Students held a commemoration and protest activity within the halls of the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) College of Arts and Sciences on Friday, March 15, to commemorate the 6th year death anniversary of Kristel Tejada.
Kristel Tejada was a first year BA Behavioral Sciences student from the College of Arts and Sciences. Unable to pay for the P10,000 matriculation fee, she was pushed to file for a forced leave of absence and surrender her student ID. Tejada’s name was also taken off in the class lists and seat plans despite her attendance in classes. She went home one day and drank silver cleaner. She was 16.
The protest was attended by several youth organizations within and outside UPM, such as the League of Filipino Students UPM, Sulong UPM allied organizations and Kabataan Party-list Metro Manila. Tejada’s family was also present.
“Nag-appeal po kami. Noong time na ‘yun walang-wala na talaga kami. Ginagapang lang namin ang kanyang pag-aaral. Pamasahe pa lang po namomroblema na kami. Kaya namin pinili ang UP–dahil nakapasa rin siya ng UST–mas pinili namin ang UP dahil may scholarship. Ang akala namin ay makakakuha kami ng Bracket E2 dahil sa kalagayan namin. Pero hindi po nangyari, nagkamali ng bracketing. Hindi kami nakabayad. Nangyari ang pinakahuli, hindi na in-accept ang pakiusap namin, pinag-forced leave of absence siya. That was March 13. Sinubmit niya ang ID niya. Sinubmit ang kanyang mga letter. Masama sa kanyang loob na iwan ang UP Manila. Ang UP Manila na ang nakikita niyang huling pag-asa. ‘Yung mga panahong iyon nagdarahop talaga kami. Ang kanyang pag-aaral ang nagpa-survive para manatili kami sa Maynila, dahil balak na sana naming umuwi ng probinsya. Pero dahil nakita namin ang determinasyon niya, ang kanyang adhikain na makapagtapos at makatulong sa pamilya, ay ninais na rin po namin na manatili sa Maynila dahil naniniwala kami sa kanyang kakayahan bilang mag-aaral,” recalled Christopher Tejada, the father of Kristel.[“We appealed. That time we really had nothing. We were making ends meet to provide for her studies. We even had problems providing her fare. We chose UP–she also passed in UST–because of the scholarship. We thought we would avail the Bracket E2 due to our situation. We were placed in the wrong bracket. We weren’t able to pay. What happened last was our pleas have been unheard. She was forced to file a leave of absence. That was March 13. She had to submit her ID. She had to submit her letters. She had to leave UP Manila with a heavy heart. She saw it as her last hope. Those were the times that we were really poor. Her studying was the only thing that made us stay in Manila, because we were planning to go back to the province. Yet we saw her determination, her hope to finish her studies and help our family, and we decided to stay in Manila because we believe in her capabilities,”]
“Naaalala natin si Ate Kristel, hindi lamang sa kanyang hinarap. Nakikita natin na ang sitwasyon niya ay manipestasyon ng bulok na sistema ng edukasyon na kayang kumitil ng pangarap at buhay. Naaalala dapat natin siya sa bawat isyung kinakaharap ng mga estudyante. Sa bawat presyong ipinapataw sa ating edukasyon. Sa bawat pagsingil sa ating organisasyon ng bayad upang makagamit ng pasilidad sa pamantasan. Ilan ito sa mga manipestasyon na itong libreng edukasyong ito ay hindi pa rin ibinibigay nang buo sa mga estudyante. ‘Yung batas, bagaman sinasabing free education na ay hindi pa rin naibibigay sa atin,” said Pat Cierva, the Chairperson of Kabataan Partylist Metro Manila.[“We remember Ate Kristel and not only her struggles. We also see that her situation is a manifestation of the current rotten system of education that kills dreams and takes lives. We should remember her in every issue that we face as students. In every price added to our education. In every fee collection done by our student organizations just to use the school’s facilities. These are some of the manifestations that this education is not free and not given to the students. This law (Free Tuition Policy), even if it states that education is free already, is not yet fully felt by the students.”]
Cierva explained that while the Free Tuition Policy is already implemented since 2017, UP Manila still suffered from low budget that led to poor and inadequate facilities in the premier health sciences university in the country, exorbitant rental fees for organizations, and most especially, the payback scheme of the Return Service Agreement (RSA) that is implemented in six of seven colleges in the university campus.
The RSA is a contract signed by incoming first year students in the field of Health Sciences. Students from the College of Allied Medical Professions (CAMP), College of Dentistry (CD), College of Nursing (CN), College of Medicine (CM), College of Pharmacy (CP) and College of Public Health (CPH) are covered by the agreement. The agreement stated that students who reached 60 units enrolled in the university must render stay and work in the country for a minimum of two years. Those who breach the contract due to being unable to complete the return service program must render payment as an option.
In the last semester, the university has started to implement the rule that students who signed the RSA contract opting to shift out of their program for various reasons must render payment amounting to P 600,000 to P 1.2 million depending on their socialized tuition scheme bracket and amount of tuition paid, due to ‘breach of contract’.
The payback scheme is equal to twice the cost of education plus interests and donation, according to RSA documents in the RSA amendments workshop in May 2018.
This new ‘aggressive payback scheme’ has caused several students to remain in their degree programs despite failing or lacking interest, to enrol less than the regular load per semester to avoid reaching the 60 units limit or drop out of school completely, said Anakbayan UP Manila of the cases they have profiled since last semester.
Various youth groups within the university called this as a new and extreme form of commercialization, citing that the existence of this policy defeats the rationale of the free tuition policy.
Paco Perez, spokesperson of Anakbayan Metro Manila elaborated that the state of education within the University is far from free as it shows itself to be if these policies still exist. Perez also hit the university and government policies, which has pushed Kristel Tejada to her death, and now that that the socialized tuition has escalated into something more sinister with the RSA.
“Ang pagkamatay ni Kristel ay sana hindi makalimutan. Nagsisilbi itong alaala kung saan isang mag-aaral mula sa isang state university ay nagpakamatay dahil sa matrikula. Isang kabalintunaan ito. Bakit sa isang pampublikong pamantasan may nagpapakamatay? Nagpapakamatay, hindi na lamang hirap na hirap dahil sa acads. Pero dinadagdagan pa ito ng iba’t ibang polisiyang lalong nagpapahirap sa mga estudyante na kung saan itinutulak nito ang mga estudyante sa rurok ng kanilang kakayanan hanggang sa kitilin ang sariling buhay. Walang kasing sahol iyon! Walang kasing bulok ang sistema ng edukasyon. Galit na galit tayo sa 5% na tuition fee increase sa mga pribadong unibersidad pero dito sa UP, may sinisingil ng milyon! Pambansang unibersidad. Pag-asa ng bayan. Pero ang sistema ng edukasyon, ang ating administrasyon, ang ating gobyerno ang pumapatay sa atin! Karapatan ng kabataan ang edukasyon,” Perez exclaimed.[“Kristel’s death will never be forgotten. This also serves as a reminder wherein a student from a state university took her own life due to matriculation fees. It’s an irony. Why did a student studying in a public university thought to end her life? Students are thinking to kill themselves, not only because of the academic load but also because of the policies which burden and push the students to the edge of their capabilities until they begin to think to end their lives. Such gruesome circumstance! This education system is rotten. This day is not just a commemoration. We are angered by the 5% tuition increase of private universities but here in UP, somebody is forced to pay millions! A premiere state university for the youth, the future hope of the nation but the educational system, the school administration, and the State itself pushes us to our deaths! Education is our right!”]
Faye Arguson, UP Manila University Student Council councilor and a student from CAMP shared that she herself is affected by the issue of RSA and the payback scheme.
“Isa ako sa mga estudyanteng naaapektuhan ng RSA. Ikaapat na taon ko na sa kolehiyo nang mapagdisesyunan kong lumipat ng kurso: isang napakahirap na disesyon para sa isang estudyanteng pinipilit ang sarili na gustuhin ang kurso niya sa health sciences dahil sa pampinansyal na seguridad. I am diagnosed with MDD and anxiety, at malaking hakbang sa akin ang magdesisyong umalis sa kurso kong patuloy lang na pinapalala ang mental health ko. Alam kong hindi lang ako ang nakaranas nito. Pero pinipigilan ako ng RSA. Pinagbabayad ako ng malaking halaga kapalit ng desisyon kong lumipat sa kursong gusto ko talaga. Maghihintay pa ba tayo ng isang estudyanteng kailangan mamatay dahil sa isang kontratang pinipilit sila magbayad “as a last option”? Maghihintay pa ba tayo ng isa pang Kristel Tejada?” Arguson spoked emotionally at the protest.[“I am one of the students affected by the RSA. On my fourth year in college, I have decided to switch degree programs: a hard decision to undertake especially for a student who forces herself to love her program in the Health Sciences due to financial security. I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety, and this a huge step for me to decide to get out of a degree program that exacerbates my mental health condition. I know I’m not the only one who experiences this, but RSA hinders me. I am forced to pay a large amount of money in exchange for my decision to switch to a program that I really like. Must we wait for another student to die because of a contract that forces them to pay “as a last option”? Must we wait for another Kristel Tejada?”]
For the youth and student groups present in the protest, the continuing collection of fees for organizations to use facilities and the existence of RSA despite the implementation of the free tuition policy prove that genuine free education is still far from coming into fruition.
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