THOMASIANS have denounced the exclusion of “abstain” in the ballots for this year’s Central Student Council (CSC) Executive Board elections, saying its absence denies their right to manifest their disapproval for candidates they do not deem fit to be in the council. 

Bianca Lacaba, president of the Thomasian Debaters Council, said the overwhelming abstentions last year was a “sign that students were tired of the same old antics” pulled by the candidates.

“[W]hile our [UST] Central Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided to treat leaving the ballot unanswered as an expression of dissatisfaction, I feel it’s important to explicitly place an option to abstain or cast a vote of no confidence. That’s more straightforward and personally empowering for a voter like me,” Lacaba told the Varsitarian in a text message.

Neal Tayco, president of the UST Literary Society, said leaving a ballot unanswered would present a “moral dilemma” for student voters.

Medyo nakakatakot when we’re faced with a candidate na siya lang tumatakbo for a position… More than anything, pinapakita ng mga ganitong situation [that] our UST Students’ Elections Code (USEC) is outdated and is in dire need of revision,” Tayco said.

Nicolo Bongolan, a political science senior, said he was against the “removal of giving the Thomasian community a choice of who they want to represent them” and called for the revision of the USEC.

“[T]he Thomasian community does not deserve a system which undermines their democratic rights and interests. What we would want is for the USEC to be reviewed, broadened, and fixed with a pro-student agenda,” Bongolan said.

The removal of “abstain” was similar to silencing student dissent, Raphaella Miranda, a student from the UST Graduate School, said.

“The ‘abstain’ option in the ballot gave the students an avenue to express their dissatisfaction with the current candidates, and… it allows for the elections to still be considered as successful because it’s counted in the voter turnouts,” Miranda said in an online interview.

For Senior High School (SHS) students Pablo Foronda-Tanglao and Shotaro Akehira, the absence of “abstain” was “undemocratic” and “ineffective.”

“The mass abstentions and championing of independents last year was an unprecedented victory for progressive Thomasians everywhere, it was the point where we were able to all come together and reclaim the nobility of student governance,” Tanglao, who was also a former SHS student council chief of staff, said.

Jeremiah Pasion, candidate for CSC public relations officer, filed on April 1 an appeal to the Comelec to reconsider its move in excluding “abstain” from the ballots and upholding the 25 percent minimum vote requirement for lone candidates.

Comelec announced on March 8 the removal of the “abstain” option in the online ballotings, in compliance with the order of the Central Judiciary Board (CJB). Voters are now left with the option to leave a positions unanswered.

The Comelec, however, clarified that choosing not to vote for a candidate in the ballots would not result in having no winners.

“From our meeting with [our legal adviser] Atty. Alfonso Versoza, the voter who left a position blank is the same as the voter who didn’t go to the polls, from a legal perspective,” Ivan Pulanco, Comelec secretary to the adjudicatory, told the Varsitarian.

Citing Article 1, Section 8 of the USEC, Pulanco said  failure of elections would only be declared if both candidates for a certain position failed to garner 25 percent of the votes.

He added the 25-percent limit would be calculated based on the registered voters in UST for that semester.

Candidates Francis Gabriel “Kiko” Santos, Victor Amores, Carol Anne Balita, Robert Dominic Gonzales, Jan Krianne Pineda, Jeremiah Pasion, Adrian Lee Fernando and Alek Pierce Joell Sta. Ana said they would not accept the position if an overwhelming number of Thomasians would choose not to vote for a candidate, even if they had higher votes against their opponents.

[K]ung mas mataas ang boto ng unanswered sa akin, maituturing ko itong ‘vote of no confidence’ sa akin ng mga Tomasino at mahirap yun, kaya I will humbly decline the position,” Santos said in a text message.

Karizza Kamille Cruz, candidate for president, said she would accept the position if she would garner more votes against the opponent despite higher “unanswered” count.

“[The Thomasians] deserve the leader whom they voted for as against the overwhelming ‘unanswered’ who opted not to cast their votes. Positions need to be filled up to have an effective and efficient student government,” Cruz said.

On July 24 last year, the Central Judiciary Board, the CSC’s judicial arm, issued a resolution ordering the Comelec to proclaim the winners with the highest number of votes. 

The CJB ruled that the Comelec violated Article 10, Section 5 of the USEC: “The ballots shall contain: The printed names of the candidates, under the position to which they aspire, followed by their party affiliation; a printed box appearing before the candidate’s name; a serial number; and printed instructions on how to accomplish the ballot.”


Lawyer Enrique de la Cruz, an electoral law expert, said leaving the ballot unanswered would still bestill an exercise of a student’s choice not to vote.

“The choice of ‘not voting’ is a fundamental right, a free expression of political discontent… [T]he right to vote, just like any other right, can be waived and hence in itself is a right not to vote and deserve constitutional protection,” de la Cruz told the Varsitarian.

Philip Aguinaldo, judge at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court and Civil Law Comelec adviser, said the inclusion of “abstain” in the ballots could lead to the indecision of voters, which would then defeat an election’s purpose.

“It would be better if the ballots [will] not include “abstain” because it is an invitation to passivity or even the [creation of] a bandwagon mentality,” Aguinaldo said in an email interview with the Varsitarian.

Dennis Coronacion, chairman of the UST political science department, said the placement inclusion of “abstain” along with the list of candidates in the ballots was a “wrong practice.”

“You should not place ‘[“abstain”’] there kasi it is suggesting and it is enticing the voters to choose that tick box or abstain… Pero if it’s not there, you simply don’t write anything. ganun lang `yun and it’s considered as abstain,” Coronacion said.

Active student participation

Coronacion said the new ballot format would not prevent the student voters from abstention and that they could still abstain by not marking the ballots.

“The absence of any mark simply means that the student voter opts not to choose from among the candidates in a given position,” Coronacion said in an interview.

Coronacion urged Thomasians to be educated in the regular elections by being active and vigilant as early as the filing of candidacy.

Several local Comelec units would follow the Central Comelec in removing “abstain” in their local student council elections ballots.

These colleges include: Faculty of Sacred Theology, Faculty of Philosophy, College of Architecture, Faculty of Arts and Letters, Faculty of Civil Law, College of Commerce and Business Administration, College of Education, Faculty of Engineering, College of Fine Arts and Design, Institute of Information and Computing Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, Conservatory of Music, Institute of Physical Education and Athletics, College of Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Science, College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Education High School and Junior High School.

The UST-Alfredo M. Velayo College of Accountancy, College of Nursing, Faculty of Pharmacy and Senior High School would retain “abstain” in their ballots, while the Faculty of Canon Law has yet to decide on the matter as of writing. Job Anthony R. Manahan and Samantha-Wee Lipana with reports from Elmer B. Coldora and Julia Claire Medina


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