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Graduates collapse during rites in Northern Samar school

/ 04:30 PM June 16, 2019

CATARMAN, Northern Samar—Protests and hate comment flooded social media after some graduating students collapsed in the middle of the 58th Commencement Exercises at the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Northern Samar on Saturday (June 15).

Many netizens blamed the incident on the shift in the schedule of the graduation ceremonies.

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Northern Samar’s lone university usually holds graduation rites in the afternoon but, for the first time, decided to hold the ceremonies in the morning at the UEP amphitheater which was an open area.

The procession of students started at 6 a.m. although the ceremony’s main guest, Sen. Cynthia Villar, has yet to arrive.

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Ronnie Ballado, head of UEP’s student affairs department, told the Inquirer that the change of schedule was an adjustment to Villar’s schedule which made her available as graduation speaker at 10 a.m.

Ballado said school officials had planned to start the program even in the absence of Villar and agreed that the senator would leave immediately after speaking “for her other commitments” because “we understood she had a meeting scheduled at lunch.”

Diplomas were already being handed out to the graduates when Villar arrived around 9:45 a.m.

After formal introduction by university president Rolando Delorino, the senator delivered a 30-minute speech to the 2,361 graduating students. She left after that.

A staffer of Villar, Candy Buenaventura, told the Inquirer some students had already fainted even before the senator arrived.

But after Villar had already left, more students collapsed in succession as diplomas were being handed out.

On its Facebook page, the university campus paper “The Pillar” reported that 23 graduates collapsed “due to complaints of dizziness, diarrhea, headache, and difficulty in breathing.”

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They were rushed to the university clinic where the university doctor, Elizabeth Dubongco, explained that the students had fainted due to “too much exposure to heat.”

The temperature in Catarman on the day of the graduation reached a high of 34 degrees Celsius with a heat index of at least 40 degrees Celsius.

UEP, some netizens said, sold umbrellas and fans to graduates for P100 each, which was also heavily criticized on social media.

The Inquirer sought comments from Delorino, the university president, but he has yet to reply.

Netizens, who witnessed the affair, used social media to air disappointment.

It was learned that the graduating students were told to be at the venue as early as 5 a.m. The ceremonies ended around 1 p.m.

“This is outright stupidity on the part of the (UEP) administration.,” went one social media post.

“They fully know that the sun’s heat is at its height at 8am to 3pm why would they hold the ceremony at that time? It must have been a nightmare for the (graduates) wearing that toga…”

“Shame on UEP for allowing this to happen”.

Other netizens directed their ire on Villar, thinking that the senator had the graduates waiting for her under the sun.

But Buenaventura, Villar’s staffer, told Inquirer that while the senator was saddened by the incident, the blame should not rest on her.

Buenaventura also denied that the senator had asked UEP to wait for her arrival.

“We know that the ceremonies will start even if the senator has not yet arrived. That’s okay with us. She even arrived earlier than the agreed time,” she said.

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TAGS: commencement exercises‎, Cynthia Villar, diplomas, Graduation, heat index, Northern Samar
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