CA affirms Ombudsman order on Bulacan school execs’ dismissal

MANILA The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss from government service the president of the Bulacan State University (BSU) and eight other school officials and teachers for gross neglect of duty over the death of seven students, who drowned while crossing a river during a school field trip in San Miguel, Bulacan almost four years ago.

In a 24-page ruling last March 21 and penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr. and concurred by Associate Justices Franchito Diamante and Maria Elisa Semio Diy, the CA's 4th Division affirmed the Ombudsman's ruling, which found the officials guilty of gross neglect of duty.

BSU president Mariano de Jesus; Nicanor de la Rama, dean of student affairs; Nerisa Viola, dean of the College of Home Economics (CHE); Angelina Cinco, assistant dean of CHE; professors Mary Jane Lopez and Angelyn Dy Tioco; and instructors Leslie Garcia, Rossette Tanwangco, and Reynita del Fonso had asked the CA to overturn the Ombudsman decision issued in 2015.

But the CA sided with the Ombudsman, which said the petitioners endorsed and approved the field trip without complying with the policies and guidelines issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order No. 17, as well as regulations imposed by a Bulacan provincial ordinance.

The Ombudsman then ordered the dismissal of de Jesus and the other BSU officials and teachers.

The Ombudsman also cancelled the officials' eligibility, forfeited their retirement benefits, and disqualified them from holding public office and from taking the civil service examination.

CHED Memorandum No. 17 laid down the policies and guidelines on the conduct of educational tours/field trips by higher educational institutions.

There was no compliance with the above guidelines and policies when petitioners recommended, approved and conducted the subject field trip, the CA ruling said.

Adding to the serious violations committed by the petitioners is the lack of advance coordination with the local government units, such as the barangay considering the history and character of Madlum River that after a heavy downpour, excess rainwater naturally cascade from the mountain and cause flashfloods and strong currents in the river, it added.

The CA also pointed out that the petitioners failed to comply with the provisions of Ordinance No. 2013-7, approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Bulacan on Dec. 10, 2013, which regulates the conduct of educational field trips in the province.

The ordinance provides, as a minimum standard, that an educational field trip must not pose a threat to student safety and be organized with provision for adequate supervision by a trained educational field trip person-in-charge.

The appellate court noted that no school-appointed person exercised proper supervision during the entire field trip, instead, the school teachers who accompanied the students relied totally on the local tour guides.

While the petitioners verified the license of Adventours with the Department of Tourism for tour services, the CA said they failed to require the latter to conduct briefing to participating teachers and students which would have made them aware of the possible dangers of crossing the Madlum river.

The CA said the petitioners failed to apprise the parents of the risks involved in the mountain and cave trekking before giving consent to their children to join the field trip. It said the waivers they required the parents to sign were not based on informed choice.

Petitioners were negligent in failing to exercise such degree of care and foresight incumbent upon the school, its administrators and teachers, the CA decision reads.

By routinely approving the field trip without taking precautionary measures for the safety of the students, petitioners exhibited such indifference or lack of due regard for the consequences Clearly, petitioners who stand in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to their students violated their basic duty of protecting them from harm while under their custody and supervision, it added.

Seven students died after being swept by a strong current while crossing the Madlum River in 2014. The students were on their way to the Madlum Cave as part of their field trip.

Source: Philippine News Agency