Sunday, February 25, 2024

Necessary checks

the Weekly Sillimanian | November 23, 2023

Many of the proposed amendments to the 2021 Silliman University Student Government (SUSG) Constitution initially discussed in the Student Assembly’s 7th regular session focused on the separation of powers and the measures necessary to keep such powers in check. The Weekly Sillimanian believes this is a step in the right direction for the SUSG considering the strongly partisan context in which its elective positions have always operated—even if many would have you believe that blue and green end when service begins. 

Particularly, we commend the provisions proposed for the SUSG Judiciary that not only guarantee earlier appointments, but ones screened by a body that more aptly reflects the independent nature of the judiciary. 

In fact, we believe that how the prime justice for this school year was appointed reveals the necessity and urgency of the latter amendment. 

The prime justice for this school year, Hon. Kyle Balansag, ran under the banner of CAUSE party in his successful bid as Law Representative in the 32nd Student Assembly. While the campaign took place in SY 2021–2022, he was also part of the majority floor in the school year immediately preceding the current one. Notably, the judiciary is supposed to decide election cases—just as it has been most known for in the past years of its operations.

Balansag said that any controversy connecting his past affiliation to his current appointment would have to be proven with evidence and legal basis given that the judiciary’s mandate is to be impartial. The minority floor of the Assembly has also not raised an issue with Balansag’s past affiliation, with their leader saying that they have trust in those who made the appointment. 

However, that does not mean the events leading up to the prime justice’s appointment are unquestionable. 

That the ad interim judicial appointments were done without releasing names; that there were no official announcements from the SUSG aside from a live-streamed session with a short committee report that made some of these appointments official; that there was no public discussion or inquiry into any of the appointees’ past or present political affiliations—all of these events are certainly not the worst or most egregious regarding the judicial appointments, but they leave room for speculation. Such speculation will not need legal basis in the court of public opinion, where it can significantly damage the student body’s trust in the judiciary.

The apparent lack of transparency and avenues to comprehensively discuss what it takes to ensure the independence of the judiciary are mere manifestations of insufficient measures to guarantee both of these important values—gaps in a system that can easily be exploited by any ill-intentioned leaders now or in the future. This is why the Weekly Sillimanian commends the SUSG Student Assembly for promptly proposing measures such as the SUSG equivalent of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in their amendments to the 2021 SUSG Constitution. We are only regretful that such measures had not been implemented years prior.

Like the JBC, the SUSG’s proposed Judicial Advisory Council (JAC) will be an independent body that will screen and submit a shortlist of judicial nominees that the SUSG President chooses from. The JAC shall be composed of, among other expert members, two representatives of the Student Assembly each coming from the majority and minority floors. The inclusion of such a provision, we believe, underscores the importance of a nonpartisan judiciary.

To go even further, however, we call for the JAC to publicize parts of the screening to be transparent with the student body as well as show the justices’ capabilities and principles, just as the JBC does when it releases its list of nominees, how JBC members voted, and livestreams interviews with the Chief Justice nominees.

The judiciary must always be independent. Unlike other appointive positions in the SUSG, the judiciary should be the student body’s final line of defense should there be any wrong done by the other branches of the SUSG.

We are glad that the Student Assembly has taken prompt and decisive action within its capacity. We truly hope these provisions can be approved and ratified for the next school year. Otherwise, we will be right back where we started—or perhaps even worse off: With a judiciary no longer paralyzed by short terms of office, but one that they may also come to distrust. Considering the partisan undercurrents that have long plagued our SUSG, measures such as these are not just a commendable effort, but a long-overdue necessity that should inspire more measures that work in the same vein.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The word “taken” has been changed to “raised” in the sentence, “The minority floor of the Assembly has also not raised an issue with Balansag’s past affiliation.” This was done for clarity.

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