Student Leaders Speak Up Post-Yolanda
Students may look at natural calamities differently after the recent Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the whole of Eastern Visayas. Students may start thinking about the road ahead for safety, preparedness and rehabilitation in times of disasters, by ignoring which students, faculty and staff of UP Tacloban and Palo, among others, were left in a vulnerable situation.
The most vital part of planning, say representatives from student institutions, is that efforts must not only provide relief and psychosocial activities but also long-term solutions for the sustenance of those affected.
In an interview with the UP FORUM (UPF), Student Regent (SR) Krista V. Melgarejo and UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor (USCC) Allynna-Haneefa A. Macapado talk about disaster vulnerabilities, impacts, adaptation, mitigation and current agenda on disaster risk management.
Q. How did Typhoon Yolanda affect the students in the disaster-stricken regions?
SR: During the first few days after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Eastern Visayas area, our students experienced a lot of emotional struggles upon hearing horrible news from their hometowns. During that period, I encountered one UP Diliman student who cried her heart out because she had heard that several members of her family died during the tragedy. She didn’t know what to do and could not even think about where to get money for her tuition and how she would survive. All she knew was that she lost her loved ones. But now, a few months after the tragedy, and knowing that their lives will never be the same again, our students are rising up and calling on the UP administration and the national government to immediately address the demands of our countrymen from Eastern Visayas.
USCC: Students affected by Typhoon Yolanda are now most vulnerable to the self-serving national administration the Philippines has. Despite the damage the typhoon has brought, it seems that the administration is not sincere in its actions to help the victims. The government’s rehabilitation program is very slow and the prices of goods and commodities in affected areas are exponentially increasing. More than anything else, aside from the psychological and emotional support students from Eastern Visayas need, their primary concerns are immediate rehabilitation of their campuses and housing units as well as maximum financial assistance from the government for them to be able to continue their studies. Without the national government’s quick action to decrease tuition fees in universities, the students would not see any hope in even stepping at the doorsteps of any university again.
Q. How did Typhoon Yolanda affect UP students?
SR: Super Typhoon Yolanda caused a lot of problems for our students, not only in their homes but also with their studies. Those who cross-registered in other constituent universities are having problems with different subjects and curricula. They are also struggling with their STFAP re-bracketting. Student leaders have reported to the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) that cross-registrants still have to go through a rigorous process to prove that they were heavily affected by the typhoon.
USCC: A significant percentage of the UP student population has been greatly affected by the typhoon. Two of its campuses, the UP Visayas Tacloban College and the UP Manila School of Health Sciences in Palo, Leyte were devastated by the typhoon, with their buildings almost impossible to rehabilitate. The typhoon has led the students, both the affected and not, to maximize all possible means to help their fellow Iskolar ng Bayan. More than that, the typhoon has encouraged the students to voice their demands to the administration. It is in times like this that the mandate of the USC to serve not just the students but the entire Filipino people is put to a test. The USC, being the highest governing body of the studentry faced the challenge of seeing the connection between the impact of typhoon Yolanda and the current issues affecting Philippine society and explain these to the students.
Q. In terms of adaptation and mitigation, what were the practices, options, and constraints that students encountered? What measures do you recommend for the benefit of all stakeholders?
SR: Proper disaster risk management, from the time the disaster occurred until its aftermath, not only providing relief efforts and psychosocial activities but also long-term plans to continually support those who are affected.
USCC: Currently, the affected students, most especially those who chose to continue their studies in Tacloban and Palo, are asking the university to automatically re-bracket them to Bracket E2. Dorms / residence halls in these campuses are also in need of immediate repair. The students are also badly in need of working academic facilities (labs, etc). For their meals, UP sponsors one meal for each student a day. The students are asking if this can be extended to three meals. So far, all assistance that the UP Tacloban and UP Palo have been getting are largely from private entities and from the little help the other UP units provide. However, what the affected students need is not charity from different individuals or groups. What they need is a policy or memorandum from the Board of Regents stating concrete assistance from the UP System administration, like automatic re-bracketing to E2 of the students, waiving their dorm fee until they have fully recovered from the typhoon, securing their three meals a day in partnership with the University Food Service, etc. The affected students are in need of special consideration in their academic life, so it would be very beneficial if the University can provide free make-up lectures for them
Q. What are your insights, experience, and lessons from Yolanda?
SR: From this experience, we learned that relief goods and donations can only do so much in the short term. What we need is for the UP administration and the national government to provide Yolanda survivors with substantial long-term solutions.
USCC: The typhoon has made us realize how unprepared the country is when it comes to calamities as strong as Yolanda. The Philippines is lagging behind in its disaster-preparedness measures. The number of deaths the super typhoon caused could have been less if the country was fully prepared when the typhoon struck. With the advance in technology, it could have been already predicted that mere evacuation to nearby areas was not enough. The Philippines should invest in long-term disaster-preparedness measures especially now that the route of typhoons is slowly changing. However, the Filipino people are stronger than the storm surge. It is in times like this that we see the Filipino people uniting to help our kababayan not just through donations but by asserting and demanding from the national government what they need and what they deserve. Sabi nga, ang karapatan, hindi dapat pinapalimos. Kung hindi ito binibigay, sama-samang assertion ang kailangan.
Q. What is the OSR’s current agenda in line with disasters?
SR: With this experience, we learned that the UP administration can actually implement a lower tuition rate system (from the STFAP re-bracketting of the students). That is why we continually call for the exploration and later implementation of a lower flat rate tuition in the University because it is actually feasible.
USCC: UP has certain measures on disaster preparedness like seminars and related activities. What it lacks is post-disaster preparedness. It’s been more than two months after the typhoon struck yet the rehabilitation plan for UP Tacloban and UP Palo is so delayed. Demands of the UP students and faculty affected by the typhoon are still being lobbied with the BoR through Tindog Network (Network of Families, Friends and Supporters of the Survivors of Typhoon Yolanda), but the Board has not answered the demands yet. The UP General Assembly of Student Councils has also drafted a resolution to be presented by the student regent in the next BoR meeting.
Q. What are the current policies and management issues on disasters that may be useful for UP and other SUCs?
SR: Aside from consolidating the efforts of the administration and other sectors of the UP community to call for relief operations, we should also come up with long-term solutions in order to assist those who were affected by the typhoon (ex. immediately exempt them from paying the high cost of tuition, provide free lodging in the dorms, etc.)
USCC: This is an ongoing study by the USC that is yet to be explored.
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