On February 20, 2017, a tourist bus crashed into an electric post in Tanay, Rizal, killing 15 people including the driver. Onboard the bus were students from BestLink College of the Philippines en route to a site for a field trip. It was later discovered that the trip was part of a National Service Training Program (NSTP) requirement.
Concerns over the safety of NSTP activities have floated over the years, especially as most of these are conducted outside the University. The recent magnitude 6.1 earthquake that jolted most of Metro Manila last April 22 raised concerns on natural or man-made disasters occurring at immersion sites. Meanwhile, the recent passing of House Bill 8961 that calls for the Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC) to be mandatory among senior high school students brought the program’s history of violence cases back under the spotlight.
Off-campus immersion is one of the major requirements for the NSTP program in DLSU, NSTP and Formation Office (NFO) Director Carl Fernandez tells The LaSallian.
In the wake of the bus incident, the Commission on Higher Education released a memorandum order with stricter guidelines for off-campus activities. DLSU has been very compliant with these requirements, Fernandez says, even imposing their own additional provisions for each immersion.
At the start of the program, students are briefed about the course and its requirements. One of these is the medical clearance form, which serves as the school’s assurance that the student is physically and mentally fit to participate in the immersion.
Though the University Clinic has copies of the students’ medical records, Fernandez points out that they have a separate form because they cannot simply acquire these documents from the office directly. “We are also bounded with a policy, [which is the] Data Privacy Act. That’s why we [have to] ask the consent of the student,” he explains.
Another major requirement is the notarized parental consent form, which serves as proof that the student’s participation is with the parent’s or guardian’s consent. Without it, the student will not be allowed to participate.
The University goes to great lengths to ensure that students are safe at all times. DLSU coordinates with local government units and partner non-government organizations to agree on the proceedings of each immersion. All parties involved are also briefed on protocols for emergency situations.
Transportation to and from the site is currently regulated and accredited by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. Individuals who are hired to drive the jeepneys are screened and tested before they are deployed, and all vehicles have an emergency kit onboard, along with the accompanying faculty who is trained to perform first aid.
Health concerns are also covered. Fernandez reveals that they check if an immersion site has had a history of disease outbreaks. He explains, “We should not hastily go to the site if there is a high incidence of measles or dengue. So in their (the community) part, we require them to coordinate with the city health office or the local barangay.”
In the event that a natural disaster occurs at the site, he assures that the partner barangays and organizations have already readied an emergency preparedness plan before the conduct of the activity. “From time to time, we have series of meetings with those partner organizations on what measures are to be done,” the NFO director continues.
However, emergencies do not always occur onsite. Several years ago, a fire razed a barangay near an immersion site. Even though the fire was not within the area, Fernandez recounts that the facilitator and area coordinator made the call to evacuate just in case.
Concerns over ROTC
When it comes to ROTC, Fernandez acknowledges that many parents tend to worry about it the most, especially as they mostly associate it with possible hazing.
In Academic Year 2015-2016, the program was temporarily suspended after allegations of hazing surfaced. The time was used to develop a better system of operations both for the administration and the students, and realigning the focus of the program as one of formation rather than discipline.
However, Fernandez believes that the program has already made significant improvements that prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring. Since then, an adult supervisor is always present in ROTC activities, either from the training staff or an authorized representative from the Student Discipline Formation Office. The Security Office also sends guards to accompany the students in camp visits and ship-boarding activities.
Some students also come to school on Mondays to have meetings where they can air their concerns with the program. The NFO Director believes that this openness is very important in addressing the negative issues and safety concerns of ROTC. “I think by providing them a venue for dialogue and meetings, that’s also a mechanism [to address] issues and concerns related to ROTC,” he expresses.
‘As safe as it can be’
Students, meanwhile, gave generally positive responses on whether they felt safe during NSTP. Robert Gantuangco (III, AB-CAM) enrolled in ROTC and acknowledges that there were injuries sustained in activities in the program, but clarifies that none of it was ever deliberate.
He believes that the program is “as safe as it can be”, but improvements in the facilities and inventory could still be made. “The program should always be up for more review—to see what went wrong and what went right in previous terms. I think that’s what the program needs,” Gatuangco affirms.
On the other hand, Jiego Custodio (I, BSMSMEM) is currently enrolled in the second part of the Literacy Training Service program, and shared that he felt safe during their immersion last term. “The overall atmosphere of the place didn’t feel hostile, as there were children playing on the streets and [there were] residents watching. The environment was also fine compared to other places I’ve been to,” Custodio shares.
Furthermore, Custodio commends their partner organization’s safety preparations, such as providing transportation options to those who had trouble walking long distances, and briefing their class about the location and events during immersion.
For Samuel Villanueva (I, BSE-PSC), who is currently enrolled in the Civic Welfare Training Service component, safety concerns were addressed properly during their classes, and their facilitator and partner organization were committed to keeping them safe.
“We did not really worry that much because we all know we were in safe hands. And now that we are in our final NSTP term…we are looking forward [to] helping the community grow and learn along the way,” he says.
As of writing, the NSTP enrollees are in the second phase of the program and are scheduled to conduct their immersion programs throughout the term.