As I See It

3 independent Senate bets on UP, Sabah crises

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The suicide of a student of the University of the Philippines and its faulty policies on tuition, as well as the raging Sabah crisis, took up most of the time of the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. Rep. Teddy Casiño, Mayor Edward Hagedorn of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and lawyer Samson Alcantara of the Social Justice Party, all independent senatorial candidates in the May elections, had plenty to say about these matters.

Casiño said UP’s socialized tuition scheme, although intended to help students from low-income families, actually made it harder for them. He added that some of them in the House of Representatives actually opposed it because it made the per capita tuition for each student higher instead of lower.

Under this scheme, students of UP Diliman, Manila, and Los Baños are categorized in six brackets according to their families’ annual incomes and other factors, such as the ownership of appliances and the family expenditures.

Students in Bracket A, with annual family incomes above P1 million, pay P1,500 per unit; those in Bracket B (P500,000 to P1 million), P1,000 per unit; Bracket C (P250,000 to P500,000), P600 per unit; Bracket D (P135,000 to P250,000), P300 per unit; Bracket E1 (P80,000 to P135,000), free tuition; and Bracket E2 (P80,000 or less), free tuition, plus P12,000 stipend per semester.

Kristel Mariz Tejada, the coed who committed suicide apparently because she could not pay the tuition, belonged to Bracket D, where she was required to pay P300 per unit plus miscellaneous fees. Her family could not pay the amount.

She was able to get a student loan of more than P6,000 to pay for the tuition for the first semester. She had not quite finished paying this loan when it was time to pay the tuition for the second semester, which of course the family could not afford. Her father had been laid off from his job and was earning a measly livelihood as a taxi driver while her mother is a housewife. Kristel was the oldest of five children. Her parents appealed for an extension of the period to pay the loan but was turned down by UP Manila officials. Kristel applied for a second student loan.

UP Manila says now that the loan of P8,000 was approved, that the money was available, and that Kristel was qualified for the loan but that she was denied it because she was “unable to complete the paperwork.” In other words, as I wrote in a previous column, she was denied the loan and died because of some stupid red tape.

Kristel could have been enrolled for the second semester and made to “complete the paperwork” later. In her desire to learn and finish college, Kristel attended classes although she was not enrolled and got no credit. As a result, her name was not called during the roll calls.

Kristel had told her counselor that she “felt ashamed” because of that.

Representative Casiño told the Kapihan of the suspicion that the red tape was purposely made longer to force students to pay the higher fees. He said state universities are forced by the budget department to raise their incomes to reduce the subsidies to them. He added that he had filed a bill to remove the “no pay, no exam” policy of all schools. No student should be denied his/her right to quality education because of poverty, he said.

Because of the uproar that the death of Kristel has aroused in all UP campuses and at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, UP president Alfredo Pascual announced the other day that he has proposed to the Board of Regents reforms in the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program. He said the economic indicators that determine a student’s capacity to pay should be made more realistic, the application process less tedious, and the monthly allowance increased. He added that he wants the “no late payment” policy lifted immediately.

All of these hand-wringing, soul-searching, crocodile tears, and reforms come too late. Kristel is dead; all of these will not bring her back. That’s one bright mind with a brilliant future lost due to some stupid red tape and uncaring university officials. What good are all those billions of pesos for the Conditional Cash Transfer program to keep children in school and the billions more spent for free public education, when here is one soul who wanted very much to study lost due to this stupid red tape?

UP president Pascual says now in a press statement: “My position… [is that] no student shall be denied access to UP education due to financial constraints.”

Very nice to hear, but what good will it do to Kristel and her family now?

Hagedorn and Alcantara proposed that the billions of pesos being wasted on the pork barrel and on bonuses for senators and other privileged public officials be channeled instead to education.

On the Sabah crisis, all three independent candidates agreed that P-Noy’s administration is being too soft on Malaysia although it is the Filipino Muslims who are on the right side and who are being killed and abused by Malaysian security forces. Is P-Noy the President of the Philippines or of Malaysia? they asked.

They criticized the government of trying to shift the blame for the administration’s “very timid” approach to the crisis to some “imagined” conspirators behind the Sabah incursion.

Indeed, the government’s blame-shifting is too transparent. It said it has “no evidence” against the conspirators but already it named them as the “Arroyo allies,” the Marcoses, and other critics of the administration.

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