DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 March) — Students of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao (UP-Min) on Tuesday draped with a black cloth the Oblation, the iconic symbol of the University of the Philippines (UP), to show sympathy and call for justice for 16-year old Kristel Tejada, a student of UP Manila who committed suicide allegedly for having been forced to go on a leave of absence due to unpaid tuition.
“The black cloth symbolizes the death not only of a UP student, but also of the hopes and dreams of students in a state university,” Malaya Genotiva, UP-Min student council president told MindaNews.
She said UP campuses in Visayas, Manila and Diliman had draped their Oblation statues last Monday as a sign of protest.
The students called for the scrapping of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), and other alleged repressive policies of the UP system such as the “No late payment policy” and the forced leave of absence (LOA).
The STFAP is a scheme to give students discounts on tuition depending on the economic status of the students.
For UP Manila, Diliman, and Los Baños, tuition fee per unit for bracket A is P1,500; for B P1,000; P600 for C and P300for D.
For UP Mindanao, UP Baguio, UP San Fernando, and UP Visayas, tuition fee per unit for bracket A is P1,000; P600 for B; P400 for C; and P200 for D.
Students who belong to brackets E1 and E2 avail of free tuition in all UP campuses.
Tejada belonged to the STFAP bracket D, which means she had to pay P300 per unit, according to UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto.
Tejada, a freshman of Behavioral Science in UP Manila, committed suicide last March 15, two days after she was forced to file a leave of absence for not being able to pay her tuition.
Genotiva said the STFAP is a form of commercialization of education, adding that state universities are supposed to provide free education because it is the government’s primary obligation under the Constitution.
She said they will stop the forced LOA and other repressive policies from being implemented in UP-Min and other UP campuses.
She added that the students’ minimum demand was to roll back the tuition fee at P40 to P45 per unit since its system-wide implementation in 1989.
She said since the UP-Min was established in 1995, STFAP had already been implemented.
The faculty of the UP Manila Department of Behavioral Science demanded Monday of Chancellor Manuel Agulto and Vice Chancellor Josephine de Luna to tender their “irrevocable resignation” to “show solidarity and humility” to Tejada’s family.
Agulto said Tejada’s suicide was “a very isolated, unfortunate case.”
In a message issued on Tuesday, Agulto said the UP Manila administrators, faculty and students had a “very civil” dialogue and discussed issues related to the financial process for enrollment.
He said the ‘no late payment’ policy has been lifted and “any student with financial constraints will no longer have any problems with regard to tuition fee payment deadlines.”
“We are still, as we always have been, the University of the Philippines of, for, and by the people. Education is everyone’s right. We will continue to uphold that as we promote academic excellence and genuine public service to our dear nation,” Agulto said.
In a statement, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) said the “desensitized Aquino government will feel the pain of every youth and student who are dragged by the chains of destitution and desperation with the massive protests that will happen nationwide.”
It warned that “tomorrow different sectors are ready to hold militant actions to hold Aquino accountable for his crimes to the Filipino people.” (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)