By Teresa Barre and Jerome Edward Ignacio
On Thursday afternoon, the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus received text messages from a person claiming to be a part of local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
The five text messages received around 3:30 to 3:50 p.m. warned of a series of bombs allegedly planted within the campus.
After hours of evacuating students and staff from buildings and inspecting for suspicious objects, the text messages were declared as empty threats, rendering the campus safe.
“It was really terrifying for me,” Speech Communication major Carriz Nana said.
“When I read USC’s (University Student Council) tweet to vacate the campus, I really didn’t know what to do since I only live in the dorm, and I have nowhere else to stay,” she added.
Nana recalled the situation back in her hometown, Koronadal, South Cotabato.
“Kasi sa Mindanao, sobrang alarming na siguro ng mga bomba kahit nung highschool ako, pati bag chinecheck,” Nana said.
South Cotabato has often been the subject of news due to the frequency of bomb-related incidents reported there for the past years.
Beyond the perils of idle threats, however, is the severely undermanned labor force of the UP Diliman Police (UPDP).
According to UPDP Officer-in-Charge Police-Captain Ruben Villaluna, there are currently 32 uniformed officers and 63 Special Services Brigade (SSB) personnel working for the force, a far cry from the 150 uniformed officers the UPDP was employing during the 1990s.
He attributed the dwindling numbers of the force’s police to the meager salary police officers receive monthly.
“Kasi magkano lang ang sweldo ng UPDP parang more than P10,000 sa isang buwan,” Villaluna said. “Ang ibinabayad ng UP sa mga security [personnel galing sa private agencies] is umaabot ng more than P20,000.”
Thus, some UPDP officers prefer to get transferred to other police stations under the Philippine National Police (PNP), he added.
Villaluna also mentioned how difficult it was to get promoted to higher ranks due to lack of eligibility on the side of the officers. To be promoted, the administration requires that an officer should at least be a bachelor’s degree graduate and a civil service exam passer.
The few items for policemen indicated in the UP budget may also be a reason, he added.
In order to hire more officers, items for additional employees must be present in the university’s annual budget first.
Meanwhile, UPDP officers have to make do with the salary they get.
Corporal Cesar Oliquino’s P14,000 salary could barely suffice for his family’s daily needs, and continuously borrowing money from the UPDP leaves him P370 a week most of the time.
Corporal Leslie Gabriel, on the other hand, stays with the UPDP because of the privilege of being a UP employee.
Two of his children are studying in UP Integrated School (UPIS) and one is a Journalism student in the College of Mass Communication (CMC), all of whom are studying for free.
Likewise, the UPDP’s civilian aide group, the Special Services Brigade (SSB) personnel are not exempt from small salaries. For an eight hour shift per day, an SSB employee receives P561.
But unlike police officers and security guards, they do not receive benefits from the university since they are not considered as UP employees.
The SSB was created during the term of Chancellor Sergio Cao as response to the lack of UPDP’s manpower, said Villaluna. Its main mandate is to ensure peace and order in the campus, especially around the Academic Oval area, and to assist in security for university events.
The brigade is composed of civilian personnel who former chief security officer Edgardo Dagdag, likened the SSB to barangay tanods who assist the UP police. But unlike the police, the SSB personnel are not authorized to carry firearms.
SSB Team Leader Jeorge Pedrosa mentioned the insufficient budget of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs (OVCCA) that prevents them from hiring the ideal number of 70 personnel.
Pedrosa also noted the SSB’s lack of training, with the last one involving the UPDP as well held three years ago under then Chief Security Officer Elvin Ebreo’s term.
University guards employed under the security agencies, Northcom and Glocke, tell of the same struggle with money.
College of Mass Communication (CMC) security guard Mario Palalon, 23, deems his salary of more than 700 pesos a day enough while his kids are still young. He only ends up borrowing money from his relatives when his children are sick.
However, same cannot be said for CMC Guard Aris Vicente, 38, who has been a security guard in the university for 14 years.
“Yung iba sinasabing malaki ang sahod namin, hindi nila alam, marami ring gastusin, pangangailan sa pamilya, sa eskwela,” Vicente said.
With three children and a wife who works as a sales lady in UP Town Center, Vicente still ends up resorting to “five-six” [loans] because his family is still struggling financially.
Palalon and Vicente, along with over 400 other university guards, work six days a week with daily 12-hour shifts and receive insurances like SSS, PhilHealth and PAGIBIG.
On the other hand, UP Acting Chief Security Officer John Baroña said Chancellor Michael Tan would like to enhance the university’s security measures, in light of the bomb threat incident.
“UP Diliman is on the alert and is taking extra precautions,” Tan said in a press release. “It is not easy given the size of the campus and our many portals so we ask for your cooperation as we require vehicle stickers, IDs and bag inspections.”
This entails commanding security guards stationed at university entrances and exits to be stricter in implementing the No I.D. or UP sticker, No Entry policy at selected gates.
The UP security office has also met with officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP), who has offered to send bomb-sniffing dogs when the need arises, to discuss the incident.
“They can’t take the threat sitting down. Neither could we,” Baroña said.
Given the recent bomb threat received by the university, security personnel are pushed to work harder to ensure the safety of the UP community amidst their struggles with getting by on meager salaries and for some, lack of insurances and benefits.
However, UPDP officer Sgt. Jocelyn de Peralta, persists and still serves despite the low compensation they receive.
“Kahit maliit ang sweldo, sinusulit naman namin ang [pagbibigay] serbisyo,” she said. #