Life goes on in UP-Tacloban

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

TACLOBAN CITY -- Students flocked to the multi-purpose building, past mounds of sand and piles of hollow blocks.

A national artist was in the campus for an event celebrating the National Arts Month.

Poems about the devastating typhoon, printed on tarpaulin, were hung along one of the hallways of the Arts and Sciences building.


The University of the Philippines Visayas-Tacloban College (UPVTC) bustled with activity last Feb. 7, a day short of three months since super typhoon Yolanda.

The college hosted the Dayaw Taboan Arts Festival, which gathered local artists and featured a poetry exhibit and poetry performances, among other activities, at the multi-purpose building.

National artist for literature Bienvenido Lumbera graced the event as a guest speaker.

UP Tacloban after Yolanda
TACLOBAN. Life at the University of the Philippines Visayas-Tacloban College, which is celebrating National Arts Month, is back to normal, albeit with fewer students. Located a few meters from the coast, the campus was not spared by the storm surge at the heightof Typhoon Yolanda last November. (Rebelander S. Basilan)

Cleared of debris

Written on a streamer hung at the gate was the festival’s theme: “Paglaum Ha Panahon Han Katalagman (Hope in the Time of Crisis)”.

The UPVTC campus was back to the daily grind, with teachers and students, albeit fewer, attending classes and participating in campus activities, such as the arts festival.

Except for a few logs lying along the covered walks, the campus has been cleared of debris.

When Yolanda struck last Nov. 8, it toppled the newly built fence around the AS grounds. It tore the roofs off the buildings, uprooted trees, broke the glass windows and drenched almost all campus equipment.

Located a few meters from the coast, the campus was not spared by the storm surge. Damage to structures was estimated at P14 million. That excluded the cost of destroyed equipment, which included at least 250 computers.

An exodus of students ensued after the typhoon. More than 500 cross-enrolled in other UP campuses, including UP Cebu.

Typhoon Yolanda, which claimed the lives of at least three UPVTC students, struck on the scheduled date of enrollment for second semester.

About 800 students stayed. The official start of the second semester was on Jan. 6, but most students did not return until around the third week of the month.

UPVTC Dean Anita Cular said the college is recovering with the help of the university and other organizations.

Officials from the mother campus of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) in Iloilo arrived in UPVTC three days after the typhoon, bringing P250,000 in initial cash aid.

Cash aid for faculty

With the help of UPV, the college has converted the student lounge into a dormitory for boys.

Sands, hollow blocks and other construction materials lay inside the campus for shelters a non-government organization called LifeBox is building for students.

The UP allocated P3.8 million to provide free lunch to all students who stayed in UPVTC for four months, starting last Feb. 10.

Cular said the university is also set to release P4.3 million for cash aid to at least 153 faculty members and staff workers in the college this coming week.

The college has raised P430,000 in cash donations from different UP campuses and private organizations.

Apart from that, a UP alumna raised P1 million in donations in Japan and is set to turn over the amount to the college in March, Cular said.

With the help it continues to receive, Cular said she is confident the college will fully recover sooner. “There are challenges, but many are helping,” she told Sun.Star Cebu.

The students, however, continue to clamor for more aid. Shawn Capucion, vice chair of the University Student Council, said they are appealing to UP president Alfredo Pascual to grant free tuition to all students for at least one semester.

Most in need

He lamented that many resorted to student loans to be able to enroll after the typhoon, while those who cross-enrolled in other campuses were granted free tuition and monthly stipends.

“The students who stayed are the ones most affected. We are making do with what’s left of the campus,” Capucion told Sun.Star Cebu.

Aside from the free lunch, Cular said, more than 200 students will receive a monthly stipend of P2,000 for four months, starting February. These students belong to Bracket E1, the second to the lowest bracket.

Under the university’s Socialized Tuition System, students are divided into five income brackets, from A to E.

Those who belong to lowest income bracket (E) enjoy free tuition. This income bracket is further divided into two, with E2 receiving P2,400 in monthly stipend.

The Student Council has written the UP Board of Regents, the university’s highest policy-making body, requesting the release of funds for the purchase of a photocopy machine.

Capucion said the council wants to operate a photocopy machine and charge a much lower price compared to photocopy centers outside the campus.

They also asked the board to hasten the replacement of ruined computers and library materials.

Like the students, employees also need assistance after losing their homes.

Planned transfer

May Baltonado, 21, a faculty member, said she hopes the university can hasten the release of cash aid for the employees. The typhoon destroyed her family’s house in Ormoc City.

She said teachers can better serve the students if their own needs are addressed.

“As faculty members, we have an obligation to report to work. But at the same time, we have personal needs we need to take care of,” she said.

During the onslaught of the typhoon, Baltonado held on to the ceiling fan at the girls’ dormitory to keep from drowning. The water almost reached the ceiling of the dormitory, where she and more than 30 students were staying.

University officials are planning to transfer the UPVTC campus, which is situated within the 40-meter no-build zone, to Sta. Elena, one of the farthest barangays of Tacloban where the UP owns a 113-hectare property. The transfer is expected to take place in three to five years.

In the meantime, the students and teachers will go on with their academic lives in the storm-battered campus, constantly reminded of the typhoon by the missing trees, but also of hope and new beginning by the fresh leaves sprouting on the surviving ones. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 16, 2014.

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