AN EDUCATION lawyer has criticized the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) for abusing its authority when it ordered a moratorium on off-campus activities after a bus crash in Rizal that claimed more than a dozen lives.
Joseph Noel Estrada, UST alumnus and legal counsel of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, said such decision is reserved to the courts.
“[The moratorium] is beyond the power of Ched because it is not explicitly provided in the Ched law. [The issuance of a] hold order, suspension order [or] freeze order is in the nature of judicial or quasi-judicial power,” Estrada told the Varsitarian in an interview.
Section 8 of Republic Act (RA) No. 7722 or the Higher Education Act of 1994 states that Ched is tasked to “formulate and recommend development plans, policies, priorities and programs on higher education and research.”
Estrada said the suspension of educational trips should be left to the discretion of higher educational institutions (HEIs).
“Bahala na ‘yung mga institutions on how they will view [Ched’s order]. HEIs should exercise well discretion and academic freedom. Of course if it involved money and obligations, kailangan din nila i-balanse whether they should go ahead with the scheduled field trip or kaya bang i-reschedule ‘yan,” Estrada said.
The suspension covers activities under Ched Memorandum Order No. 17, which contains policies and guidelines on educational tours of college and graduate students. The commission ordered HEIs to come up with replacement activities during the moratorium.
UST’s Office of the Secretary General released a memorandum last Feb. 28 ordering a temporary ban on out-of-school trips such as fieldtrips, community engagements, medical or relief missions, retreats and visits to amusement parks.
The moratorium came after a tour bus crashed into an electric post along a curved road in Tanay, Rizal on Feb. 20. The accident killed 15 people, mostly students of Bestlink College of the Philippines in Novaliches, Quezon City.
‘Exceptions invalidate Ched order’
Ched clarified that off-campus activities under the National Service Training Program (NSTP), including fieldwork and other outreach activities, are not covered by the moratorium.
In an email to the UST Simbahayan Community Development Office, Ched clarified that outreach programs under NSTP will not be affected by the suspension.
“We reiterate that the safety and welfare of the students are of utmost importance. As such, activities under the NSTP must be conducted with due diligence from the HEI, and compliant with the guidance set in RA 9163 (NSTP Act of 2001) and its respective Implementing Rules and Regulations,” it read.
Ched said in another memorandum local and international internships, international educational trips and linkages are excluded from the suspension of all out-of-campus activities.
Estrada said these exceptions defeat the purpose of a moratorium, adding that such activities could pose the same risks.
“If these activities are exempted from the moratorium, what reason is there to impose a moratorium on educational tours and fieldtrips? They expose students to the same risk,” Estrada said.