BY NICOLE ANGELA MALLARI AND GEMMA ESTEBAN
Brought by the new academic calendar, 2014 has been a challenging year for the University of the Philippines (UP).
But despite the blast that the shift had already rendered, UP was not spared by more issues which even intensified the dilemma of its administration.
SAIS turned out problematic for UP Manila
This year the UP administration implemented eUP, an online platform program in which one of the core information systems is the Student Academic Information System (SAIS).
SAIS is a wider database system than its predecessor, the Computerized Registration System (CRS). It is supposed to integrate all UP units, making student, faculty and alumni information available in one database. Also, it is expected to make transferring from campus to campus, grades-viewing, and cross-registration easier.
However, during its pilot run in UP Manila in August, it did not only complicate the enlistment process but prolonged the registration and delayed some classes as well.
The new registration website turned out with dismal results. The subjects enlisted by some students did not correspond with their year level. Some 3-unit subjects were changed to four units. The option “Term 1 AY 2014 – 2015”, necessary for the enlistment of the correct classes, did not appear in some students’ SAIS accounts also.
According to The Manila Collegian, most of the colleges decided to revert to CRS to proceed with the registration thus nullifying all previous enlistments for the semester. The College of Pharmacy (CP), meanwhile, resorted to using manual enlistment.
The SAIS team is still working to improve this new venture. SAIS has only been partially launched in UP Manila and UP Open University, and is still expected to replace CRS in other UP units as well in the future.
GAB CAF shutdown met by protests
Another issue that bombarded UP Manila this year was the termination of the university’s canteen in light of a new student center.
The UP Manila administration closed down the small businesses of food concessionaires by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) parking lot, collectively known as Gusaling Andres Bonifacio (GAB) Café or “Gab Caf” on February 28.
This is to make way for the construction of the CAS Student Center, which will serve as the new cafeteria.
On Jan. 24, a UP Manila official informed the vendors that they only have 35 days left until they are obliged to leave the premises. Apparently, the Gab Caf concessionaires had been operating for more than five years without a written contract.
The decision was met by strong opposition from both the vendors and students. But, according to The Manila Collegian, instead of reconsidering the concessionaires’ appeals for temporary relocation, UP Manila officials had encouraged them to join the biddings that will be facilitated in order to reopen their stalls.
Students, with the support of some faculty members, organized room-to-room campaigns, educational discussions, a multi-sectoral shutdown and a solidarity march to denounce the sudden notice of eviction.
Meanwhile, CAS Chairperson John Psalmuel Chan said that more than the provision of food services, the issue concerns the lack of democratic consultation before the eviction of the concessionaires.
“’Wag tayong matakot na ipaglaban ang ating karapatan,” he says to promote the right of the students to oppose the administration’s decisions.
For most students, especially those with a full class schedule, the cafeteria provides accessible, nutritious, and affordable food.
Besides the cafeteria, the nearest food outlets available are fast food chains and restaurants in Robinsons Manila, which may not be reasonable to some students.
Student-activists faced public’s censure
This year, UP’s long-existent tradition of student-activism became the talk of the town, as it went from being a plain university-based issue into being the headline of mainstream newspapers and news channels.
On Sept. 19, the UP Administration together with 23 faculty members of the UP School of Economics (UPSE) condemned the alleged acts of hooliganism by student groups against budget secretary Florencio B. Abad inside the university.
Abad was invited on Sept. 17 by the University Student Council (USC) and the UPSE Student Council (UP SESC) to speak about the proposed national budget for 2015 at the UPSE Auditorium.
During the forum, Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND-UP), the largest party-alliance of student formations in the university, mobbed outside the venue, demanding accountability from the budget secretary.
Abad is accused as the primary implementer of the president’s P237 billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in July.
While Abad was on his way to a parked vehicle, student-activists reportedly thrown him placards and metal coins and grabbed him by the collar to deter his leaving.
According to the UPSE statement, as an invited guest, Abad was covered by the same blanket of academic freedom and safe passage that the University guarantees to all who set foot on campus.
UPSE also said some student activists celebrated their hooliganism as if it was a kind of victory. The college stated that the incident is not a victory, but instead a blow to UP’s honor.
Meanwhile, UP President Alfredo Pascual said UP students should have exercised courtesy and respect to the budget secretary for he was a guest like any other of the university during his visit.
“While UP constituents are free to actively express their views on issues that affect our nation, such as the proper use of public funds, UP does not condone the use of violence in any manner against any person, be it a member of the university community, a visitor, or a government official,” said Pascual.
Nonetheless, the members of UPSE professors and UP SESC called upon the accused to extend a public apology addressed to Abad and to the university for the riot that they caused.
STAND-UP, however, denied through a statement published on its social media accounts that the acts of hurting Abad was not real, saying crumpled papers and coins thrown at the budget secretary did not harm him at all.
“The economics professors’ condemnation means nothing to us. They have done nothing for the development of this country”, the group said in response to the “hooliganism” issue that turned the public’s side against them. The group also expressed that it would never give any apology to Abad and to the professors for what happened.
Meanwhile, online blogger and activist Tonyo Cruz expressed his support for the group saying the 23 UPSE faculty members who defended Abad actually brought shame to the University because they rejected UPs tradition of radical activism.
UP alumna and lawyer Trixie Cruz Angeles of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) also sided with the group, saying it is the obligation of citizens to protest.
“If we do not confront our officials, if we protect them from visions of angry mobs, we are creating conditions for a bigger, angrier and more violent scenario”, Angeles said via a Facebook status message.
CASAA employees troubled by possible job loss
UP Diliman’s Lantern Parade 2014 was indeed a special one for the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Association (CASAA) workers, for this annual gathering did not only signal the end of the previous semester, but also the end of their working stability.
The Business Concessions Office (BCO) of UP Diliman confirmed through a closed-door meeting with the CASAA concessionaires that the closure of the popular food center would no longer persist, but the continuity of its workers’ contracts was still vague.
Chancellor Michael Tan set on Nov. 19 a dialogue with the BCO and CASAA concessionaires to talk about the establishment’s closure due to rental fee increase. The discourse settled with the decision that CASAA would maintain its operation, yet there would be a change in the management of the food center.
From that, the concessionaires and BCO sounded off that the reemployment of CASAA dishwashers, janitors, busboys and Soda Fountain cashier would not be assured.
STAND-UP chairperson Charlotte France said they had already passed a petition with signatures of UP Diliman students to the UP administration before the Lantern Parade. The latter allowed the laborers to work until Dec. 17, the last day of the food center’s service for this year.
“The employees were advised to just wait, they said. That is why until now, nothing is clear about anything that the employees might hold on to. On Jan. 5, it is said that CASAA might reopen, but the employees do not know who will clean up and wash the dishes,” France said in Filipino.
CASAA nearly faced closure after the BCO forwarded to the UP administration a suggestion to increase its leasing cost. The CASAA Board of Trustees, an association of all CASAA concessionaires, decided in November to pull out from administering the food center given the increase in rental fee.
From its current rental fee of P106 thousand per month, BCO planned to augment the charge by 50 to 200 percent which would result to P300-P600 increase for every square meter.
The BCO then gave the concessionaires the whole month until Dec. 15 to operate.
To keep the decades-long tradition of serving affordable food inside UP Diliman, students organized “Save the CASAA Food Center,” an online movement which aimed to collect signatures from students to save the establishment. They also conducted an open vigil for the CASAA workers on Dec. 15. Protests and signing of the petition continued during the annual Lantern Parade with a so-called “Red Shirt Day”.