5K SAGA. Amaranth chronicles VSU's experiences with CHED's one-time grant of P5,000 to students affected by Yolanda.

(UPDATED) BAYBAY CITY, Leyte—VSU’s Students Services Office (USSO) has been under extreme pressure lately. The Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) 5,000-peso one-time grant to Yolanda affected students, was met with questions instead of ecstasy.

The response seemed understandable. The information that CHED was giving away 5,000-pesos worth of assistance to students affected by supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013, was disseminated a day before the written deadline—an incident that prompted students to rush to their homes to get the needed papers, and swarm back USSO to pass them, with many failing to meet the deadline.

The bending over backwards regarding this assistance wasn’t one way though. USSO had to beat their heads as well, trying to catch up with the deadline while accommodating students' complaints and pleas for extension.

Lack of Coordination?

Unkown to many, this "5K saga" started two months ago. Amaranth's investigation shows there seemed to be a lack of coordination between the parties involved: CHED Central Office and their Regional Office counterparts, and the HEI’s.

According to CHEDRO VIII’s Scholarship Coordinator, Gabino P. Petilos, if SUC’s responded to CHED’s memo last March, there would be no need for the additional lists.

VSU, in fact, received no memo from CHEDRO on March. What Dr. Petilos was referring to was an email blast to HEIs sent last February 17 at around 2:30 pm, not March. The Regional Office requested for an initial list of students affected by Yolanda, which was supposed to be submitted on the same day at 4pm.

DOCUMENTS: CHEDRO8's email blast sent to HEI's on February 17 (VSU's copy)

In that email, there was no mention of the 5,000-peso grant.

“..if all HEI’s responded to the request (listing) last March, dapat wala na ngayong list. Pero hindi naman lahat mapeperfect (makakapasa) noh,” Petilos said, hence the additional listing this summer.

Take that in. To give a university with a population of 6,000 students an hour and a half to process such a list: what kind of instruction is that? What exactly can be accomplished in an hour and half?

Time seemed to be the ultimate enemy.

Understandably though, CHEDRO suffocating HEI’s with deadlines is a response from the Central Office’s hurried directives.

Petilos explained that aside from the legalities that can be held against them, one of the reasons that prolonged the process of implementing this 5k grant to HEI’s, was the conflict between the deadlines set by the Central Office and the Regional Office.

“We recieved a memo requiring us to submit the list by June 27. So, nagpapanic na kami, yung deadline namin sa region [is] June 28, tapos yung Central Office hinihingi yung list June 27,” Petilos said.

CHED Memorandum Order No. 56, Series of 2017, was sent on June 13. However, there was no mention of a deadline. According to Petilos, the deadline was relayed to them verbally through a phone call.

It should be recognized, however, that the directive for this grant came from the Office of the President “to expedite the use of this money”, after there had been about 540 residual money from the 2016 Yolanda funds.

DOCUMENTS: CHEDRO8's email blast sent to HEI's on June 23 (VSU's copy)

It could be noted at this point, that once the Central Office issued conditions for the assistance, the CHEDRO immediately sent memos to HEI’s through email on June 23, 2017. Petilos added that perhaps, because some HEI’s don’t open their emails immediately, it could be a factor for the late information distribution.

According to two administration sources, who both requested anonymity, VSU indeed received the memo via email the same day it was disseminated by the Regional Office. But the Dean of Students hesitated to release this info because he “didn’t want to give the students false hopes”.

READ: Top 3 questions about the 5K Yolanda aid for students

Loreto further clarified that the memo sent by CHED did not give clear instructions as to who will be the beneficiaries to this grant because the memo listed students “severely affected” by Typhoon Yolanda.

Priority courses

As said by many “Kadtong niari ang Yolanda, wala man to mamili ug courses na sasalanta-on,” – Surely it didn’t, but in the case of the grant, it did.

Perhaps it would help next time, we review the documents we send?

According to Petilos, they did not specify priority courses. But it could be noted that the memo that was released to SUC’s included a list of CHED’s priority degree programs.

Dean Loreto explained that CHED released this list of priority courses December last year or January this year. And, oo nga naman, since CHED emailed that priority list along with the memo, how else should they interpret it? USSO, nevertheless, accepted all applications from all courses and endorsed it back to CHED.

Off-timing

Why four years after? Well, it turns out the funds to be used for this aid will be from the surplus of 2016’s Yolanda funds. CHED Commissioner Prospero de Vera, in a press conference at Malacañang last June 20, promised 540 million from the said funds.

But to set conditions that will mostly accommodate students who weren’t even in college during the time of Yolanda seems careless of CHED. What about everyone else who already graduated?

And why now? For schools like VSU that open in August, it's midyear or summer. Most students from the second semester have gone home to their provinces.

We are not exactly sure if these are just a confluence of unfortunate factors, or this bungled implementation of an otherwise well-intentioned grant was a product of CHED's incompetence. One SUC official in Eastern Visayas puts it as "inherent stupidity". 

But one thing is clear: the timing and provision of the grant skewed the chances of receiving it to the favor of those who were at the right place and the right time.

540 million pesos is a big amount. To the ordinary student, even five thousand pesos could have been a really big help.

One popular internet meme summarizes it very well—

"You had one job."

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