University and campus life is constantly affected by threats lurking inside and outside school premises. Just last May 18, customers of nearby restaurant Ged & Bart’s, several of which were students from schools around the area, were robbed and held at gunpoint by at least six armed men. The restaurant is situated along Castro St., a mere 15-20 meters away from the Gokongwei Hall.
Because of its close proximity to DLSU, the robbery incident has raised issues concerning campus security in schools around the Taft area.
Task Force Safe Schools
The recent incidents call for the addition of new safety policies and the improvement of existing security protocols. One of these is the the Task Force Safe Schools (TFSS), a joint initiative of De La Salle University (DLSU), De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde (CSB), and St. Scholastica’s College. The program is also partnered with the Philippine National Police (PNP), business establishments around the area, and other local government units. Its main goal is to promote the safety and security of the whole community.
What started out as a simple meeting between the three schools fifteen years ago is now a task force that is “alive, kicking, and very responsive,” according to Vice Chancellor for Administration and DLSU Chair for TFSS Arnel Onesimo Uy. The start of the initiative was not without its fair share of challenges, however. Uy shared that from being merely reactive to potentially risky situations, there is now a need to be more integral and proactive in creating and designing a safer environment. He also added that the initiative brought about a change in their roles as being enforcers and responders to being collaborators in promoting safety in their schools.
To date, TFSS has a total of 21 civilian spotters helping out the police officers within the area—11 in CSB, nine in DLSU, and one in St. Scholastica’s College. These spotters apprehend criminal elements who target members of the community. Apprehended suspects are later turned over to the custody of police officers at the Manila Police Station 9.
A safe community for learning
Consistent with its efforts to enhance the security around Taft Avenue, the Task Force Safe Schools memorandum of agreement (MOA) was renewed last April 11 in the Henry Sy, Sr. Hall. Present in the event were representatives from the three schools, namely Br. Raymundo B. Suplido FSC (DLSU), Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC (CSB), Prof. Mae Rafanan (St. Scholastica’s College), and Atty. Ericson Alcovendaz of the Manila City Government. The renewed MOA will be effective from 2018 through 2020. The chairmanship, which was previously held by DLSU, was also conferred to St. Scholastica’s College.
Alcovendaz, city administrator from the Manila City Government, delivered a message on behalf of City Mayor Joseph Estrada. In the speech, Estrada emphasized the importance of student safety and the roles various community members must play in order to achieve this.
“Our primary concern has been, and always will be, to keep our youth and our children safe and secure as they go about their business of learning. Ang kanilang mga magulang ang unang nagtuturo sa kanila kung pano mag-ingat pag lumabas sila ng bahay (Their parents are the first people who teach them how to be cautious upon leaving the house), but when they reach their schools, the responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of school officials, barangay officials, campus security personnel, law enforcement authorities, and of course, the local government,” he said.
The mayor’s speech ended with a pledge of support from his administration to help meet the collective goals of TFSS.
In the latter part of the event, internal and external security personnel were recognized for their continued efforts that have benefited the community. The TFSS Community Service Excellence Awards, which started in 2014, aims to recognize deserving and outstanding security guards and police and traffic officers who have rendered exemplary service to the Lasallian and Scholastican community. The award has two categories: one for security officers and security guards, and another for external partners coming from the police and traffic departments of the local government. Lito Tabangcura, Director for the Center for Emergency Safety and Security in CSB, was assisted by Br. Suplido and Atty. Alcovendaz in presenting the awards.
The TFSS renewal signing ended with a speech delivered by Br. Suplido. In the speech, he said that he believes in securing the safety of the students, as well as the safety of their classmates, professors, and other staff members in school, as being the key to a more effective education because it eliminates their concerns about such matters. He also added that he hopes TSFF will serve as a model of collaboration for neighborhoods and government agencies to work together in creating a safe space for all community members.
The TFSS renewal was a reminder that the responsibility of making the community safe falls not only on the concerned authorities and school administrations, but also on the students and other community members. Other than preventing injury and crime, TFSS aims to build a community that is strong, vibrant, and cohesive; a community that provides a positive state of well-being for everyone.