Two days shy of the university and college student council elections in UP Diliman, get to know the woman who steered the USC through school year 2011-2012.
It is 6 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. Jemimah Grace “Gem” Garcia sits at the foot of a staircase in Vinzons Hall, her long dark hair coiled in a loose bun. A plate of pancit canton and barbecue lay balanced on her lap.
“Dinner?” I ask.
She smiles and says, “Lunch.”
Delayed meals and hourly meetings have become part and parcel of Gem’s school days since the start of her term as UP Diliman’s University Student Council (USC) Chairperson.
At 23 years old, this junior at the UP College of Law has been feted for her academic performance, while simultaneously taking on leadership roles in mass organizations like Anakbayan and the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND-UP).
In this exclusive interview, Gem eases from English to Filipino and zeroes in on her leadership style, the incumbent council’s working relationship and her aspirations in life.
What got you started in student politics?
I was entering third year when I was offered to run for Journalism Representative. There were a lot of controversial issues at the time, like the slashing of the Philippine Collegian’s funds and the 300-percent tuition fee increase. If only to propagate the issues, I decided to run.
After that stint, I became chairperson of Anakbayan UP Diliman for almost two years. I often speak during rallies, conduct room-to-room campaigns and interact with other organizations. They must have seen that strength of mine: having dialogues with and explaining things to people comes easily for me.
Why pursue law?
It’s my father’s dream for me. He never got the chance to, because he came from a poor family. But more than that, I saw the benefit of having lawyers with the perspective of service for the people. One of [my] main motivations was the fact that when I was deciding whether or not to take the LAE, Atty. Saladero of Kilusang Mayo Uno was implicated in the bombing of a cell site.
I took my undergraduate internship in Pinoy Weekly, where my beat assignment was labor unions inPasig. That was how labor issues became very close to my heart. It was when Atty. Saladero was implicated that I realized how there was a shortage of nationalist lawyers today, especially in labor.
Their ranks are few to begin with, yet some of them are abducted, imprisoned, killed – that challenged me. So when I passed the Law Aptitude Exam, I was also excited to pursue law because I had that kind of advocacy.
What role do you believe your ideology plays in your leadership?
The main thrust of Anakbayan and the organizations I belong to is that real strength lies with the masses. From the masses, for the masses. This is the concept of collective leadership that I brought with me to the USC. Even our USC constitution calls for student empowerment – it’s not just about one person leading the council to do what she wants.
This is the council being a means through which the students achieve greater victories. This we achieve with the USC at the forefront of the unities of students, whenever their rights or those of the nation’s are trampled upon. The USC should be the first to rally the students together to stand united against such.
How is your academic standing?
I’m in good academic standing. In my first year of UP law, I was in the top 10 of my batch. I was a member of the Order of the Purple Feather, the honors society of our college. I was one of the 10 students of UP law who were invited to intern at CVC Law, one of the biggest law firms in the country. But I turned it down. I didn’t apply because I found out that CVC was the defense firm of [Daniel] Smith in the Subic rape case, so it was against my principles.
What are your top five priorities?
In no particular order: Family. The movement. Council. Brods and sisses. Acads.
How do you keep organized ?
I use my cellphone calendar. More than that, though, it’s all about trust and delegation among councilmates. More often than not, I only ask for a break when it’s already finals week. But if I can still do something to help out, I would. And of course, after that one-week reprieve, it’s back to work.
How would you describe your dynamics as a council?
This is a very opinionated council. As in. We have clashes in opinion, as with any other USC. But what I’m proud of is that we clash on ideology. This means that principled debates usually transpire.
For example, our debates on issues like land reform and the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program really takes hours. And our principle has always been let the sharpest argument win. We exhaust all arguments of both sides, but at the end of the day, we try to reach a concensus. We rarely divide the house.
How do you unwind?
I go out with my friends or hang out at their tambayan. Videoke too. I also like to have DVD marathons and watch movies…yes, even by myself.
What’s next for you in the political arena?
In so far as a political position is concerned, I feel that I’ve come full circle. Some people attribute power or influence with my position. Not really. For me, being a USC chair is more of a big responsibility than anything else.
Quite frankly, I don’t like being in the limelight. And I really miss my mass organizations. I miss integrating with students and discussing issues with them on a daily basis. So I might go back to my orgs, or involve myself in other organizations with the same advocacy.
Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years?
By that time, I will already be a lawyer. I’d like to think I’d have a husband and children then. By that time, I would have already fulfilled my dream of studying in a cosmetics school. I would most likely be part of National Union of People’s Lawyers. I’d be doing a lot of lawyering for human rights cases, land reform, labor.
I don’t have any political ambition. I don’t want to run for any local or national position. If there is one thing I would consider, that would be sectoral representation in Congress. We’ll see. Because with my law background and experience as USC chairperson, I think that’s feasible. But I’m not trapo to go soliciting for a position. Perhaps if there’s an opportunity, I’d go. But if not, the advocacy carries on. What’s important is that your principles are intact, and everything you do would be for that goal.