Photo by Jonathan David Magsino

Text by Jillian Velasco and John Mark Garcia

Thousands of scholars across the University of the Philippines system are now set to endure the growing concerns of remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Read: Over 5,000 UP students may be unable to continue under remote learning)

Among those already struggling to cope with the ‘new normal’ in education are the UP’s student-athletes who valiantly represent the maroon-and-white on the court, but are now defenseless in the fight against the direst of circumstances off the court.

On top of inadequate training spaces and lack of equipment many student-athletes endure on a regular season, they now brace a new burden as UP proceeds with online learning — the lack of access to technology and resources.

A call for help

UP Men’s Volleyball Team (UPMVT) head coach Rald Ricafort revealed that most players in his 26-man team belong to the lower bracket of the UP Socialized Tuition System (STS) — a tuition subsidy determined by the total income and socio-economic characteristics of a student’s household.

This includes the 10 newly recruited rookies who fall under brackets D and E, whose annual gross income is around P135,001 to P325,000 and P135,000 and below, respectively.

“Marami kasi akong players na […] from last batch pa yung nag-apply ng STS bracket. So kasali sila [roon] sa lower brackets, bracket D at E. Itong mga parating din, mostly siguro out of 10 or 12, siguro 9 sa kanila ‘yung nasa gano’ng bracket din,” he explained.

Students who classify under bracket D would receive an 80% partial tuition discount, while those under bracket E will pay no tuition. A 3,500-peso monthly stipend will also be given to those under bracket E2.

As UP adapts a remote learning system, the need for technological resources adds to the foremost concerns of these student-athletes especially those residing in far-flung provinces.

“Nagkataon lang na ‘yung nasa lower bracket at karamihan ay nasa provinces pero meron din dito sa Manila, sa NCR,” he added.

In what is also expected to be a prolonged off-season for the UAAP, the lack of resources also proved a hurdle when it comes to online training. The team began conducting home workout programs in July.

“‘Pag nag-oonline training kami, phone ‘yung gamit. ‘Yung iba, ‘di makasali kasi limited na limited ‘yung resources,” Ricafort shared.

Team captain Ruskin Ijiran, who currently resides in Biñan, Laguna, bared the team’s concerns on mental health and financial stability in these difficult times.

“The team faces a lot of challenges as this pandemic continues to grow. A lot of them suffer financially and mentally as they face the new normal […] some of them choose to work to provide for their family,” he said.

Ijiran also explained that the current circumstances have been more burdensome for his teammates who reside outside Metro Manila, especially in terms of providing stable internet access for the remote learning setup this semester.

“It will really be a big challenge for everyone going through online learning to attend classes regularly due to [internet] connectivity issues. In most cases, only those living in the Metro have access to fast and consistent internet connection. Those living in far-flung areas will definitely have a problem when it comes to [internet] connectivity,” Ijiran added.

Still under restrictions for amateur team sports to resume training, rookie sensation Louis Gamban stressed the tough reality of physically training alone while maintaining a healthy mental well-being in this time of pandemic.

“The most difficult thing that I experienced [during] this quarantine as a student-athlete is that I need to make sure that my body and mind is still in condition to play volleyball because I can’t play and do training with the team,” he said.

This might be a different story when players could reside in Diliman, where the mode of learning, living expenses and training facility can be provided by the UP administration.

“Compared kasi kung andito sila sa Diliman [ang mga nasa province], mas madali yung way of learning dahil mas makakapagsupport tayo and at the same time […] may support mismo yung UP na ibibigay,” Ricafort explained. 

Heeding the call 

Right after the government placed Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in March, the team has consumed most of their funds to send their athletes back to their home provinces. This left the team seeking financial support to address the team’s new concern.

The UPMVT launched a fundraiser to provide financial assistance and essential resources to support their current roster comprising current and incoming players.

A donation drive, with an initial target amount of 189,000 pesos, has been set-up to cover the expenses needed for the team’s lack of adequate resources such as laptops come the new academic year.

Proceeds from the fundraising also seek to provide important maintenance resources such as internet load for those who will undergo remote learning through their mobile devices.

The team prioritizes student-athletes who reside from provinces such as Tacloban, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod as they may not be able to directly receive benefits and other means of assistance from UP.

“‘Yung mga players na [nasa lower brackets] na nasa province, tutulungan natin sila […] kasi hindi naman lahat capable makabili ng gadgets or laptop eh. [I]to kasi yung pinaka-main source ng online learning,” he said. 

The University Student Council (USC) has arranged a meeting with the Varsity Athletic Admission System (VAAS) directors in mid-September to mitigate the hardships the student-athletes are facing, USC Sports, Fitness, and Health (SpoFiH) Committee Head Enzo Espinosa said.

The College of Human Kinetics (CHK) student council is also setting up a donation drive for CHK students, both athletes or non-athletes.

“We are planning to start another donation drive, […] this new drive will cater to our fellow CHK students who are in need of assistance with remote learning. We are just in the process of creating a mechanism to map out the students [who] are in most need. But then again not all student-athletes are from CHK so we still need to find a way to address that with the VAAS office,” Espinosa said.

The SpoFiH head, after a discussion with the new Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, reassured student-athletes will still receive their allocated benefits despite the pandemic.

The UPMVT is only one of many UP varsity teams who are in need of financial resources, especially for their players to cope with the increasing demands of online learning.

This collective call for help spans not only across the UP community, but to anyone who wishes to extend their help and assistance to the Iskolar ng Bayan student-athletes to continue their education.

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