By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The news that a University of the Philippines – Manila student took her own life after she was forced to take a leave of absence because of her failure to pay the tuition at the state university is very shocking. The 16-year old freshman of Behavioral Science was, according to an interaksyon.com report – which cited the Facebook account of the Manila Collegian as source – the eldest of five children of a taxi driver and a housewife.
Professor Andrea Bautista Martinez of the Department of Behavioral Sciences was quoted as saying, “Malaki talaga ang impact sa buhay niya ang LOA kasi pati pamilya niya naapektuhan. Since February, hindi na siya pumapasok. Lagi siyang nagtetext sa’kin na hindi niya kinakaya ang problema.” (Her being forced to take a leave of absence had a big effect on her. She was not able to attend classes since February. She sent text messages telling me that she could no longer bear her problems.)
According to the interaksyon.com report, she belonged to “Bracket D” of the U.P.’s Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). As such, she had to pay P300 per unit. Thus, for a minimum load of 15 units per semester, her family should be shelling out P4,500 or P9,000 a year. For poor families that is a lot of money. To add to her woes, UP reportedly rejected her appeal to be moved to a lower bracket and also to extend the deadline of payment of her tuition.
Because of the fact that she was the oldest sibling and was able to pass the competitive UP College Admission Test (UPCAT), she must have been carrying the burden of making sure that she would finish on time and get a good paying job to be able to support the studies of her younger siblings and help lift her family out of poverty. But all these hopes and dreams had been dashed by her inability to pursue her studies because of financial constraints.
Her life and how she ended it accentuates what is wrong with the government’s priorities. If the Aquino government would have its way, young people from poor families should not dream of lifting their families out of poverty. They should just complete the 12 years of basic education then get a job in a factory, a commercial outlet, a company providing services or a call center. They are, after all, the source of cheap labor to be exploited so that big foreign corporations and their local partners would be able to continue generating profits and expanding their capital.
When senatorial candidate Cynthia Villar caught the ire of nurses by saying that nurses need not pursue a degree because they would be caregivers anyway, she merely articulated the thinking of this government. The Aquino government must be thinking: “Why would a worker, a sales person, a utility person or a call center agent need a college education?”
This is why the government has greatly reduced its subsidies for state colleges and universities. UP is supposedly the premier state university, which they now call the only “national university” in the country. It has the highest ranking among educational institutions in the country. And now it is fast becoming an “exclusive school.”
It is bad enough that students from poor families, who graduated from the country’s deteriorating public school system, would have to compete against students from the country’s version of ivy league schools: expensive private schools mostly run by Catholic congregations. It is even worse if they do pass, they would have to shell out tuition that they could hardly afford. There have been a lot of stories of UPCAT passers from the provinces who, after being assessed of the tuition that they had to pay, just return home to their respective hometowns. Poor students from the provinces even have a more difficult time because aside from the high tuition, they have to raise the money for their board and lodging in Manila.
As the Aquino government progressively reduces its subsidies to state colleges and universities and these erstwhile state-subisidized institutions of higher learning are forced to raise funds for their operations through increasing their tuition, doing research for corporations, renting out their resources and services, and implementing income-generating projects, they would also progressively lose sight of their mandate and operate much like how private schools being run by Catholic congregations do: non-profit institutions in name but profit making ventures in reality. And the iskolars ng bayan or scholars of the people would be a thing of the past.