Leaders of Tomorrow: Student Council Elections in UP

"Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."(Wallace Stanley Sayre)

Seal of the University of the Philippines
Photo courtesy of UP
A year ago, this history blog published University to Pioneer or University to Perpetrate, an article concerning student council elections in the University of the Philippines Diliman. To date, it received a little more than 350 views. Whether or not the views and ideas expressed a year ago had an impact, it remains to be seen. The conclusion? The student population may have been experiencing an imbalance in the means and the representation to voice out their interests. Therefore, they choose either not to vote or to abstain. They are trapped into an either-or option, though in this diversified age, they should have multiple options. A year later, it is time to re-evaluate these findings, and see if it is comparable in other colleges and universities nationwide. It is hoped that this short article may be of help for future research on student councils nationwide. Also, since they say that the university is the microcosm of Philippine society, and the leaders of tomorrow are the youth of today, it is expected that it may also be of help to the nation in general.

University of the Philippines Diliman
*2009 was the first year when automation was implemented, but it lacked statistical data in the college level.

Breakdown of the 2009 voter turnout
Photo courtesy of People Are Machines

As mentioned in the past article, most analysts view voter turnout as an important factor that needs utmost attention in the current democratic system. To this day, it is recognized as the foremost legitimizing factor of any democracy of its type. The elections in 2015 was celebrated as the most successful in recent years for finally achieving the elusive 50% turnout. Evidently, an across college increase in voters must have caused this. Not only did it have the highest turnout, it also has the highest number of voting students, as well as electing the chairperson with the second most number of votes in the electoral history of the university (5,130 or 40.8%). Arjay Mercado holds the record for garnering the most votes in 2014 (5,145), and he is from the same party (ALYANSA). This turnout was not achieved even in 2012, wherein there was a four-way race for chairperson when independent candidate Martin Loon ran. Thus, it is projected no less by the Office of Student Affairs that a 60% turnout be reached in 2016. The following year, more students did vote in terms of numbers (12,578 vs 12,783, an increase of 205). Another record was made when both the winning chairperson (Bryle Leano with 5,840) and vice chairperson (Beata Carolino with 8,409) garnered the highest number of votes in the electoral history of the university. The STAND UP standard bearers broke the record made by ALYANSA. Nevertheless, turnout is down to 49%, which is fairly comparable to the turnout in 2012. Apparently embarrassed about its projections, the 60% claim was taken down. While automated elections managed to keep turnout at certain levels, which are definitely higher than it was during the 1990s (when apathy became the paramount issue because as late as 1999 and 2000, the turnout was a measly 36% and 35%, respectively), why is turnout in such a high-level election fluctuating? Whatever happened to the leaders of tomorrow?

Yesterday's future, tomorrow's future

"Mukashi mirai, ashita mirai. Sou da ne toki wa nonstop."
(from Fure Fure Mirai - フレ降レミライ - Rainy Rainy Future)

It is not to say that a 60% turnout is not possible. Actually, a 60% turnout is healthy enough for such election. Voters with college level education usually post high turnouts. To be specific, 61% turnout in the national scale in 2010. In comparison, voters with elementary level education posted only 32% voter turnout in the same year. In addition, when there is a perceived sweeping change in administration (that is, the top persons are to be replaced), then voter turnout is driven higher. For instance, national turnout in 2013 (midterm senate election) was 76%, but in 2016 (presidential election), the turnout shot to almost 82%. As for the university, we never had such a healthy turnout in a decade. That is the fact. Of course, expecting higher turnout is yesterday's future (mukashi mirai - ムカシ ミライ). What does it mean? It simply means that we should not stop at expecting higher turnouts to legitimize our elections. There are indeed more factors to consider, and voter turnout is just one factor among them. Watching only the voter turnout is a thing of the past. It is in areas where elections are mandatory wherein 99% or 100% turnouts are reached. If only we are aiming for a higher voter turnout, then make voting compulsory. There is not much hindrance in terms of registration because students are automatically registered voters in student council elections. So, what is the problem? In addition, for the 51% who did not vote in 2016, are they politically apathetic?

"Representatives may not even be representing him/herself."
(Alvin Toffler)

A stagnant voter turnout does not mean that they are apathetic. They actually care about the university, perhaps even more than you do. Who knows? However, it is very likely that they are just unsatisfied with how issues are being tackled. They had enough of how elections boil down to competition between parties who tend to have common ground in some, if not most, issues (for example, lower tuition fees). After the domination, the deluge actually revealed this phenomenon. The three major parties in the university - ALYANSA, STAND UP, and KAISA - tend to have common ground on a number of issues. This deviation towards the center reveals that the middle ground is the largest pool of voters there is. This is not merely a college phenomenon, because it can also be observed in the Philippines as a nation. Why risk taking up an unpopular position in an issue that catches the public eye? This, in turn, may cause a "they are all alike" mentality. Interest in the process eventually drops. In addition, since elections in the university are more frequent than in the national scale, it is expected that college democracy matures faster. This is also why in older democracies like the United States tend to post lower turnouts than younger democracies like the Philippines. Evidently, voter turnout is a noticeable parameter to point out just that. Still, if we are to realize tomorrow's future (ashita mirai - アシタ ミライ), we should step out marching towards tomorrow. Then again, how do we exactly do that?

Voting none of the above

The voters made the conscious choice not to participate... by not voting, [they] may be expressing the belief that politicians either cannot or will not do what the voters want done.
(John Naisbitt)

Usually, we do not expect voters to horse around (as critics would call it) with their vote in Election Day. Recall that voters with college level education have a more informed choice, and are easier to mobilize to get out the vote. If they simply do not want anyone on the list, then why vote? It is just a waste of time. In the national scene, this is not noticeable because the abstain option is yet to be added and counted. However, abstention votes have been an unexpected contender in university student council elections. While abstain may have not been a mainstay in most of our election experience, including such an option in our elections today is a dose of reality. There has been instances wherein candidates are defeated by abstention vote (as seen in 2015 in the College of Science, and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, among others). To fully realize the relevance of the abstention or "horsing around" vote, let us take for example the heralded 2015 student council election. Abstain takes third place with 21.1% of the vote. This means more than ten percent of the voting population chose to abstain. Add that to the 51% who did not vote, none of the above wins by a landslide! It’s hardly a mandate. Not even a third of the entire electorate managed to coalesced around a single candidate. This is higher than 17.5% for abstain in 2014, and 11.4% in 2013. Thus, it is evident that while turnout is up by 3% from 2014 to 2015, abstention vote increased further by almost 4% in the same time period. In addition, while turnout is up by 6% between 2013 and 2015, abstention vote was up by almost 10%. If we simply follow the trend, a 60% voter turnout might give abstain around one-third of the vote! Of course, all these percentages for abstention vote are only derived from the chairperson level. Even if an independent ran at the chairperson level in 2012, it differed only slightly from the abstention vote in 2013 (10.4% vs 11.4%). However, the 2016 election made a difference despite failing to achieve the 60% turnout. Abstention rate is significantly decreased to reach single digits (9.9%). Last year's election saw a three-way race with independent candidate Raymond Rodis garnering second place. Rodis himself has praised the previous article, and after reading, he has messaged the author that he aimed to lower the abstention rate that year. Of course, while it is significantly lower than the abstention rate at least in the past four years, it differed only slightly with the 2012 election, when independent candidate Loon ran. Meanwhile, the 2015 election also features an even higher abstention vote for the vice chairperson level, with 25.2%. It is much higher than 15.4% in 2014 and 12% in 2013. Despite having only a two-way race, the 2016 election for vice chairperson also featured a significant decrease in abstention (12.3%). However, it is still within projections of this model and has not deviated much from the abstention rates at least in the past four years.

Vice Chairperson**
Abstention votes
Percentage to total votes
*Three candidates competed for the position. Only one winner.
**Two candidates competed for the position. Only one winner.
***32 candidates competed for the position. Only twelve winners.

"People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn't stop you from having your own opinion."
(Anne Frank)

Using this illustration, it is clear that a higher turnout simply meant that more voters decided to express that they have no one to choose. Lower turnout meant that more voters decided not to express that they have no one to choose. The findings in the past four years are not proven obsolete despite fluctuations in voter turnout. Having more options may be an easy answer to this phenomenon. For instance, the presence of two independent candidates (Jethro David and Raymond Rodis) who topped the councilor elections caused only a 10.6% abstention in 2014. Two independent candidates (Patrick Sicat and Reinald Jay Belen) also won in 2016, which recorded only 7.2% abstention rate. Of course, this remains to be seen. In 2013, abstention for the councilor elections is at 10% flat, and evidently no independent candidate ran for councilor that year. The presence of an independent candidate in 2015 (Mark Navata) did not keep the abstention rates from rising. Meanwhile, the vice chairperson level experienced a drop in abstention in 2016 despite having less options compared to 2015. Multiple options can only keep down the bar to a certain extent, and there is more to it than meets the eye. For instance, the number of candidates running for the same positions are getting less (73 in 2016 vs 62 in 2017). This may mean that the current system is becoming inadequate for leader formation. The trend of increasing abstention vote is still intact. In addition, one must not forget that 51% of the electorate did not vote, slowly becoming a sort of "silent" bloc. There might as well be a movement called We are the 51%. Again, this is not exactly apathy, nor a silent majority. Not only are candidates choosing not to participate, the voters make this choice as well. Whether they do not vote or abstain, it is a conscious choice. The real winner in every student council election, at least since the 21st century began, is none of the above. This is becoming an alarming situation. We do not want to be like Seoul National University which had no student council in 2011, even after conducting two elections that year. We also do not want to be like our neighbor, Ateneo De Manila University, which also did not have a student council in 2016 despite holding special elections.

Independent independents

"Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of their party."
(Winston Churchill)

Despite the increasing popularity of independent candidates, with five of them running for university level positions in 2016, it is apparent that the independent movement failed to weather the effects of increasing dissatisfaction with how the student council works, particularly student council elections. There is no significant change in the numbers whether or not they are there. It may be rooted to this reason: our independent candidates are not really independent. What does this mean? This means that these independents have entrenched organizations to carry them beforehand, or they may have been former party members and simply broke away, taking a significant amount of support with them. For instance, this Political Science 14 study on The Independent Movementwhich features four of the more successful independent candidates from 2012 to 2015, shows that:
  • Three out of four of them are members of fraternities (Alpha Phi Beta, Sigma Rho).
  • All of them have been part of organizations inside and/or outside the university.
Basically, it is to be perceived that an independent is supposed to be, well, independent. However, to be truly independent is not an easy task. The reason why these independents managed to be quite successful is their connections. No matter how they brand themselves, they are not truly independent because of the very connections that propelled them into position. In addition, not all independents are alike. They represent a myriad of issues, usually the positions of the groups which support them, while some of them may have been former party members who have been rather ungrateful of the party they left. Also, recall the so-called "King Center" or middle ground where most voters are located in the political spectrum. These not-so-independent independents are more prone to change positions than hardline party members or even true independents. Meanwhile, the electorate is not as dim as they are portrayed to be. They know this situation. Independents might as well be a candidate with a virtual party, composed by his supporters. Indeed, who would actually self-fund a campaign in the student level? That is why despite efforts of these supposedly independent candidates, student council elections continue to lag behind. What can attest to this? The same study mentioned above also notes the following in a survey of 77 students:
  • 10.4% had not yet voted in student council elections
  • 38.2% of those who did vote in student council elections also voted for independents
  • 51.9% had a leaning to any one political party
  • 59.7% still examines the candidate regardless of being a party member or an independent
  • 88.3% thinks that there are serious political divisions in the student council
  • 88.3% of those surveyed are first year and second year students
Of course, in reality, 51% did not vote in the 2016 election. Thus, the percentages in this survey may be significantly higher or lower. This may mean that the electorate who does not vote may have been older students. That is, those who may have had enough experience of how the university student council is running. It is fairly easy to figure out if one considers the demographic of the 77-people survey undertaken by the study. In addition, the perception of serious divisions may have resulted to a consequent perception that nothing much is being done. A house divided cannot work as much as a house united. It is not a difficult logic to consider. However, while independents did take advantage of this situation, their presence has had no significant effect on this perception of the electorate. While independents usually expect to unite the contending forces on the top, it is not the case most of the time. The perception of the government is also not quite changed. They are seen more as another contender than someone to rally with to gain better results. Thus, the discontentment remains, and now the electorate went out to express it much stronger with their abstention vote.

Yesterday's future

We all sense intuitively that it is obsolete.
(John Naisbitt)

Yes, you read it right. Our students still live pursuing yesterday's future. The university continues to operate with a student council that does not meet the needs and demands of the ever changing electorate (the studentry) enough. However, what may explain the increase in turnout. regardless of the greater increase in abstention votes? One possible booster in the 2015 voter turnout would be the incentives given by the student council to voters. No, it is not the incentive to go home early after voting. It is still yet to be realized when half a day, or even the whole day, is devoted to voting. Instead, freebies were promised to be given to students when they vote. Well, it is only to be found out that supplies are very limited (exhausted within the first hour of voting) and ended up going home without freebies. This material incentive to vote might be seen as "vote buying" in one side of the coin. Technically, you are enticing people to vote, albeit without specifying any one candidate or party in particular. Of course, since there is no specification on who to vote, this is generally not considered as vote buying. Besides, it is a grand accusation to brand handing out freebies in election booths as vote buying, especially on the incumbent. This is not as successful if the aim is to significantly increase voter turnout, but it is quite successful to retain the incumbent anyway. even if it is perhaps unintended. Speaking of vote buying, it cannot be said that is has left the university completely, as student elections to this day feature gimmickry which attempt to conceal vote buying for certain candidates. In addition, the electorate might have been fed up with available campaign methods, which includes mudslinging and black propaganda. Apparently, what is being done is to conduct temporary solutions to problems of long-term consequences. Most of the paramount issues remain unresolved, and future student governments tend to inherit them. What needs to be done is a major overhaul of the Student Code to slash obsolete provisions and enter innovative solutions. For instance, reform the campaign methods available. Increase student representation and adjust every election cycle, if it is not possible to make the council participatory and mobilize the students themselves to work on programs and projects. A lot may be done and the path ahead is arduous.

Tomorrow's future

"When mission success is everything, nobody wants to be the first to try something new. And it's a lot cheaper to copy something that you know works."
(David Akin)

Despite this seemingly dismal situation for the student council as a whole, there are still bright spots that may be recognized. The foundation for tomorrow's future is being laid upon by visionaries and people considering the future. For instance, it is already mentioned beforehand that the abstain option is an innovation in elections. It helps in reflecting the lack of choices in the ballot. Of course, it is not enough to stop at just abstaining. Even those who do not vote are abstaining, although informally. That is why it is said that none of the above wins by a landslide in each and every election. Another case that can be included here is the campaign of a rather obscure college level candidate, Arius Raposas. Running in 2014 as a councilor in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP), consistently one of the largest colleges in the university, Raposas campaigned for a more consultative and participatory student council. He won only 14.7% of the vote. However, his presence in the election as truly independent also caused the college to have its lowest abstention rate in recent years: 8.6% in 2014. In 2013, the abstention vote for the councilor election in CSSP is 12.3% (despite the presence of an "independent" candidate) and in 2015, it was 15.7%. It is yet to be seen if abstention vote in the college would have a return to single digits. Of course, it might as well testify that the electorate also knows how to spot out true independents or "independent independents." Studying this self-funding (and apparently low budget) campaign, featuring a candidate without any party or organization, would show what it means to be truly independent.

Among his proposals include an initiative program wherein any individual student may address an issue he is concerned with. The council will just be a helping hand, but the proponent of the solution at hand would be the main actor. Apparently, the incumbent student council copied this with a relatively clumsy Grievance Desk (G-Desk). In one semester, the G-Desk resolved only 30 issues, mainly enrollment issues. Of course, this is not the main thrust of the initiative that Raposas is campaigning for. We all know what an initiative meant, but the essence is lost in a clumsy copy. Say, it was a proposal for a shift from fluorescent to LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs to help save energy. The council should have the least contribution since it is supposed to be action from the students. Besides, the initiative program is aimed at representing issues, particularly individual issues, not usually highlighted by any of the parties. Ours is a diversified and demassified university. Each individual has his own set of preferences, and also his own set of issues. At the very least, one of the more innovative programs is being slowly integrated by the student council.

"The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking."
(Alan Alexander Milne)

Knowing, however, that an initiative program may not have as much reception as expected of it (because the electorate had a representative government for far too long, and it is not easy to change the psychology of the people within one or two years), it is also proposed the formation of a more permanent consultative body composed of voters from every department, regardless of being a party member or an organization member. Ever since, parties and organizations have been given priority in the council. Non-organization members (orgless or non-affiliated), estimated to be some 40% of the entire studentry (assuming that each organization in the university has 50 members), are not even heard. The consultative body, therefore, shall have a more balanced composition to accommodate a more participatory voice in the council. The composition shall not be determined by population. An example can make this proposal clearer. The college has eight departments, but five of them have less than 100 votes. If representation is based on population, the smaller departments will not be able to express anything. Minority power should be taken into consideration. Taken together, they are a formidable bloc in their own right. It would be proposed, therefore, that an average of four (4) members of the consultative body would be from each department, bringing the total to 32 members. This would result to the Anthropology department having 8% of its electorate as part of the consultation process, while the Psychology department having 1% of its electorate as part of the consultation process. The consultative body is kept small in this proposal because, again, this is an innovation. It will not catch on easily, taking time to be mainstream. Of course, there is more to it than equality, but let us think about fairness as well. We have to give each and every sector of our university a chance, majority or minority, affiliated or not, if we are to gain their confidence. However, this is just an example. Since this proposal has never been put into effect yet, it is difficult to speculate how this would work and be received by the students.

Is the Raposas campaign still relevant today? Perhaps. Perhaps not. However, the official Facebook page of his campaign actually experienced a whopping 183% increase in likes from the end of the campaign in 2014 until two years later, in 2016 (from 40 to 113). No significant increase has been noted among his fellow contenders, and the page itself has never been updated for years. Some of them even experienced a slight decline. To make things clearer, here is a matrix (updated):
  • Raposas (Independent candidate): 113 likes (up 183%)
  • Magkaisa CSSP candidate: 93 likes (down 1%)
  • Saligan sa CSSP candidates: 304 likes (up 7%)
  • Buklod CSSP candidates: 509 likes (down 1%)
The share of his campaign page online, based on likes, is 11.1% already, up from 4.3% in 2014. As far as social media is concerned, it is apparent that the relevance of such campaign is underrated. Of course, basing only on likes is not advisable either. Considering the organization of the entrenched political parties, they can give any one candidate 300 to 500 likes any time, even if the candidate is just running as representative of a minor department composed of 30 to 50 voters.

A reform in campaign methodology may also be needed. Black propaganda may still influence the campaign, wherein honesty and integrity is removed in order to advance political gain. Measures have to be taken to remove its potency. Also, we are already in the 21st century and yet we use paper to campaign. This may prove bad for the environment. If every after the UP Fair, we are irked by the mess being left behind, how much more student council elections? Meanwhile, room-to-room methods kept on disrupting classes. This reduces the productivity and the learning quality of our classrooms during campaign periods. For instance, if one party campaigns for five minutes in one class, it will already take off 15 minutes if all three parties are to campaign in that one class. Already 17% of the time allotted has been used up, and this is assuming that a professor ideally has the entire 90 minutes in his hands. Thus, it is proposed that LED televisions are used to relay campaign messages rather than traditional campaign materials. Using the statistics from MERALCO, a 60-inch LED television will use up only 5.16 pesos for eight hours. In 14 eight-hour days, it will total to 72.24 pesos. Of course, one has to argue that the cost of purchasing one LED television is already hefty. A 32-inch LED television alone already costs around 10,000 pesos. However, let us compare the costs of operating a LED television with the costs of paper campaign materials. For instance, printing 4,000 leaflets (one-fourth the size of short bond paper) using a photocopying machine would already cost 500 pesos. If there are 24,000 students in the university, on average, then how much more is needed? Meanwhile, operating a photocopier for one hour will cost 10.88 pesos. Meanwhile, social media is continually gaining popularity and may be a considerable factor in future campaigns. Innovation and looking towards the future usually requires heavy investment (although there may be instances when we can do it cheaper), but it does not mean that your investments will not return. The University of the Philippines is the premier university in the Philippines. In a rapidly modernizing world, the edge in research and technology is one aspect we cannot lag behind. There are a lot more innovations to explore, and a lot more to share. Unpopular as these measures may be today, but being unpopular does not always means it is not right. What may not be the case today may be the case in the near future, and we must be prepared.

Students await the official election results
Photo courtesy of DZUP
In the main, whatever findings revealed a year ago still remain relevant today, but it is not supposed to be that way. This series has been going on for three years, studying student elections firsthand in the past four years, as well as researching student council history as far back as 1980 (when student organizations are restored in the university). It is also to be considered that a reform in the electoral system be made. There are other voting systems out there like ranked or preferential voting, which may apply more on the councilor level than the chairperson level. Of course, it will require a major overhaul, starting mainly with the constitution that upholds the very student council of the university. It will be a widespread revamp. Then again, while there is no perfect system, we can make every effort to improve the system daily, adjusting in accordance to the needs and demands of the ever changing electorate. And with this, I end this short article. Indeed, there is much more to be done. The path ahead of us is not an easy one, but stand firm to your resolve, for man may see his victory as inevitable, but we have to face the consequences of our actions. Let us vote accordingly in the upcoming student council elections. Think carefully before you vote. The stakes may be low in the short term, but the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. If the student leaders we breed in the university continue to show such unfavorable qualities, imagine how grim our future may be. The moment to build tomorrow's future is here.

"There are so many things that we can do and we should do during and after elections to participate actively in running our government. Some of you will say: “Well, Soc, I can do very little. What can I do? I am only a student.” Yes, I admit each of us can do but little. But, little things taken together amount to something formidable."  
(Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo, former senator of the Philippines)


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Leaders of Tomorrow: Student Council Elections in UP Leaders of Tomorrow: Student Council Elections in UP Reviewed by Al Raposas on Thursday, March 16, 2017 Rating: 5

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