US AMBASSADOR Kristie Kenney saw the Tan Yan Kee Student Center “empty” last September 24. The following day, the Student Center served as a makeshift evacuation center.

This was after more than 3,000 students got stranded inside University walls due to tropical storm “Ondoy,” which caused massive floods and heavy rains in Manila. Perhaps, if only announcement of the suspension of classes had been made early, the dreadful incident could have been avoided.

A student leader’s description of the situation at the St. Raymund’s Building during the storm’s wrath was devastating. She described how students were craving, and even begging for food. Just imagine, you, together with more than a hundred of people, trapped on the second floor of a building with no electricity, no water, and no food.

The point here is that a solid and effective crisis management plan should always be in place in times of natural calamities. News reports about the storm’s expected land fall were already available a day before the incident. By then, school officials should have had the foresight to suspend classes promptly to safeguard students at their homes. I understand that there were already a couple of days when classes have been suspended, but with how things looked like during that fateful night, I believe the whole fiasco could have been avoided or downscaled. Making up for classes lost is easier than making up to students for the traumatic experience.

In any case, the fact that danger was coming should have prompted the University into decisive action. It should have mobilized people to disseminate information to students regarding where to go and what to do when flood waters started to rise. There’s no better defense against calamities than preparation. And with warnings given ahead of time, UST had no excuse not to prepare for the worst.

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The truth was that nobody was prepared and that was seen even in the national level where almost 300 died, and thousands were displaced because of Ondoy.

Some would defensively say nobody ever wanted that to happen. But that is a weak excuse to hide negligence. If the University can prepare for a visit of a person not really connected with UST with all the necessary security measures in place, how come it cannot plan for its own students and their safety?

The same student leader told me then that maybe the delay in the delivery of food was caused by the waist-deep flood that blocked every route to UST. That is understandable. But three hours after and still the same scenario? There must be something wrong already, something that needs to be fixed before the next calamity occurs. If we can rush things out and close an entire building for ambassadors just to make them feel comfortable, how come we cannot do the same for our students who should be the first ones to be treated as VIP’s?


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