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Complaints of 'racketeering' in University of Manila reach Senate; school officials get show-cause order

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Complaints of 'racketeering' in University of Manila reach Senate; school officials get show-cause order
One of these allows Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to file, on behalf of the Senate, a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) to issue a temporary restraining order if necessary to lift the travel restraint deemed unconstitutional.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate higher, technical and vocational education committee has issued a show cause order against officials of the University of Manila after they failed to show up to its hearing on Monday about alleged irregularities in its grading system.

Sen. Chiz Escudero, who chairs the Senate panel, said the UM officials were given a show cause order “for why they should not be cited for contempt for failure to even explain their absence or be here this morning.”

The private university had been informed and had “duly received” the invitation to the hearing, Escudero said.

Around 140 civil engineering students from the Manila university were barred from graduating last school year after all students received the same failing grade of 70 from a professor who immediately resigned thereafter. 

Students who took their case to Sen. Raffy Tulfo’s radio show in July said they were never shown a breakdown of their grades and were allegedly forced to take a test that had questions not related to civil engineering. 

These questions include: "What is your subject?," "Define and explain why this subject is important in your course," and "Give at least three practical examples on its importance."

This prompted Tulfo to file a Senate resolution in July ordering a probe on the "irregularities" and "grave injustices" imposed by the school on the students, the senator said in a statement.

Escudero said the hearing on Monday aimed to explore the options that students can bring up during their mediation with the university, which is facilitated by CHED officials, including lawyer Frederick Farolan of the Legal Legislative Service of CHED.

“But they did not even bother to send a representative or explain their absence,” Escudero said.

A contempt order will be issued against UM and its officials if they do not respond to the show cause order, Escudero said.

Students’ grades 

Micca Bacunawa, a University of Manila student in its Civil Engineering program, said the professor who resigned did not provide a breakdown of their grades to justify why all 140 received a grade of 70.

In response to a question from Tulfo, Farolan said that CHED's policies dictate that grades should "not be arbitrary but should be based on standards agreed upon by the student and the school during the start of the semester." 

If a higher education institution fails to prove that it complied with standards in grading students fairly, “that could be deemed as administratively actionable lapses on the part of the HEI,” Farolan said.

The CHED official provided a disclaimer, however, that he cannot directly state whether there are actions by the University of Manila that can be penalized based on the accounts of the students due to the current mediation between the school and students.

Farolan added that according to CHED’s procedures, the usual timeframe for the resolution of cases is from 60 to 90 days, including the time needed to collect evidence and to conduct inquiries, before coming out with a decision 

Tulfo berated CHED and called on the agency to immediately act on the case after more than a month since it was brought to their attention. “It’s been more than 30 days and yet you have not come up with a decision. The students and parents have suffered enough,” Tulfo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

‘Withdrawn’ graduation status 

One accountancy student from the university who attended the hearing said several students from the program were also allowed to graduate during the commencement exercises but were later told they had missing requirements.

Tulfo said the school's retraction of their graduation seemed like a case of "racketeering" to force students to pay the tuition fees for another semester. 

Escudero, meanwhile, said that any school's pronouncement and approval of graduation proceedings is a "touch move" and should not be withdrawn arbitrarily. 

"CHED can issue an order to the school to give them their credentials because the right is already attached to them when they allowed them to graduate," Escudero said. 

Farolan said the matter would be brought up to its commission en banc (CEB) for the issuance of the relevant order. 

“Graduation ceremonies are not just pro forma but also legally binding,” Farolan added.

‘Harassment and bullying’

Students also reported a bullying incident from a professor who allegedly mocked "Tulfo engineering students" in a Facebook video after they reported their case to Tulfo's radio show. 

“That’s harassment and bullying,” Tulfo said.

The Senate panel ordered the students to submit a complaint which it will forward to the National Bureau of Investigation, which will then be taken up in the Senate panel's next hearing.

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