The ‘iskolar ng bayan’ responds to coronavirus pandemic



Tonyo Cruz Tonyo Cruz

True, President Duterte ordered schools closed, but there’s a flurry of activity in our many public colleges and universities nationwide. There’s no stopping the people’s scholars from offering their knowledge, expertise, and time to the “bayan” whose name they carry in the monicker “iskolar ng bayan”.

Leading the pack are the scientists at the University of the Philippines’ National Institutes of Health who electrified the nation with the announcement of a COVID19 test kit.

Then, there are the more than 200 interns volunteering to work in the frontlines of the Philippine General Hospital, UP’s university hospital. We’ve heard stories about parents willingly supporting the intent of their sons and daughters to go and be of service at such a critical time, and we shall be forever grateful for their selflessness and sense of service.

On the issue of mass testing, the scientists group AGHAM in UP Diliman came out with a compelling paper advocating a people-centered and scientific approach to combatting the spread of the coronavirus.

There are actually many similar stories of our people’s scholars defying the school shutdowns and the call for social distancing, because there are things to be done, knowledge to be tapped, issues to be confronted, and solutions to be offered to a nation that looks up to their public colleges and universities.

Students and alumni from UP Diliman’s various disciplines came up with an open-source design for “sanitation tents.” The Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology called them “disinfection cabins.”

The shortage of alcohol for consumers and frontliners compelled the chemists at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines to come up with a formulation of ethyl alcohol.

Using nanotechnology, the experts at Central Luzon State University produced hand sanitizers, as well as regulation face masks. Similar efforts were done at Tarlac State University, but with additional face shields built using 3D printers.

Badly needed by frontliners, face shields are now produced by the hundreds, if not thousands, in fablabs (fabrication labs) around the country -- Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College, Jose Rizal Memorial State University,  Technological University of the Philippines-Visayas, Batangas State University, UP Cebu, Sulu State College, and Bicol University.

The University of Antique, another public university, formulated their own hand sanitizers, hand dips, foot baths and surface disinfectants. They also produced face shields.

No problem seems too small for our people’s scholars. To ensure that the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Hospital would not run out of soap, the Mindoro State College of Arts and Technology produced 1,650 bars of soap for them.

Caraga State University’s scholars took many steps to give hope to the people in their region. They produced face shields and face masks; produced nano cellulose film for face masks;  launched mental health telecounseling service; produced four tons of disinfectant solution for Butuan City; and they are now developing their own thermal scanners.

Responding to the shortage of alcohol in their province, the Mariano Marcos State University has started producing ethyl alcohol from molasses, partnering with municipal governments to ensure abundant supply of the raw material and also the distribution of the finished products.

These represent a sample of what our people’s scholars have done or are doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We could be sure there are many other public colleges and universities engaged in public service and extension at this very moment.

Public or private, schools rightly prioritized the safety of the students, faculty and staff. Most, if not all, released coronavirus-related announcements and advisories. But they were mostly related to the suspension of classes and work, and to assistance to stranded members of their student bodies.

But beyond that, schools have a role to play especially nowadays, when people look for answers to their questions, and solutions to the urgent problems that people see. We must give it to the public colleges and universities for fulfilling this role.

This role of social relevance has been questioned by those who are threatened by independent, creative and critical thinkers. They have even gone around public colleges and universities to preach the false gospel of selfishness and turning away from the needs and demands of community and country.

The coronavirus pandemic debunks that fake gospel and instead shines a bright light on the important role of people’s scholars in the life of the nation. For what would be the use of our investments in our people’s scholars if they cannot contribute through words and deeds to confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, we should expect nothing less from our people’s scholars than the best they could offer at these trying times.

We do not hear complaints from our people right now regarding the activism and patriotism of our people’s scholars. Because the people see and hear clearly what their best and brightest sons and daughters do and say: Service to the people, serve the people.

The people’s scholars actually have a choice. They could just stay home and follow the advice of some to just be selfish with their time and skills, and to not mind the affairs of the nation. And if they so wish to engage, they are told to merely profess loyalty to the president because supposedly they owe him everything.

But our people’s scholars know better. They choose to analyze the people’s problems, articulate the people’s demands, and to take concrete steps to address the people’s most urgent needs. In short, they choose to be loyal to and to give back to “bayan” whose name they carry as “iskolar ng bayan.”