Philippine Collegian on Student Regent Charisse Banez

Posted on February 10, 2010

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Power Play

Philippine Collegian editorial on Student Regent Charisse Banez. Access here: http://www.philippinecollegian.net/?p=28

The UP Board of Regents.

The BOR is the highest decision and policy-making body of UP, tasked with its governance, serving as the final word and last resort on any matter within the university. Under the UP Charter of 2008, the BOR’s primary duty is the “administration of the national university and the exercise of its corporate powers.”

And we, the students, have but a single representative to this august board: the Student Regent. This year, our duly selected SR is Charisse Bañez.

According to Regent Abraham Sarmiento, a Malacañang appointee, Bañez is “not only under suspension, [she] is in fact not a student as defined by this university.” As such, he urges the BOR to “declare that the Student Regent be deemed to have ceased, the Student Regent not being a student.”

What defines a UP student?

The BOR focuses on the technical. The Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS) states clearly that the position of SR may be considered vacant due to “incapacity to enroll or file a LOA.” As of the January 29 BOR meet, Bañez was neither enrolled, nor was she on leave of absence.

The simple answer, then, is to assert that Bañez should simply be removed. However, this cut-and-dried “solution” leaves out the context of this case.

That Bañez had in fact already completed every academic requirement for graduation; the only reason she is applying for residency or LOA, instead of continuing with graduate studies, is a pending case with the Student Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) on trumped-up charges dating back from her term as chair of the UP Los Baños Student Council.

That this is not the only attempt to discredit the SR; nearly a year ago, that same SDT case was cited as the reason for relegating Bañez merely to “observer” status for the first two months of her term as SR.

That, had Bañez been anyone else but a regent unflinchingly critical of the administration’s policies, this issue could have been neatly and quickly resolved. The BOR’s power is well-established. It would have been a simple matter to urge the UPLB administration to facilitate the acceptance of Bañez’s application for residency or LOA.

On one side of the scale, her tardiness; on the other, the question of student representation. Where there is room for discretion, the bias should be for the upholding of democratic rights.

Indeed, the context of this case is the reason why UP students must defend the Office of the Student Regent. Consider the CRSRS rule cited above, so convincingly utilized by the BOR against Bañez. In full, the provision reads: “Upon vacancy of the position of the SR-select or the incumbent SR due to… incapacity to enroll or file a LOA… or any other cause which prevents him/her from discharging functions, the position shall be filled by the second selected nominee, or the third nominee.”

The provision is unquestionably worded in a manner intended to ensure that an SR will always be part of the BOR. Yet despite Bañez’s clear capacity to amend her lateness to enroll or file a LOA, despite her clear ability to continue discharging her duties and functions as SR, several board members have intentionally elected to interpret the provision in a way that will do the most damage to Bañez.

Underscoring the importance of this conflict is the fact that the BOR is set to decide on numerous concerns, which are essential to determining the future of the university.

In Diliman, there is the refusal to grant Sarah Raymundo tenure, a case which has transcended the single professor seeking tenure to encompass concerns like faculty rights and academic freedom. In UP Los Baños, there is a proposal to implement the Large Lecture Class Scheme (LLCS) in all general education classes, which will determine whether UP, instead of fighting for greater state subsidy, will sacrifice quality education on the altar of “cost-cutting” measures. In UP Cebu, there is the planned closure of the UP Visayas Cebu High School, delineating the priorities of a college which seeks to rechannel the resources funding the high school into the self-interested goal of becoming an autonomous unit.

In the face of these issues, every vote matters. Indeed, during the contested December 18 vote on the directorship of the Philippine General Hospital, Jose Gonzales won over Carmelo Alfiler by a single vote. One of the votes in favor of Gonzales was cast by our SR.

In short, we cannot afford not to have a student representative.

The delay in her residency application notwithstanding, Bañez was democratically selected through a fair and democratic process by the students of the university. She was a student enrolled at the university at the time of her nomination, and has sought to remain so, though UPLB has denied her LOA request. Most importantly — though other members of the BOR may not agree — she has a proven “track record reflective of [her] commitment to serve the university.”

If the only “solution” to the resolution to the problems concerning Bañez’s status as a student is to remove the SR, we reject it. If the BOR refuses to let our representative into its hallowed halls, then we the students will stand at the fringes of the seat of power, outside every BOR meet held without an SR, to assert, defend, and uphold our rights and welfare.