Once filled by the sounds of chatter from professors and students walking down busy hallways, an almost sullen silence has blanketed most buildings of UP Diliman.
Most areas of the campus have been deserted by its university regulars in the wake of a global pandemic — all but 17 construction sites now housing more than 400 stranded workers since quarantine began.
Over a month has passed since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of construction workers remain scattered around the university without the resources to travel to their homes, or for others, the means to survive on campus grounds.
While some workers are given financial compensation by their contractors, others have gone over a month without food or monetary provisions.
“Out of 433 [workers], 328 dito ‘yung halos wala o kung meron man, konting support na nakukuha mula sa kanilang mga contractors. Yung iba, zero talaga. Wala,” All U.P. Workers Union (AUWU) Diliman President Buboy Cabrera said.
The recent UPD COVID-19 Bulletin post condemned news circulating on social media implying the mishandling of the situation of stranded construction workers on campus, claiming the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development has investigated the matter.
They found employers gave workers P4,000 on March 17 and P2,000 on April 14. The post also said that the workers had a supply of three 25-kilo sacks of rice, as well as canned goods from AUWU and other campus organizations.
When asked about UP Diliman’s post, Cabrera responded, “Gine-generalize yung hindi nagugutom. Kung ngayon tayo mag-uusap, pwede nating sabihin na hindi man sapat, pero meron nang nakakain […] Kasi kami maingat, sinasabi namin na totoo na may support ‘yung iba pero karamihan wala. ”
He went on to say that before April 4, no donations or provisions had arrived, claiming workers had waited more than two weeks before they received support from donors.
“Pwede nilang sabihin na sa ngayon, sa tulong ng ating mga alumni at estudyante ay nakakakain na ang ating mga construction workers. Pero noong panahon ng ganito may gutom sila,” Cabrera said.
Sonny Gumanas, a 38-year-old construction worker from ME Sicat Company has been staying with 30 other workers at the old Faculty Center (FC) of UP Diliman since the beginning of the ECQ.
Since March 17, they were only given three sacks of rice and P1,000 by their subcontractor.
“Nung na-trap kami, 47 po. Tapos ‘yung 47, unti unti nang nabawasan. 31 na lang. Yung iba kasi sa NCR lang po [nakatira]. Yung 47 na yun, pinaghatian namin yung tatlong sako. Kaming lahat, ” Gumanas said.
Groves of trees surround most areas of the campus, mainly serving the purpose of providing shade to passersby. But for many of the construction workers left on university grounds, these trees have provided them what most of their contractors couldn’t— food supply.
Gumanas said that he, alongside other workers, have opted to reach high into the trees to pick mangoes they could eat with soy sauce as ulam.
But getting by without enough food supply is not Gumanas’s main worry, as the “no work, no pay” scheme has led to his not being able to send money home for his family back in Zamboanga. Despite working seven days a week at P550 a day, his main concern is getting back to work once the ECQ is over to support his family.
When asked about the possibility of a quarantine extension, Gumanas said, “Dapat talaga hindi na i-extend. Magugutom talaga ang tao. Magugutom ang pamilya.”
Community stepping in
Due to the lack of financial and food support from employers, as mentioned in the UPD Bulletin post, various individuals and organizations have stepped forward to provide aid to the construction workers.
A call for donations on the Facebook group Quezon City COVID-19 Food and Goods Donation led and handled by UP alumnae Teresita Ladanga and Katrin Maria Escay garnered a total of 45 sacks of rice, 100 packs of vegetables, 105 kilos of chicken and 100 kilos of pork being donated to the workers.
“Gusto lang nating lahat na mapakain sila. Our first goal is [to give provisions until] April 30, tapos kung ma-extend, we hope to organize more para maka-survive sila,” Escay said. Recent donations have accounted for a total of P150,404.63 to feed 284 people a week.
Faculty members like UP Film Institute Professor Choy Pangilinan and film studio Sine Sanyata pledged to provide food to more or less than 100 of the construction workers after being informed by the UP Special Services Brigade (SSB) of the workers staying in the old FC who lacked food supply.
Pangilinan took part in negotiations with the UP administration and contractors that led to the decision wherein no worker will be allowed to leave the campus premises without the assurance of the contractor that they will be brought home to their provinces safely with a just wage.
These negotiations occured after construction workers residing in the old FC under the ME Sicat Construction Company were involved in an internal conflict. Contractors almost made them relocate outside UP Diliman, according to posts by Sine Sanyata and AUWU.
After Pangilinan and AUWU were informed of this, Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo was approached to reach the decision to require the workers to stay on campus to ensure their safety.
But following this incident, Cabrera and Pangilinan claimed that food donations are no longer being accepted at the construction site by the old FC, attributed to ME Sicat Company.
“Mayroon na raw support ‘yung company na Sicat doon sa mga stranded na construction worker. May pagkain, kaya lang takal. Talagang kulang, hindi sapat,” Cabrera said.
The construction workers’ food is rationed to one cup of rice and a piece of chicken, and security measures around the site remain tight to ensure that no more donations can enter the premises, according to Pangilinan.
“Kaya yung pinapadala naming tulong pinapadala namin over the bakod. Kasi hindi pinapasok sa gate. Bakit mo pagkakaitan yung mga nagbibigay ng tulong eh wala ka namang nabibigay na sapat na tulong sa mga tao?” Cabrera said.
Gumanas also claimed the construction workers were provided with face masks and alcohol to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Pangilinan still doubts the safety of these workers.
“Regarding COVID, wala ring nag-orient sa kanila kung paano siya napapasa, ‘yung ibang mga sites walang radyo […] Nandoon ka sa maraming tao, walang social distancing, tas may anak ka na two months tas taga-Southern Mindanao sila. All those things, hindi naman siya inaalam ng UP at hindi ginagawang accountable ‘yung contractors,” Pangilinan said.
“I think after the media reportage yesterday, ngayon palang pumapasok in a reactionary fashion ‘yung pagtulong ng UP sa kanila, dahil na-media na,” he added.
With reports from Maria Alyssa Bianca Calma
For donations, contact Katrin Maria Escay at 09178316922.