Taft Ave. is no stranger to dangerous activity.
Reports of crimes such as theft and kidnapping scares have been on the upsurge, with students and parents alike at the forefront of those who face leading concerns.
Enter the Task Force Safe School (TFSS) program. Almost 19 years since its conception, the task force was envisioned as a collaboration among various stakeholders, which include three educational institutions, namely DLSU, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, and St. Scholastica’s College; several condominiums around the area; and the barangays in the immediate vicinity. The founding goal of its members is to maintain a safe environment for students under its jurisdiction, which includes several barangays from Quirino Ave. to Pablo Ocampo St.
However, such areas within the vicinity have recently admitted to the organization having all but fallen idle, with respective parties instead opting to take matters into their own hands.
Creating a community
Despite the state of TFSS today, its beginning was met with significant fanfare. No less than then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo graced the program’s launch in 2003. In her speech, Arroyo outlined TFSS’ vision to create an environment where students can “feel safe and secure”, giving particular emphasis to drug-related criminality. The then-President emphasized how “quality education” and “adequate facilities” are not enough anymore—student safety should also be a priority.
University Safety Office Director Ronald Dabu even compares the existence of TFSS to the educational institutions near the University Belt or Katipunan Ave., claiming, “Kakaniya-kaniya sila.”
Membership in the TFSS is also extended to the University Student Government and the DLSU-Parents of University Student Organizations. Its members, Dabu reveals, conduct a monthly meeting, with Vice Chancellor for Administration Dr. Arnel Uy himself coordinating with several barangays to address any inquiries they may have with the University.
“Kung may concern sila, we can talk about paano natin siya ma-[address],” Dabu notions.
(If they have any concerns, we can talk about how we can address it.)
The 200-meter radius jurisdiction of the University—which starts in the center of St. La Salle Hall—also does not stop the University from extending their help to the surrounding communities, Uy mentions, citing that if a fire or a theft incident happens nearby, the University can assist any of the parties involved.
Brgy. 728 Chairperson Marilou Llantino and Brgy. 730 Chairperson Antonio Abad are just some of the TFSS members who have benefited from the organization’s assistance effort. Among the sessions they attended was one hosted by St. Scholastica’s College where they were taught how to properly use a fire extinguisher.
TFSS’ existence has also proven useful, especially to the local communities who cannot afford formal training or preparation in the face of danger. With each educational institution contributing P50,000 to the organization, its members spare no expense in trying to collaborate with the local communities—free of charge. “We do training for free,” Dabu notes.
The schools involved also donate equipment like fire extinguishers to the nearby communities, assisting them in preparing for future disasters. Dabu also mentions that the academic institutions even send out their own guards and security officers to conduct training and seminars on topics ranging from basic life support to dealing with small cuts.
Help also goes both ways. Dabu mentions that barangay tanods and officers of the Philippine National Police make rounds from Fidel A. Reyes St. to Leon Guinto St. Abad himself also takes part in the nightly patrols.
The side of law enforcement, on the other hand, focuses on the deployment of their security officers, reveals Malate Police Station’s Investigation Division Chief Maj. Cenon Vargas Jr. According to Vargas, one of the station’s plans of action is sharing “crime prevention tips” to different schools under their area of responsibility.
A number of condominium associations have also taken part in some of the training programs offered by the task force, Dabu adds.
“It’s also a collaboration with the barangays and [condominiums] within our vicinity. We have a program to collaborate with them and do some [training] [and] talks with them,” Dabu reiterates.
Currently, the agreement for the task force is expected to run until May, having been extended for two more years back in 2018. The organization’s renewal is also expected to happen the same month this year. Yet despite the variety of action plans slated for the TFSS, inactivity among its members remains a concern.
Emmanuela Morales, barangay tanod for Brgy. 729, states that she was a member of the organization since 2015, but her barangay has been inactive in the organization for the past few months. Her barangay, she adds, has had no contact or updates from any of the educational institutions, including DLSU.
Nevertheless, she continues to praise the headway made by TFSS, recalling how her barangay joined to improve the area’s safety. She explains, “Ang nagtulak po sa amin na sumali dito ay para sa tauhang barangay namin—para makinabang ang barangay namin.”
(What really pushed us to join was our commitment to our constituents so that they may benefit from it.)
Dabu acknowledges some of the TFSS members going inactive. “Mayroong ganoon talaga. Mayroong mga naiinggit, bakit daw may mas napapaboran,” he theorizes.
(There are really communities like those. Some get jealous and ask why one community seems more favored over others.)
And it is not just the barangays; some condominiums have also been uninvolved. He reasons that those establishments declined the organization’s invite because they supposedly already know the necessary “protocols” when it comes to safety and security.
While barangays, local authorities, and educational institutions implement their own security measures—including recent strides by the Manila City government to restore streetlights—the dangers around Taft Ave. remain a substantial concern, and the cooperation of all parties will be vital in formulating more effective measures, especially when it comes to those they swore to protect: the students.