There are currently 1,732 students residing in the affected areas of Batangas, Rizal, Bulacan,Quezon, Marikina, Isabela, Cagayan, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur and Norte, and Mindoro according to the Office of the University Registrar’s (OUR) Student Academic Information System team (SAIS) Team.
During late October and early November, three major typhoons, Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses hit the Philippines consecutively bringing heavy rains and strong winds causing property destruction, power disruptions, and internet connectivity issues in the provinces affected, making it more difficult for students to keep up with their deadlines. On top of that, they also had to worry about the impending disaster as well as their recovery.
One of the places devastated by the unforgiving weather conditions for the past few weeks is Cagayan. The Cagayan River overflowed due to continuous rains, forcing the Magat dam to open its flood gates. In just a few hours, almost the entire Cagayan Valley along with Isabela was engulfed by the river.
Gio Sabado, a second-year Agricultural Biotechnology student from UPLB, was one of those severely affected by the flood in Tuguegarao, Cagayan.
“We live near one of the smaller rivers in the city that is directly connected to the Cagayan River. On the day of the storm, the water crept into our house. Even with the updates we only saw from the internet [sic] of how Magat Dam would release water or open several gates. We did not have any idea which areas would be affected, how high the water would be, [and] what we needed to prepare. The water kept on rising even after the storm happened and our house’s first-floor was fully submerged in the flood,” Gio lamented.
The calamity caused a huge blow to their community. They mentioned that several barangays were still flooded, and it took them three days to clean their house of debris and mud yet Gio still considers themselves lucky compared to neighbors who lost even more. When asked about the plans to continue the semester, Gio seems to be focusing more on their recovery and a conscious effort to help the community.
“The storm has drained me mentally, emotionally, and physically. Even after it happened, we had to make efforts to save other Cagayanos who were starving and had no idea how to re-establish their ground in life. Kami kami na rin lang yung nagtutulungan. Pero napakahirap kasi magbigay ng bagay na wala rin sayo. Wala kaming oras, enerhiya at kapasidad dahil inubos na ng bagyo,” Gio added.
Jefferson*, a second-year BS Economics student in UPLB from Catanduanes, was battered by all three typhoons but it was typhoon Rolly that took a toll on his home and family. He recalled that during the onslaught of the supertyphoon, parts of their house like their doors were broken, windows were shattered, and roofs were swept away, and the only place they could take shelter was their parents’ room.
“Halos maiyak na ako non lalo na nung nakita ko si papang nakatulala nalang iba yung trauma talaga,” he added.
According to Jefferson, they were caught by surprise despite their usual pre-typhoon preparations. They did not realize that the storm would do so much damage to their home and community.
“[Three] days after nung bagyo kami nagkaroon ng signal ulit and nagulat talaga ako na umabot pala ng signal no. 5 samin kasi before ako matulog nung Oct. 31 nawalan na agad ng signal non, around 9 or 10 pm, and ang last kong balita ay signal no. 4 lang basta ayon physically, mentally and emotionally draining talaga yung pangyayari,” he said.
Unfortunately, they were not spared from the wrath of another typhoon: Ulysses. They went back to square one after the last typhoon — preparation and cleaning became their routine. Despite his willingness to continue the semester, hurdles left by the typhoon still linger.
Call for the UPLB administration’s immediate action
According to the University Student Council’s (USC) survey last August, four out of 5 students were unfit for online learning. Any student would feel the strain on their bandwidth more immensely especially when three typhoons hit consecutively amidst the global pandemic. It should be taken into consideration that the situation today is different from previous calamities therefore it should not be treated as the “usual.” Gio calls for more compassion and understanding from the administration, as well as an immediate action.
“Please do not wait for storms to come to you before you realize how much we have suffered. We are grieving not only for our families but for our futures. We ask for genuine service and understanding; time and compassion. We are eager to learn and know so much more of the world but the wick on our life’s candles is burning faintly. Do not let our hopes and aspirations to be better Filipinos turn into pipe dreams because you chose to turn a blind eye on our suffering.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson said that he is having difficulty trying to “get back on track”.
“After all the typhoons, I think we’re pretty much back to normal na [though], wala pa ring kuryente and tubig since Oct. 25 pa. I’m still trying to get back on the track kaso ang hirap talaga. Before all the typhoons na dumaan, medyo okay lang naman yung setup… wala akong masyadong backlogs and siguro yung problema lang talaga eh di malakas [or] stable yung signal ng internet samin plus yung power interruptions pa.”
With the students calling to end the semester, the administration needs to consider carefully the decisions they make. The administration should first and foremost listen to its constituents, reiterating that this situation is not normal and has been taking a toll mentally, emotionally, and physically on students and faculty alike.
Liberty Notarte-Balanquit, a professor from CAS, under the department of Humanities shared the same sentiments on the call to end the semester.
“We, academics, should realize that not all circumstances are up for long debates. Some need quicker responses. Sometimes, especially in times of crisis, necessary unities do not require processing all our individual reservations.”
Apart from ending the semester, the student body also recommends that the administration should use the time to thoroughly assess and plan for the next semester because, since the beginning of the school year, faculty and students alike described the past few months of the semester to be ineffective. It is worth noting that one month into the semester, students were already petitioning for academic ease led by the UPLB University Student Council (USC), together with Rise for Education (R4E) – UPLB, Samahan ng Kabataan para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN) UPLB, and Kulturang Ugnayan ng Kabataan Alay sa Bayan (KULAYAN) UPLB last October 19.
This petition includes a 15-point agenda which, generally, calls for a lighter curriculum, flexible and considerable deadlines, regular consultations with student councils, and waiving of absences and failing grades. It also calls for the institutionalizing of regular academic breaks or a week allotted for students and faculty to “recharge” mentally and physically. And lastly, the call to provide emotional and financial support to those in need.
The All UP Academic Employees Union – Los Baños released a letter last November 19 appealing to the UPLB Faculty to join the call to end the semester. They suggested the “opening of classrooms” which meant that there would be no more graded assessments, continuous distribution of materials and sessions online, ungraded discussions or consultations with the students, and craft a bridging program in order to address issues on academic backlogs.
Amid the ongoing calls to end the semester, CAS faculty members and a number of professors have moved to end the submission of requirements and voluntarily ended the semester for their respective classes to lessen the anxiety of the students, especially students whose main focus is recovery.
According to Reya Mari Veloso, a professor from the Department of Humanities, apart from educating the students, it is also their job to consider the welfare of their students.
“At the core of my job as your teacher is always service and compassion to my students. Your lives matter more than PDF files, Google Classroom activities, or even numerical grades.”
It is the UP administration’s duty to uphold honor and excellence but this can only be done by heeding the needs of their constituents such as the faculty and students who are directly affected by the decisions they make. [P]
UPLB’s Disaster Response Task Force is calling for donations for the benefit of the survivors of Typhoon Quinta, Super Typhoon Rolly, and Typhoon Ulysses.
For monetary donations, you can send them through the following accounts:
Mariah Joy B. Dela Providencia
SA 1896 3523 73
Charmane Jay Paguyo Maranan
0919 2332 49
For donations in kind, our official drop off point is at the Student Union Building, UP Los Baños. For more inquiries, you may message us at our social media accounts, @stpbuplb on Facebook and Twitter.
Should you want to help as a volunteer, sign up now using this link: https://bit.ly/3fWlitu
Photo by Leo Verdad