By Mae Valdez
Editorial Note: The author currently chairs in the education and research committee of the Solidaridad, the UP System-Wide Alliance of Student Publications and Writer’s Organizations. She may be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.Being the premiere university and a center of student movement in the country, the University of the Philippines serves as a cradle to exceptional students. It has maintained a bastion of excellence manifested through the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), where only 16% of test takers pass.
To many, UP is a nest for activists. But since only the best and brightest students enter UP, it is unarguably a breeding ground of leaders.
Each UP student has excelled in school earlier on and is a leader in his/her own right. Although the UP student tibak stereotype has been fading due to the changing student demographics, it is easy to spot those with a knack for service and leadership. These student leaders know that being in-charge is not about being popular, but becoming an overseer of others’ welfare.
How does one spot a student leader?
A student leader most likely loves to wear slippers, whether it is Rambo or Havaianas, allowing him/her to move around and do student mobilizations. S/he also has a sun-tanned face that readily smiles upon meeting new people and instantly hardens during moments of debate. His/her vocabulary ranges from “chenes” to “participative representation” and can talk about the education budget cut and Lady Gaga all at the same time.
Many of them appeared during the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) in UP Los Baños last May 22 to 23 for a caucus to select a Student Regent (SR), the sole representative of more than 50,000 students in UP’s policy-making body, the Board of Regents.
Unfortunately, no member of the Asian Institute of Tourism Student Council (AITSC) attended the assembly; AIT students had no representation on the said event.
The GASC was presided by SR Ma. Kristina Conti, who would be finishing her term on June 2. UP Manila Political Science major Cleve Arguelles, who chairs the national Katipunan ng Sangguniang Magaaral sa UP, was selected to be the next SR, garnering 15 out of 16 votes of university student councils in the UP system.
Other nominees were Maria Elena “Love” Carlos, UPLB Sociology Society President and KARAPATAN-NCR paralegal officer, and Marjohara Tucay, Kabataan Partylist Executive Vice President and outgoing Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine Collegian, who was in the news last November after he shouted a protest against the VFA during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s press conference in Manila.
Arguelles believes that aside from being the collective leader of the students, the SR has an important role as a part of the policymaking board of the National University that can have a bigger impact in the society. The challenge for his term is to ensure that UP’s institutional and instructional policies will be geared towards accessibility for all who meet its admission requirements and that its graduates would be able to utilize their education for the betterment of the nation.
The SR unifies all students in the whole UP system. His/her work includes sitting on the board that decides on student policies such as the Tuition Fee and Other Fees Increase (TOFI) and other administrative matters, going around UP campuses (campus hopping) to hear the pleas of the students and take it to the BOR, and campaigning for issues on student rights and safety.
Without the SR, UP students will not have an ambassador who will push to uphold their rights. They would also have no representation in the BOR, no safeguard against the approval of policies infringing student interests.
In the heart of every UP student there is a yearning for change. Many think that UP students have become apathetic because they do not join rallies as much as before, but these are different times calling for different ways of changing what needs to be.
In an era of pressing issues such as climate change, economic recession, and sustainability, a new breed of leaders rises among the ranks of the students. Leaders armed with the right information; those who have learned from the mistakes of the past and determined to make a better future.
Some may view them as overacting, attention-hungry opportunists while others as role models worthy to be admired for their courage. Nevertheless, in these times of prevailing relativism, these fiery advocates can teach a generation to take a stand.
In times of education budget cuts, campus security issues, and Lady Gaga controversies, their idealism breeds hope and inspiration to many.
UP students have never been this informed. All they need are mobilizers that would ignite their inner fire to serve the people.
These student leaders have already started a fire. Let’s see how far it spreads.