DLSU-D Student Council Elections: Why is there no abstain vote?

Q: Why is there no “abstain” or abstention vote in DLSU-D Student Council Elections?

A: The phrase “abstention votes” is an oxymoron, an abstention being a refusal to vote. To abstain means to refrain from voting, and, as a consequence, there can be no such thing as an “abstention vote.” – Roberts’ Rules of Order

And so in the Student Council elections, if a student wishes to abstain from voting because the current candidates are not to his/her liking, the student simply does not vote.

The idea of putting the option of “abstain” in the ballot to indicate an abstention vote was never considered during the Student Election Code Convention of 2008 because all of us delegates at that time were of the mindset that since to abstain is to simply not vote, there’s no point in putting it as an option in the ballot. It would just be a waste of space on the ballot and unnecessary cost.

Besides, if a student doesn’t want to vote because the candidates to choose from did not suit their preferences or win their support, asking them to put it in writing or expressing it through the ballot would just be an added burden to the student and to those managing the elections.

Not voting on election day is the most powerful way of saying, “I abstain.”

The SCE still has jurisdiction over electronic form of election propaganda

One of the most novel and equally controversial provisions of the Revised Student Election Code of DLSU-D is the provision concerning electronic forms of election propaganda.

Background

Yours truly was part of the body that assembled to revise the old Student Election Code of DLSU-D back in 2008. Considering my background in social media publishing, aka I’m a blogger, and my previous experience in being Chair of the 2007 Students’ Constitutional Convention that drafted the 2008 USC Constitution, the body appointed me to draft the provisions concerning electronic forms of propaganda.

When we say electronic form of election propaganda we mean campaigning done through SMS, the Internet – in particular social media, video, audio and any other means of electronic communication.

As early as the 2007 elections, political parties were already using SMS, aka group messages to campaign for their candidates during elections. Back then, there were no provisions in the old E-Code about this method or other electronic campaign propaganda, however, the SCE still allowed it given that the campaign messages did not contain defamatory/libelous content against any political party and/or candidate.

As time went on, social media like Multiply.com which was still famous back then, were also used as election propaganda. Other political parties started putting up websites of their own. Again, up until the 2008 Revised E-Code, there were no provisions about the electronic election propaganda, yet they were still allowed and that the contents conformed to the relevant provisions of the E-Code. In addition to content, such electronic campaign propaganda were only used, published and utilized during the campaign period. Outside of the campaign period, they were strictly prohibited.

This was the experience and practice that became the norm up until the 2008 Revised E-Code was drafted, ratified and took effect beginning the 2009 USC and CSC elections.

So when we considered the provisions about the electronic form of election propaganda, we realized that it was impractical and impossible for the SCE to fully regulate it in the manner it can regulate non-electronic forms like tarpaulins, fliers, leaflets, posters, pins, shirts, etc. Simply because electronic election propaganda were intangible and resided only the vast expanse of the Internet and electronic gadgets while the non-electronic election propaganda were physically tangible and were only used inside the campus well within the literal jurisdiction of the SCE.

However, the body also understood that we cannot stop the march of progress and the creativity of the political parties – electronic forms of election propaganda is the way to go.

Compromise: Continue from historical experience and practice

So the compromise was that the SCE gave up jurisdiction over electronic forms of election propaganda in terms of the quantity, dimensions and the locations where they can be posted. However, the contents or substance and timeliness of its usage remained under the jurisdiction of the SCE as was the practice back in 2007.

Political parties and candidates were free to use any forms of electronic election propaganda be it SMS, social media, dedicated websites, videos, cover photos, profile photos, infographics etc. as long as the contents conformed to the applicable provisions of the E-code that regulated content:

Section 50. Prohibited Forms of Campaign Paraphernalia/Propaganda. Any
campaign paraphernalia/propaganda shall be unlawful if it:
Xxx xxx xxx
b. Contains the Course of the candidate.
c. Contains defamatory/libellous content against any political
party and/or candidate.
d. Involves the use of logo/name of any outside organization/
individual that has not been a donor of the political party and/
or candidate.

Aside from the content, the timeliness of using electronic election propaganda is also regulated by the E-code, that such campaigning is prohibited outside the campaign period.

A perfect sample case or precedent was the case of SENTRO vs SINAG, 2007-2008 elections wherein a campaign manager of SINAG political party was caught campaigning on election day itself using group SMS. SINAG was disqualified not for using SMS, but for campaigning during election days.

Provisions of the E-Code must be interpreted in harmony, not in conflict

Now, there is a serious misconception that since there is Section 47, f. that says:

The SCE shall have no jurisdiction over electronic form of election propaganda

It means that political parties and candidates have absolute freedom with electronic election propaganda. This is wrong. This is the wrong way of interpreting the E-Code because if this was correct, there would be a conflict with Section 50, c. of the E-Code which prohibits campaign propaganda that is defamatory/libelous. In legal practice, the Supreme Court explains why provisions of a law or code must not be taken against the other provisions, instead it should be interpreted and implemented in harmony with other provisions that express the intention of the authors of the law or its spirit.

The rule is that a a code is enacted as a single, comprehensive statute, and is to be considered as such and not as a series of disconnected articles or provisions. (Baking v. Director of Prisons)

Thus Section 47, f and Section 50 can stand side by side and not in opposition to one another. That parties and candidates can use any form of electronic election propaganda and regardless of its quantities as long as the contents do not contain defamatory or libelous content nor the courses of the candidates it bears and that such electronic campaign propaganda be used only during the campaign period.

A parallel case would be SWAFO’s past investigation in the blind-item pages in Facebook where students are sharing/posting their “secret stories” about life as a student in DLSU-D. The student handbook does not prohibit students about creating social media accounts, but if such accounts are being used to post content that are malicious or libelous against any member of the academic community, school administrators are authorized to investigate and if proven, discipline erring students.

It should be now clear to all students, specially the political parties, their candidates and the Student Commission on Elections that the use of electronic election propaganda are still subject to the provisions of the Student Election Code.

SERVE’s Self-Awareness Seminar 2013

Last August 10, I joined my fellow Lasallian SERVE volunteers for their annual Self-Awareness Seminar where I gave a talk about Volunteerism. The Self-Awareness Seminar or SAS is the first formation/training program that new SERVE volunteers must attend in order to become full-pledged members. For those who are wondering, SERVE stands for Students’ Extension of Resources through Voluntary Efforts. It is a program for Transformative Education of the Lasallian Community Development Center. It is also the oldest student-volunteer program of De La Salle University – Dasmarinas in fulfillment of its holistic Lasallian formation and social action program.

SAS-ALT 2013

For this year, SAS was held in the beautiful Lopez Farm in Naic, Cavite. Getting there was a real challenge as there were no markers or signage to point where it is exactly. In general though, it is located in Barangay Sabang, Naic, Cavite some two and a half hours south of Manila.

It’s on the left hand side of the road from Pala-pala where you’d have to keep an eye out for a great white wall quickly followed by an old factory painted in green with a metal gate. Right beside is it a narrow dirt road that winds its way through a rice field which easily becomes impassable for cars and sedans once heavy rain turns into a small creek.

But the short adventure ride is rewarded by the sight of Lopez Farm which really gives you a nice, relaxed and peaceful countryside ambiance. ideal for retreats, gatherings and of course training.

We stayed there for one and a half days which was spent on a good combination of lectures and team-building activities designed to welcome students into the life of being a Lasallian volunteer. My fellow alumni joined in as well continuing the tradition of “once a volunteer, always a volunteer.”

The gist of my presentation, could be summed up in the following line from the Principles of Lasallian Social Development ((Guiding Principles of the Philippine Lasallian Family, 2nd Edition)):

Lasallians must act to eliminate forms of human suffering that contradict God’s plan of fullness of life.

I look forward to joining them again in their up coming activities. Seeing the passion in their eyes, I quite pleased and proud to say that after we’ve been long gone from DLSU-D, the spirit of Lasallian volunteerism lives on and just keeps on getting stronger. You can learn more about them via their Facebook page here. Students of DLSU-D can make their college life more worthwhile by joining and becoming a volunteer. 🙂