AlerTomas 2020: From New Normal to Better Normal in caring for creation

When the University of Santo Tomas opened the academic year 2020-2021 in August, despite the pandemic and the uncertainty about things in the so-called new normal, what was certain was the institution’s continued support for AlerTomas and the unwavering assistance for Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s encyclical on care for creation.     

Alertomas is the university-wide community development advocacy for the environment and on disaster risk reduction management (DRRM).  This year, it will work around the theme “Hubileo Para sa Daigdig: Pagtalab at Pagtugon sa Pagpapanumbalik sa Sangnilikha,”

AlerTomas 2020 was a light for the Earth amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The advocacy became a catalyst to facilitate not the new normal but rather a better normal.  Knowing that damage to the earth impacts not just people in general, but more specifically the poor, the principle is to care for the environment to ensure that man and the natural environment are in synergy instead of having to manage disasters when they happen.

The AlerTomas Cluster is composed of six academic units with their respective Community Development Coordinators under the UST SIMBAHAYAN Community Development Office.  These are: the College of Architecture represented by Asst. Prof. Antonino Tobias, Faculty of Engineering by Engr. Manolo Binuya, Graduate School by Asst. Prof. Rodel Canlas, College of Science by Dr. Ezra Aguilar, and the National Service Training Program (NSTP) unit represented by its Moderator, Assoc. Prof. Ricarte Origenes. This year, the event was chaired by the Faculty of Arts and Letters through Asst. Prof. Ronald M. Castillo.

The cluster was extended to a wide-ranging committee composed of collaborating student organizations:  UST Artlets Student Council (ABSC), UST College of Architecture Student Council (CD Arki Committee), UST Asian Studies Society, UST Red Cross Youth Council (RCYC)-Arts and Letters Unit, UST-RCYC- Engineering Unit, UST RCYC-Science Unit, UST Sociological Society, UST Concilium Philosophiae, UST Legal Management Society, UST Communication Arts Students’ Association, UST Literary Society, UST Chorus of Arts and Letters, UST Artistang Artlets, UST History Society, UST Behavioral Science Society, UST Engineering Student Council, and UST UNESCO Club. 

Each committee had its own sub-committee in charge of specific duties across the whole month of AlerTomas 2020.  The four Saturdays were hosted via a private Zoom account of the Rotary Club of Cubao and handled by Mr. Richard de Silva, a Rotary Member and a Support Staff at the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters.

The Corn Moon, considered by Native Americans as a period of respect for the Earth which yielded crops for their consumption, waxed in the sky as AlerTomas announced during National Heroes Day through a Community Service Day, an ecumenical call to champion the environment.  This heralded four online community engagements laid out across the four Saturdays of September – the month when the Liturgical Year celebrates the Season of Creation.  The first two Saturdays were celebrated through webinars and the final two were through community engagements, all of which founded through researches in partnership with the UST Research Center on Social Sciences and Education (RCSSED). 

Following a general theme on the environment and a specific theme of Zero-Waste, a two-topic webinar was conducted.

The first was on Backyard Gardening with guest speakers from the Agricultural Training Institute and Inang Lupa Movement, and the second was on Botika sa Paso with guest speaker Asst. Prof. Grace Maclan of the UST Faculty of Pharmacy.

These expert discussions laid out foundations for the inculcating Zero-Waste as a beneficial practice for community members where Prof. Arlen Ancheta, Ph.D., lead of the Sustainability Research Interest Group (RIG) at UST-RCSSED, was the resource person.  Both webinars were held in Zoom and was shown in Facebook Live through the UST SIMBAHAYAN Facebook page. 

The final two Saturdays ensured an affective process of communitizing the concept of Zero-Waste.  A small number of representatives was gathered across the university’s partner communities for a participatory discussion on their respective community’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) in practicing Zero-Waste.

Instead of having a speaker to do the sharing, Assoc. Prof. Maria Rosario Virginia Garcia of UST-RCSSED facilitated the participation of the invited community representatives who shared their own experiences.  The private Zoom provided a digital safe space for community members to do their sharing which allowed them to process the lessons from the previous two webinars.

An international event hosted by the University of Santo Tomas for institutions also took place.  Asst. Prof.  Andy Ku of the National Taipei University, International Program on Urban Governance discussed community-based flood management in Taiwan.  This was followed by a round table discussion of UST institutional stakeholders on environment and sustainability.

It included sharing of experiences on projects and advocacies by representatives from different offices in UST that included: UST-NSTP represented by Assoc. Prof. Ricarte Origenes, UST Office of the Q.S./T.H.E. Ranking represented by Engr. Nestor Ong, UST Facilities and Maintenance Office represented by Engr. Jared Gunting, UST-RCSSED Sustainability RIG represented by Assoc. Prof. Moises Norman Garcia, UST UNESCO Club represented by Mr. Antonio Guiang Jr., Earth UST represented by Ms. Patricia Alburo, and UST Central Student Council represented by Ms. Niña Angelica Rodriguez.  

Amidst the pandemic, administrators, faculty, students, support staff, partner community members, alumni, and even international networks were able to join together in working toward the University’s advocacy to care for creation.

AlerTomas 2020 fused university research and community engagement toward a cohesive whole intended to give the Earth a Jubillee – a time to recover for Mother Nature, a time to restore humanity as stewards, a time for people to celebrate the Earth’s fruits in a virtue of caritas of man to fellow man. 

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