For the use of information technology that is productive, not divisive –
The Office of the Student Regent (OSR) successfully convened 45 out of 52 student councils of the University of the Philippines (UP) System in UP in the Visayas Miag-ao earlier this week. Only the colleges Architecture of UP Diliman; Dentistry, Nursing, Public Health and SHS Baler of UP Manila; Human Ecology of UP Los Banos; and Humanities and Social Sciences of UP Mindanao failed to send representatives.
The General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) was created in 1997 by agreement of all student councils, specifically as a venue for the selection of the student regent. When the 2008 UP Charter in Section 21 formalized the GASC “for the University System”, it institutionalized a mechanism to “advance the interests, welfare, and aspirations of the students of the national university”across campuses.
Student councils have since then recognized the jurisdiction of the assembly over matters pertaining to the student regent, the highest-ranked student officer in the University, and all other issues that affect the University in general. It is mainly a deliberative body, but as the times evolve, appears to be capable of undertaking policy-making, quasi-legislative and even-quasi-judicial roles. The ascendancy of accords clinched during the GASC is by far undisputed.
Politics has become unavoidable in such an assembly. Polarization has plagued the GASC as sometimes, some student leaders table personal gains that others deem anti-student, anti-UP or anti-Filipino. It is yearly, a battle of passion and reason.
Efforts to professionalize the conduct of the assembly have been instituted through the years, among others:
- Application of the principles of parliamentary procedure to ensure fairness to both majority and minority during discourse
- Presumption of regularity in the performance of duties, especially in the representation by student council officers
- Emphasis on unanimity, and if not possible, consensus-building to solve complex and multiple issues
- Limitation on the number of non-voting delegates or observers to minimize partisanship and properly regulate conduct
- Recording of complete proceedings of the GASC, and release of the minutes as soon as possible to all interested parties
- In the interest of transparency, admission of accredited reporters from official student publications
The GASC shuns indiscriminate public attention, inaccuracies and incompleteness in the information, and irresponsible behavior pertaining to the assembly, its delegates and its results. To be clear, the GASC is not entirely a session closed to the students. It is a body that promotes precision in communication and credibility in reportage in order to bridge political and personal divides.
There was negative uproar when the live tweeting and tracking by delegates of the GASC held 20-21 December 2011 were reported by fellow delegates. This stems from a prior lack of arrangement within the body, the advent and the overlooking of such practice during the April 2011 GASC. Disciplinary measures were imposed as the body collectively moved to protect the integrity of the GASC.
The body eventually agreed, unanimously, to prohibit the use of cellular phones, laptops, and other recording devices “that will distract the delegates and impair the quality of the discussion, unless in emergency circumstances and with permission of the body.” Live tweeting was considered a distraction, and of the several reprimands issued with regard to this matter, the OSR wishes to clarify two: the first instance by student councils and delegates, and second by a political party.
Student councils and delegates who live tweeted the event were given stern warning for not having secured the permission of the body, out of respect, and to some extent for dividing their attention from the debates on hand. Two college student councils from UP Los Banos, together with an officer from a student council in UP Diliman sought and received dispensation from the body. True, they may owe their constituents updates from the GASC, but they then realized that such report must be complete and accurate, if at the expense of immediacy. Although not obligated, they also voluntarily removed online posts.
Student formations not present nor officially invited to the assembly face a graver reprimand. Delegates came to the assembly representing councils, not parties. The particular sources being unnamed, the content and substance of the posts of non-councils reflected a particular bias that offended the assembly. Most grave among them, quotes attributed to speakers were taken out of context and fed to an anonymous public.
Political parties from UP Diliman, two of at least a dozen across the UP System, have been cited for its “GASC WATCH”, a move which was likewise litigious when developed for the meetings of the UP Diliman University Student Council. Cherrypicking events and quotes, necessary because the platforms limit characters and data space, only stirs provocation, wreaks suspicion and mistrust, and exacerbates political divisions.
The pursuit of transparency and accountability is always commendable. Still, the GASC cannot accredit “GASC WATCH” or any other partisan information source as an official means to secure timely and reliable information from any of its sessions. To invoke democracy is also to invoke fairness, balance, decency, reasonable opportunity to adapt to changing circumstances, and yes, privacy protection and civil liberty.
Thus, the challenge now is for us to utilize availble technology to make our work productive. This position of the OSR and the GASC does not make illicit among other things, live tweeting per se and quotes with proper attribution. Perhaps the assembly and even the students themselves can suggest guidelines for live, text-based communications on mobile phones and other Internet-connected devices, including emails, tweets and Facebook status updates by designated delegates or student publications, or live streaming of the event on an official page. This issue involves ethical touchstones and consequently courts public discussion, which the OSR welcomes through any of the channels indicated below.
May this also suitably guide delegates on how to relieve trauma or to air personal reflections and reactions to the GASC. No account of the event will be censored, unless downright false, libelous, deceitful or misleading. Let the most reasonable standard be: to maintain collegiality and respect among past and future attendees of the GASC, as we forge on for One UP.
The Office of the Student Regent will release the unofficial minutes of the December 2011 GASC to the student councils before classes start in 2012. Emendations will be entertained within one month of release. On that note, the deadline for changes and clarifications on the minutes of the April 2011 GASC is on January 18, 2011. It is up to the discretion of student councils to release the unofficial minutes to their constituents before finalization.
An OSR report on the GASC will follow the minutes, as an account by the presiding officer. It will be directly made public. Any written material approved as part of the session is likewise disclosable on request. Details of the investigation, involving possible student misconduct, on the campaign for amendments to the Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection will be announced in that report.
Originally published here: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150433735780069