COVID-19 Watch Opinion

Absentee administration

By Philip Xavier Li
It was late January when the coronavirus was confirmed to have entered the country, coinciding closely with the annual Feb Fair. With a large gathering of people in one space, many people (justifiably) saw the spread of the virus as a concern and called to postpone or even cancel the event for the school year. Though reasonable, doing so would have been a logistical nightmare, and thus the event was pushed through at great risk. The UPLB admin’s passive-aggressive approach to the whole affair certainly was not helpful – Chancellor Sanchez would not cancel, but he would also not assist the USC in taking precautionary measures, while the UHS went to great lengths to suggest that the fair all but be canceled.
Over a month has now passed since the first case. Reported cases of the virus have risen nationwide, and public unrest has culminated in Pres. Duterte issuing a lockdown on the entire NCR. But as other universities are suspending classes to move to online classes, the UPLB admin has remained shockingly silent, in fact being one of the last UP campuses to suspend classes. Instead, they dragged their feet on announcing the suspension of classes until last Friday, after announcing there would be no suspension until there was a confirmed case in the campus. Canceling of classes was left to the professors’ discretion in lieu of any official plan from above. To top it off, UPLB had the gall to announce the campus was COVID-19 free!
This is incredibly irresponsible of the UPLB admin for no shortage of reasons. The lack of transparency regarding cases of persons under inspection/monitoring (PUI/PUM) only fueled panic among students. In addition, it has been a hassle to the many students living in the NCR, and to the many others living in other provinces, to see the admin flip-flopping on giving the go-ahead to go home. Most of all, were it not for the USC pressing the situation, we would not have learned that the admin had in fact not planned or even discussed the impending situation, and they might not have even done so by now.
If the past has proven anything, it is that this not uncommon behavior for the UPLB admin. Many student calls have been in response to the admin’s almost pathological refusal to address their needs in any substantial way – junking the grossly inefficient SAIS, resolving the perennial MRR and readmission dilemmas, giving more student spaces, and many more. All of these were met by, at best, indifference, and at worst outright opposition. The only difference is that for the first time, their complacency placed students in direct danger.
All of this makes the admin’s backhanded response just a month prior even more outrageous. In that short timespan, they graduated from being content to watch from the backseat to literally being asleep on the wheel. They decided that instead of letting the USC take the blame for their own complacency, they could do one better by not doing anything at all. Such incompetence could be expected from someone like Duterte, but from Chancellor Sanchez? It’s insulting, more than anything.
At a time when tensions are high within the university and without, the UPLB admin has shown a stunning failure to respond to the situation. In the absence of a student body to act as a scapegoat, Sanchez has exposed what his leadership represents – an often empty throne that alternates between malice and complacency. Now, more than ever, we should no longer tolerate such blatantly incompetent, student-hostile leadership. Sanchez should be held accountable. If we as Filipino citizens are compelled to demand competent leadership from our authority, then we as scholars very well should start here in our university. [P]

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