Ask UPD employees call for help as threat of endo looms

Several employees of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (OVCSA) are at risk of losing their jobs by the end of December, following allegations about the non-renewal of their contracts.

Most of them are staff members behind Ask UPD, a student helpdesk tasked to provide “academic, emotional and legal support in special circumstances.” Since its establishment in 2020, the contracts of Ask UPD staff have been renewed every six months.

According to the helpdesk’s manager Cha Dela Cruz, rumors about their layoff began in October after an alleged message from Vice Chancellor Jerwin Agpaoa informed them that the office would be reducing contractual staff members.

“Informal niya [VC Jerwin Agpaoa] lang na cinommunicate sa executive assistant ng office na magti-trim down ng non-UP contractual staff. So hindi pa sinasabi kung sino, kung ilan at kung finalized,” she said in an online interview with Tinig ng Plaridel.

However, they have yet to receive a letter or formal document confirming or denying this information, leaving them worried that they would no longer have jobs by the end of the year.

Other OVCSA employees also face the threat of termination, including those from the office’s committees on information and communications, gender and development, and research.

In a statement on Dec. 1, the Ask UPD staff members said their looming termination is based on “arbitrary grounds.” They also argued that the decision to remove them would affect the services of the office for the UP community.

“As we vocalize our resistance to protect our livelihoods, it is crucial to emphasize our unwavering position that any decision to eliminate student services must not be hastily made without proper due process and consultation,” the statement reads.

This is Agpaoa’s second time as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. He first assumed the role from 2016 to 2020 under former Chancellor Michael Tan. He is an assistant professor at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, where he also served as coordinator of their local Office of Student Affairs.

Requests for dialogue

Fearing the threat of end-of-contract, the OVCSA staff sent a formal letter to Agpaoa on Nov. 17, for a sit-down meeting to discuss plans of action and get an explanation on some of the staff’s contract non-renewal.

“Apparently ‘yung staff from other offices and units, alam na na hindi kami ire-renew. Mas una pa nila nalaman kaysa sa amin tapos kay VC Jerwin mismo nanggaling,” Dela Cruz said.

The Ask UPD manager detailed other “microaggressions” and “passive-aggressive remarks” made by Agpaoa.

Among those was when Agpaoa issued an internal memorandum banning emotional support animals (ESAs) in the office, without stating a clear reason.  

This was after staff members started bringing pets to the office in recent months to cope with the “stressful work environment.”

Tinig ng Plaridel reached out to Agpaoa to get his side of the story, but he has yet to respond as of press time.

Dela Cruz’s colleagues also shared that Agpaoa wanted to restructure the office “to focus more on the admin side” and his preference for getting more plantilla items for administrative staff.

“He is implying that there is no need for specialized workers because the regular admin staff can also do that,” another Ask UPD staff member shared in an email exchange with TNP.

While the request for a meeting received no response, the Ask UPD staff members said Agpaoa started talking to OVCSA employees individually on Nov. 28, but no resolution was reached.

“Before that [talking to them individually], nagdi-disclose siya sa ibang staff members na ayaw na niya kaming kausapin kasi hindi naman daw niya kailangang i-justify ‘yung [hindi pag-renew] ng non-UP contractual [staff],” the student helpdesk manager said.

This prompted the OVCSA staff to send a letter addressed to UP Diliman Chancellor Edgardo Carlo Vistan II on Nov. 30.

It detailed the “microaggressions and passive-aggressive remarks and measures” that Agpaoa allegedly did to them, as well as instances of the Vice Chancellor making arbitrary decisions and bypassing due process.

In limbo

Dela Cruz believes they have proven the importance of Ask UPD, especially in bridging the information gap between the students and the university administration.

Since its inception, the helpdesk has been disseminating information about the projects, activities and announcements of the OVCSA on different social media pages such as Facebook and Twitter.

On June 22, AskUPD received a Katibayan ng Natatanging Galing award from Chancellor Vistan to recognize its role in responding to queries and concerns of the student body during the time of the pandemic.

Logical lang na mag-e-exist pa rin siya at na kami pa rin ‘yon, na may trabaho pa rin kami. Na-caught off guard talaga kami nitong issue ng end-of-contract na apparently, it’s not up to us na,” Dela Cruz lamented.

The helpdesk manager confirmed that at least three members of the Ask UPD team will not have their contracts renewed, while those of other OVCSA employees also remain in limbo.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Contractual Workers in UP (ACE UP) implored members of the UP community to amplify the call for non-UP contractual workers for job security. 

They argued that non-regular employees should be treated in the same way as permanent employees of the university.“Mahalagang igalang ang mga non-UP contractual at ang malaki nilang ambag sa araw-araw na paggaod ng Unibersidad. Hindi dapat ginagamit ng mga administrador ang kanilang pwesto at kapangyarihan upang mang-alipin, manakot, at manamantala,” ACE UP said in a statement on Dec. 1.