No free lunch: Unpaid obligations at the college canteen

Photo by Lloyd Labra

Every day, Marivic Hernais pores through catering requests and invoices, receivables and payables, and yellow PPR and PRS forms. And yet despite the heavy sheaf of papers squeezed in the folders before her, she never, ever forgets a debt.


Hernais manages the day-to-day operations of Zaide Food Corp., and for all the years she’s spent overseeing the operations of the college canteen, she has had her fair share of customers who do not pay for lunch. Or merienda, for that matter.


“It’s unbelievable,” she says in Filipino. Her eyes linger over a payable amounting to a mere P80, yet unpaid after two terms. The customers who place such orders are academic departments and administrative offices, as well as student organizations. Where these customers can easily file requests and can readily expect Zaide’s food and staff to be present at their event or venue, it is not as easy for her to expect the corresponding payment.


Student orgs that transact with the canteen have credit lines, and place their catering requests without being ordered to pay until the event has transpired and the service is fully rendered.


Dean of Student Affairs Fritzie de Vera says that for student orgs, payments are processed via book transfer. “This is being handled by [S-LIFE]. Some may pay  in cash [and be reimbursed] but preferably they settle via book transfer, so [that there is] no need for students to cash out.”


As with all means of credit, the book transfer system does not assure prompt payment. Hernais shares that there had been a point this year when the canteen had 40 accounts receivable from student orgs, some going as far back as last year. “I brought them up with Student Affairs,” she tells. “They panicked, but eventually all [payments were expedited].”


As of November 28, there remained five standing balances. “I follow up the requests every week,” sighs Hernais. “Before, it was a problem when we just credited the org without getting the contact person’s cellphone number. It was so hard to follow up payment. I had to ask help [from other secretaries] in contacting the org heads, who then contacted the point persons.”


She seldom gets replies. One of the larger balances amounting to approximately P6,200 had been unpaid since the 2nd term of AY 2011-2012. Where Hernais was following up the payment without receiving reply, she was all the more surprised when the project head who had incurred the debt called her again during the 1st term of AY 2012-2013, asking for catering services for the same org.


“I told her [project head] that we could provide catering services, but would appreciate it if she ensured the payment of her account first,” related Hernais. The project head, she recalls, was shocked to discover that the account had yet been unpaid, and never called back.

Bianca Cuatico, President of the Behavioral Sciences Society (BSS), is one such org head whose organization inherited a debt to the canteen from the previous year. One of last year’s project heads was unable to secure the payment for the catering of one of the org’s general assemblies. “When I started out as President, I heard we had a balance from the previous year that I didn’t know about, so I had my officers settle that right away.”

In the BSS, the Vice President for Budget and Finance is in charge of following up the disbursement of payments. When project heads propose activities, the approval of the project’s budget is overseen by this VP, as well as the President, in order to ensure that the activity can be paid for by the org.


“I had [BSS project heads] go to Zaide and find out how much the debt was,” explains Cuatico. “Then we had to make the paperwork on how much to withdraw and what the purpose was. And then we had to pay Zaide. It wasn’t too big of an amount naman so I think we were able to settle it na. It was settled during the first term, kasi that was when I heard about it. So I said we had to settle it right away.”


Gaps between the payment of accounts, of course, occur. Despite the fact that Cuatico had the request processed by her project heads immediately, the balance remained undisbursed until mid-December of this year, a year and two months behind.


Delays in processing may be another reason why book transfers like Cuatico’s settlement of their account are not immediately listed in the canteen’s books. “Maybe the processing is delayed, it is possible,” admits Hernais. “I follow up [the payments], in any case. But I follow it up, and no one replies. I get the right cellphone numbers, and no one replies. They say it has been paid already but it has not, or at least we have not yet received it. So we continue following it up.”


Cuatico states that balances left unpaid are taken against orgs during the Council of Student Organizations’ biannual accreditation. “Your org’s grade from CSO is lower,” she says in Filipino. “Kasi when they accredit you, they grade you. So you get a lower grade. So constantly, the debt gets carried over lang. So I really had it settled kasi there were two accreditations [since the unpaid transaction] na e.”


Besides this penalty, no other penalties are imposed on student orgs that fail to pay their debts. Dean Fritzie believes that no additional penalties have to be imposed on student organizations in the USG and CSO who fail to pay their obligations. “I don’t think it’s necessary as of this time,” she tells The LaSallian in an e-mail. “According to S-LIFE we have rare cases of overdue payments, so penalties are not necessary.”


In the event that the organizations do not pay, it is Hernais who bears the brunt of the failure. “But it’s not just student orgs,” adds Hernais. “There are certain academic departments who also fail to pay.” She cites the example of a department that has a large standing balance with Zaide, but she fears to follow up the payment, as she believes the secretary will tell the department chair to no longer patronize the canteen’s business if she mentions the debt again.


“We just do what we can,” affirms Hernais, resigned to her task. “We’re a part of this University. We provide catering, okay. But we just expect that people pay, as they should.”


As of this writing, three of the five student accounts had been paid, two of them small accounts not exceeding P200. The standing receivables from the two remaining accounts are at P5,850 and at P14,400. One of the accounts dates as far back as last year, AY 2011-2012.

Martha Elisse Teves

By Martha Elisse Teves

Juan Batalla

By Juan Batalla

3 replies on “No free lunch: Unpaid obligations at the college canteen”

Excellent reportage. It brings attention to an organizational justice issue. Student leaders who don’t pay on time may carry over the pratice to their professional lives. That would be unfortunate and should be guarded against. Ben

Now this is better investigative journalism. Which does make me wonder why it wasn’t this article that was featured in the print version. The research was done on the issue itself, with people directly involved, and not just talking to random people and asking what they think. Acceptable piece of writing. Tiny technical issue, it would be nice if you adjusted the spacing. It’s a little inconsistent between paragraphs.

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