by Dean Lozarie
An official of the University of the Philippines called the proposal made by student organizations to junk the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) “irresponsible” in light of renewed debate about UP’s tuition policies following the suicide on Friday of a 16-year old Behavioral Sciences student from UP Manila (UPM).
UP Vice President for Public Affairs Prospero De Vera made the comment after student groups interrupted the press conference at Quezon Hall to announce the launch of a three-day system-wide strike this week to protest the university’s tuition and financial assistance policies.
“If you take a position that you want to scrap the STFAP, but do not come out with a concrete alternative, that is irresponsible,” De Vera said. “What is the alternative?”
“For example, if you scrap STFAP, you deprive poor but deserving students in E1 and E2 who are already enjoying free tuition and stipend. Is that sound policy?” he asked.
For his part, UP President Alfredo Pascual said he “could not understand” why the student groups did not want to help students coming from poor families. If the STFAP were to be scrapped, poor students would have to pay higher tuition fees, he said.
Pascual said that while his administration acknowledges the flaws in the STFAP, it has also been undertaking a review of the policy since he assumed office in 2011.
The president said he hopes to be able to present the proposal for a revised STFAP bracketing to the Board of Regents (BOR), UP’s highest policy-making body, when it meets on April 12.
Members of various student groups under the UP Kilos Na movement rose up in the middle of the press conference to announce their plans for a three-day protest.
Anton Dulce of the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) said the strike, which would run from Wednesday to Friday, would call for the immediate scrapping of the forced Leave of Absence policy, the junking of the STFAP, and the enactment of a nationwide tuition moratorium.
But De Vera dismissed the supposed need for a moratorium on tuition fees by saying that the tuition fees in UP have not increased for two administrations already. “Kahit na piso, walang tumaas na tuition (The tuition has not increased even by a peso),” he said.
The UP administration organized the press conference to explain the circumstances regarding the UPM freshman’s death and iron out details regarding the STFAP. The student allegedly took her life because she was distraught over having to file a Leave of Absence (LOA) after failing to settle her financial obligations with the university.
Probably in Bracket E
The student, whose father is a taxi driver and whose mother is unemployed, had been classified under Bracket D of the STFAP, which meant she had to pay P300 per unit. The student appealed to the UPM administration to be reassigned to Bracket E, under which students enjoy free tuition and, in some cases, a monthly stipend.
The student said in her appeal that her father had lost his job and that her parents have been having frequent verbal and physical fights over money.
UPM Chancellor Manuel Agulto said the student’s appeal was denied because she was not able to submit the proper documents.
Asked whether the student’s application would have been accepted had she been able to file all the required documents, De Vera said he did not know the specifics of the case, “but from what we are seeing and from the stories, she probably would be [placed] in Bracket E.”
At the press conference, the UPM Chancellor presented a timeline of events: from May 2012 when the student first enrolled in UP to March 13, 2013, the day she filed her LOA.
Records show that the student took out a loan amounting to P6,377 in the first semester. She subsequently made three appeals to extend the deadline for the loan’s payment to November 30, then to December 7, and to December 19.
From November to December 2012, the student also worked as a student assistant at the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) while she did not yet have a Form 5 or Certificate of Registration.
On December 19, the girl’s father applied for another loan but this was not processed as it was the last working day before Christmas break.
Agulto said the student’s family only made an appeal on January 23, 2013, or nine weeks since the start of classes. The extended deadline for payment of tuition fees had already lapsed by this time, he said.
The chancellor admitted being approached by the student’s mother at a social gathering to plead for her daughter, but denied seeing the parent kneel or beg before him. Agulto told the student’s mother that while he sympathized with her, he could not override the university’s rules.
No forced LOA policy
Agulto teared up in the middle of his presentation because he said the case reminded him “of the hardships I went through to get my medical degree.”
The administration official, however, denied the existence of a forced leave of absence policy at the campus. He said UPM only enforces Article 330 of the 1975 University Code, which stipulates that students who have not duly matriculated cannot be admitted to classes.
This provision was cited in a memo released last year by the UPM Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs which advised unpaid students to “avail of financial assistance provided by the university” or “make their individual appeals to the UPM administration.”
Agulto, who is facing calls for his resignation over the incident, said he would not step down unless it is proven that he had caused the death.
“We were not lacking in compassion in this case,” the Chancellor said, adding that UP officials “do not wish to give anyone a difficult time.”
“We dream for them as they aspire for their future… We do not wish to pose obstacles in realizing their dreams. In fact, we wish even bigger dreams for them,” he said.