By Mark Ernest Famatigan
It was afternoon when aProf. Janette Malata-Silva, volunteer faculty from the Department of Humanities (DHum) and president of the All UP Academic Employees Union-Los Banos (AUPAEU-LB), received a call from a representative of the UPLB administration—expressing that she will be held liable for the student volunteers of the Serve the People Brigade Task Force Community Unit Response (STPB TF CURE), in case they get sick with COVID-19.
“I received a call early afternoon today from a representative of UPLB admin reminding me that the Union, or I specifically, will be held responsible should the STPB TF CURE volunteer-students be afflicted by the COVID-19. I said I’ll take responsibility. I can be held accountable,” Malata-Silva said.
She claimed that with over a thousand students in the community stranded, there was a need to conduct volunteer operations to ensure that the students are fed.
“STPB knows that its member organizations need to reconvene as there were no plans for the stranded students in place yet. We need to mobilize the community for a quick response operation. Otherwise, 1,505 students will go hungry. That is simply unacceptable. So with precautionary measures in mind, we began our work,” she said.
Moreover, the national chapter of the All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU) issued a statement criticizing the UPLB admin and standing with the volunteers in Los Baños.
“It is unimaginable that the UPLB administration chose to issue a veiled threat against AUPAEU-LB’s Dr. Silva in a time when unified efforts must be encouraged to respond to the university community’s needs,” AUPAEU said.
They emphasized the need to feed the students who are stranded in the community, and not of the “bruised ego” of the UPLB admin.
“UPLB needs all the help it can get with 715 UP dormers and 790 students stranded in dormitories and apartments outside campus. Stranded students must be fed, not the bruised ego of some administrators,” they said.
Negotiating to volunteer
Malate-Silva said that the STPB TF CURE had to lobby with the UPLB admin the possibility of having a command center for the volunteers wide enough for social distancing, and a space for volunteer cooks. The admin, however, disapproved the volunteers’ request and they were forced to improvise.
“We failed to secure a command center inside the campus. We failed to secure a space for the mobile kitchen inside the campus. The Student Union Building could have been a strategic location for these,” she said. “It is big enough to accommodate the volunteers who can observe one-meter physical distance and it is near the dormitories where the stranded students are. So we had to improvise. We need to work with the other members of the community and alliance work, we go. “
University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Jasper Sunga mentioned the confusion involved in negotiating with the admin for the command center and cooking area.
“Before ‘yan [na lobbying] ay confusing pa nga ang final na directive. Ang una ay limang tao lang pwede magstay sa SU, tapos the day after sinabi yun ay naging dalawa and hours after ay zero na kasi total lockdown nga sa campus,” he said.
USC Vice Chairperson Jainno Bongon added that it was Los Banos Mayor Cesar Perez’s suggestion to have the relief efforts conducted in the campus, yet they were denied.
“They really didn’t want it inside the campus. They were dead set against it. We talked to Mayor Perez and he suggested that our relief efforts be done inside the campus for safety reasons but still, the administration denied us of that,” Bongon said.
He believed that this disapproval was so the admin would not be held accountable, should anything go wrong with the volunteers.
“With what they said to the Union, I am led to believe that all of these were just says so they wouldn’t be held accountable if anything happens to the volunteers and the hundreds of students stranded here because of their unclear policies,” he said.
Malata-Silva clarified that the STPB was an initiative of the students, and has been helping communities in need through relief operations even before the pandemic.
“STPB has long been serving the people even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the initiative of UPLB Student Council, SAKBAYAN, YAPJUST, and Acad Union-LB, STPB was born,” she said.
She added that it was the same alliance which helped communities in need when people were evacuating away from the Taal volcano.
“It was initially convened to provide relief operations to victims of Taal eruption early this year. When Taal volcano erupted, STPB volunteers were among the first, and actually the most consistent, face of relief operations in Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite,” Malata-Silva said.
For the past two days, the STPB TF CURE has been distributing food to stranded residents in the community. [P]