MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA), through its Fourth Division, has affirmed the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal of several officials and instructors of the Bulacan State University (BSU) over the drowning of seven college students during a school-authorized field trip in August 2014.
Sacked by the Ombudsman for gross neglect of duty were BSU president Mariano De Jesus, vice-president for student affairs Nicanor Dela Rama, College of Home Economics Dean Nerisa Viola, Angelina Cinco, Mary Jane Lopez, Angelyn Dy Tioco, Leslie Garcia, Rossette Tanwangco, and Reynita Del Fonso.
The appellate court junked their petitions for review for lack of merit, siding with the Ombudsman’s findings that they were guilty of neglect of duty “when they endorsed and approved the subject field trip without complying with the policies and guidelines issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).”
“The fatal drowning of seven college students who joined the field trip could have been avoided had petitioners taken precautions and followed the requirements under CMO (CHEd Memorandum Order) No. 17 and Ordinance No. 2013-7 (promulgated by the Bulacan Sangguniang Panlalawigan) to ensure the students’ safety,” the CA decision stated.
CMO 17 contains policies and guidelines on the conduct of educational tours/field trips by higher educations institutions, which include advance and proper coordination with local government units and seeking clearances from concerned government and even non-government offices; a thorough risk assessment; and notifying CHEd a month prior to the start of the academic school year or at least a month prior to the scheduled field trip.
In the case of the BSU field trip, the CA said the guidelines were disregarded.
The CA further said no proper school-appointed person supervised the BSU field trip. Instead instructors relied on local tour guides.
Those who perished in the excursion on August 18 to 19, 2014 were Madel Navarro, Maico Bartolome, Mikhail Alcantara, Sean Alejo, Helena Marcelo, Jeanette Rivera and Michelle Ann Rose Bonzo, who were crossing the river. The water was said to be torrential at the time, which led to their demise.
The 24-page CA decision, promulgated on March 21, was penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr. and concurred by Associate Justices Franchito Diamante and Maria Elisa Sempio Dy.