Julito Vetriolo
Julito Vetriolo

MANILA — The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) announced a fact-finding task force is looking into the possible liability of the Bulacan State University (BulSU) and its officials in the death of seven students during a recent field trip.

CHED Executive Director Julito Vitriolo said that the commission has been monitoring reports on the death of the students who reportedly drowned in San Miguel, Bulacan.

BulSU “can be held liable if it allowed the field trip that is not related or relevant to the students’ courses or curriculum,” Vitriolo said.

Latest reports stated that seven bodies of BulSU students have been recovered. The victims were Mikhail Alcantara, Phil Rodney Alejo, Michelle Ann Rose Bonzo, Helena Marcelo, Jenette Rivera, Madel Navarro and Maiko Bartolme who were swept away while crossing the Madlum River in Barangay Sibul. The victims were all tourism students of BulSU.

Vitriolo said that based on initial reports submitted by CHED’s Regional Office, BulSU might not have complied with CHED’s policy on educational field trips. “Initial investigation shows that the school did not submit notice or information (about the field trip) with the regional office,” he said.

Aside from failing to comply with the paper works, Vitriolo said, the school did not also submit risk assessment plan which is among CHED’s requirements.

“One month before the scheduled field trip, notice should be submitted,” he said. The risk assessment plan should include precautions during the field trip because “the schools should be the one responsible for the safety and security of its students.”

Vitriolo also said that the school cannot use “waivers” signed by students or parents to free itself from liabilities. “Waivers like these are not absolute because these do not cover incidents, accidents or deaths,” he said.

Students who go on field trips are usually asked by school authorities to sign waivers stating that the school has no liability in the event of accidents. “Waivers like these are contrary to public policies or law because there is an element of coercion,” Vitriolo said.

“You can’t surrender your rights especially if there’s negligence by school authorities,” he said.

In the wake of the educational trip mishap, CHED reiterated its policies and guidelines for educational tours and field trips of college and graduate students.

In July 2012, CHED Chairperson Dr. Patricia Licuanan issued CMO 17 which embodies the rules for out-of-school trips, the selection of destinations, charging of fees to help ease the financial burden on college students, roles of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in security of the students joining the educational tours and the sanctions to those who will violate the order.

CMO 17 amended CHED Memorandum Order No. 11 issued in 1997, “Enjoining all Higher Education Institutions in the Country to Make, insofar as practicable, all Registered Museums and Cultural Sites and Landmarks as Venues for Educational Tours and Field Trips.”

Licuanan said that the amended CMO directs schools to ensure that “as much as practicable, destination of educational tours and/or field trips should be near the concerned HEI in order to minimize cost.”

In the memo, Licuanan stressed that “educational tours and field trips should not be made as a substitute of a major examination for the purpose of compelling students to participate in educational activities not otherwise compulsory.”

Consultation with students when planning for field trips—which may need additional cost—is a must.

The memo stressed that HEIs must provide alternative activities for students who cannot join the educational trip. “HEIs should provide parallel school activities to students who cannot join the field trips,” Licuanan said.

The CMO also mandated colleges and universities “to ensure the safety of the students by coordinating with the CHED Regional Offices in their areas and conducting a risk assessment of the places where the educational tours and field trips will be held.” (Manila Bulletin)