MANILA, Philippines - Just when the University of the Philippines in Diliman is being plagued by calls to improve its campus security following a violent incident that endangered the life of a student, here comes another issue that threatens the health safety of the UP community - food scare!
In a recent study made by the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) and the Center for International Migration and Development, it was revealed that street food on the UP Diliman campus, and in some areas in Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Laguna are not safe to eat.
After food samples from these areas failed health safety tests, DOST's Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) issued an advisory, warning consumers on the dangers of eating street food that may contain bacteria such as salmonella, which can cause stomach ache, diarrhea and serious diseases like hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
The Department of Education in Caloocan, meanwhile, also banned the selling of street food within a 50-meter radius of public schools in the said city. The Department of Health and the City of Mandaluyong have also launched similar campaigns.
Yet, despite warnings and news reports, UP students do not seem to mind and continue to buy their favorite street food, a long-held tradition and part and parcel of campus life in the said state university.
Patrick Shane Diaz, a sixth year Office of the University Registrar student (non-major), was hospitalized two years ago for incurring stomach pains after eating too much instant noodles and chicken in one of the food kiosks on campus. Diaz says the diagnosis was that he incurred phosphate deposits because of eating the same food for a long period of time.
"I used to eat two pancit cantons and chicken almost every day for a year. But I got hospitalized not because the food was unsafe but due to the frequency of eating the same food," shares Patrick.
While he has become more cautious now, Patrick admits that he still eats these kind of food in small amounts. He says he is assured of their cleanliness and safety because he sees how the vendors prepare them.
His friend Juffy Andaya, a third year Business Administration and Accountancy student, is also fond of buying fishballs, kwek kwek and pancit canton from the food stalls in UP. Juffy was unaware of the food safety issue but says that even after knowing it, it does not stop him from buying and eating street food.
"I'm already in my third year here and I haven't encountered any stomach ache or diarrhea. So tuloy lang," he beams.
Second year Business Administration students Nadine Magtibay and Alyx Rubio share the same sentiments. During this interview, Nadine consumed two orders of squid balls while Alyx ate pancit canton. That was their lunch.
"Kahit naman saang lugar may risk eh, kahit pa may certification na malinis 'yung store, hindi guarantee 'yung lugar. Pero so far wala naman kaming na-experience na sumakit ang tiyan. Nakikita naman namin kung paano lutuin 'yung mga pagkain dito kaya walang problema," says Nadine.
Edna Sinoy, president of the Samahang Manininda sa UP Diliman, says it would be hard to prevent these students from buying food which is cheaper and more convenient.
"Dinadayo ang mga paninda namin lalo na ang isaw ng mga estudyante pati sa Ateneo at Miriam, at mga alumni at politicians. Pantawid gutom kasi ito ng mga bata. Ang pancit canton, sa halagang R6.00 solved na sila. Yung fish balls na 10 pieces, R15.00 lang. Kadalasan nga inuulam pa yan ng mga estudyante, bibili na lang sila ng kanin. Sa canteen, ang ulam R50 to R70 ang halaga. Sa amin puwede ang utang. Kapag suki na namin, mga anak na ang turing namin sa kanila kaya tinutulungan namin sila pati sa ibang pangangailangan. Pag walang baon o pera, sige lista lista lang," says Edna.
Edna also reasoned that their 65-member association would not last for 25 years if they do not conform to the health safety standards of the UP Health Service and the Quezon City health and sanitation office.
"Dito sa UP ipinagmamalaki namin na maingat kami sa pagprepare ng pagkain. Mga estudyante ang pinagsisilbihan namin kaya ayaw naming masira sa kanila. Bago ka makapagtinda rito, maraming proseso ang pinagdadaanan. Kailangan magsecure ng NBI at baragay clearances, health certificate at permit," she explains.
The vendors in UP also have to undergo twice a year seminars and training on health preparation and sanitation from the University Health Service and the College of Home Economics in coordination with the Business Concessions Office. Edna says an official from the Health Service also randomly conducts home and stall visitations to check how they prepare their sauces and get samples from their juices and other food items. They also change their cooking oil daily and keep their food in clean containers to ensure that no bacteria can contaminate it.
"Sa isang araw ubos ang paninda namin. At ilang taon na kami dito pero wala pa namang nagrereklamo na sumakit ang tiyan. Sana lang huwag ipagbawal ang panininda sa UP kasi hindi naman lahat dito ay marumi ang tinitinda. 'Yung mga illegal vendors na hindi namin miyembro ang puwedeng pinagsimulan nung mga balitang 'yun. Ito lang ang aming kabuhayan at napag-aral namin ang mga anak namin sa malinis at marangal na trabahong ito kaya amin itong pinahahalagahan," says Edna.
Senator Francis Kiko Pangilinan, a former chairman of the university student council, helped legalize the trade of the vendors association in UP. However, the change in administration rules in 1996 almost caused the eviction of the vendors from the UP academic oval. But the support of the students, manifested in some 12,000 signatures, saved their livelihood and enabled them to stay in UP to this very day.