Citizen Journalist Speaks: My Personal Opinion about the Ombudsman Verdict on 9 BulSU Officials

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Office of the Ombudsman (File Photo from http//www.gov.ph)

As a student who should be aware of my surroundings, I feel obliged to voice out my opinion about the recent issue my university faces. Anyway, this should be the spirit of every citizen journalist, whether a mere commentator or someone who actually reports- to have a keen eye on anything which will affect the people.

A year ago, on August 19, seven Tourism students  from Bulacan State University passed away after being swept away by strong river currents in the Madlum River at San Miguel, Bulacan. They were on an exposure trip to Biak na Bato, and students claimed that they would not take the final exam if they joined the trip and wrote a report instead. Rains were heavy during that day, which caused waters to accumulate in the upstream and downpour causing a flash flood. Despite warnings from another student tour guide about the weather, the group still pushed through and continued the trip.

Photo by Diolo Santos from Facebook
Photo by Diolo Santos from Facebook

Nine Bulacan State University officials (Mariano de Jesus, university president; Nicanor de la Rama, vice president of student affairs; Nerisa Viola, dean of the College of Home Economics ; Angelina Cinco, assistant dean; professors Mary Jane Lopez and Angelyn Dy Tioco; and instructors Leslie Garcia, Rossette Tanwangco and Reynita del Fonso) were accused of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty after failing to observe the regulations set by Commission of Higher Education (CHED) and the Bulacan Provincial Ordinance.

The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed all of them from public service, cancelled their eligibility, stripped off of their retirement benefits, disqualified them from holding public office and from taking the civil service exam.

Tragedy happens, whether prepared or not. However, preparedness is observed to lessen the repercussions and to avoid tragedies as much as possible. Regulations were set up because of these matters, and we must, in all obligation, comply with them.

However, it cannot be denied that there’s negligence on behalf of the officials. They failed to get an endorsement from CHED which requires them to submit a risk assessment plan. In this plan, teachers and organizers will evaluate the risks which may occur during the trip and what measures must be done to counter it. Had they complied with it, they wouldn’t have to face administrative charges. The waivers signed by the parents were not enough, judging from this criterion.

Other types of negligence that occurred is the way the team still went to the site despite the bad weather. We know all too well that a bad weather plus a tricky trekking track is a recipe for disaster. Also, the tour guides are lacking. There should have been more experienced tour guides, considering how dangerous the area can be. And ultimately, the three teachers who were supposed to guide the students were left at the starting point to do videoke. Like what heck! Aren’t the teachers themselves supposed to be front runners in watching them?

Okay, the Ombudsman declared its verdict. Yes, there’s negligence, and something must be done.

However, BSU students are venting out their dismay about the decision of the Ombudsman on Facebook. They say that even though there’s negligence, the officials, especially the university president and the dean of student affairs, should not be stripped off of their retirement benefits as they worked for so many years to serve the university and its students. They also say that the level of involvement of each official must be weighed with the gravity of the charges.

My stance is: give the rightful punishment to each one of them.  Yes, this issue cannot be overlooked because lives were at stake, but I personally believe that the punishment is too much. I do not intend to pick a side here. I only wish to here to balance the views and to reveal what I believe can be done for the greater good of both sides, and of everyone.

If there’s anyone who should be rightfully punished most, it’s the travel agency which pushed through the trip despite potential risks. Also, they should have coordinated with the barangay officials to check the rain and flow of water. This could have prevented the tragedy. Next are the teachers who only chose to have fun instead of looking after their students.

As for the BulSU officials, I do not have a problem with them being dismissed even if they didn’t wished for it to happen. But I cannot agree with their retirement benefits being withdrawn. They worked hard for their positions for so many years, and have contributed to the academic community immensely. In fact, I don’t even want to agree with the idea of dismissal at all. Why does the pillars of our university have to suffer gravely? Removing their source of income and cutting off their career is almost tantamount  to killing the breathing. Also, not all of them have the same level of involvement to the tragedy. Some of them just happened to be related, albeit to a little degree, thus held liable.

I hope that next time, everyone will definitely comply with the law. After all, everyone of us are victims here, not only the seven students who died, not only the families of the departed, not only the teachers who didn’t wish for this, but also us who needs exposure trips to learn a lot.

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