbayan-UPLB, she was one of the so-called UPLB 5/Calamba 7 who were nabbed and detained after expressing condemnation of Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s education policy during the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
“As we wait for our proclamation as the new USC chairperson, we must not forget to be vigilant on the recent assault against the youth’s right to free education. It is the role of the student council to lead the students in the struggle for our rights and welfare,” she added.