By Tessa Barre and Merryll Phae Red Carao
Former University of the Philippines (UP) President Alfredo E. Pascual’s send-off ceremony Feb. 9 became site to both praises from his colleagues and protests from student groups on his administration’s projects and policies.
In the Institute of Biology Auditorium, former and current UP chancellors, deans, faculty and staff representatives and a few students including student leaders attended the open invitation ceremony of thanksgiving for the president’s six years of service in the university.
“Tunay na hindi lahat ay naisaayos sa loob lamang ng anim na taon. May mga laban na nakakabinbin ngunit marami-rami din naman ang masasabing kongkretong materyalisasyon sa antas polisiya,” Staff Regent Alexis Mejia said.
Mejia, who represented the 8,700-strong UP staff, said Pascual’s term still brought about the most number of benefits received by workers as compared to previous administrations.
Among these benefits are the education support grant, health and wellness benefit, service recognition pay and the doling out of rice subsidies.
However, the call for the regularization of contractual employees in UP remains a challenge for the next university president.
Meanwhile, former Philippine Collegian Features Editor Kevin Marc Gomez recounted Pascual’s stint as alumni regent, saying Pascual sided with critical perspectives as part of the Board of Regents, the highest decision-making body of the university.
“[Natatandaan ko pa] kung paano siya napalapit sa komunidad ng UP dahil sa pagsandig niya sa mga panawagan tulad ng pagtapyas ng budget ng UP at paggigiit ng demokratikong pamamahala sa pamantasan,” said Gomez.
Colleagues of Pascual further cited his achievements in giving incentives and educational and research opportunities to both faculty and staff in individual speeches that served both as thanksgiving and farewell.
Meanwhile, Dr. Agnes Rola, professor at UP Los Baños’ Institute for Governance and Rural Development commended him for leveling up the university to be socially relevant through institutionalizing new programs.
“While we were defending the newly developed PhD in the development studies program you weren’t asking us about the but’s and the why’s but you asked when do you want to start the program,” Rola said, personally addressing the president.
“Not only that you offered to let us offer this program off-campus to reach non-traditional sectors around the area,” she added.
The Pascual administration also saw the return of 41 PhD students under the Balik PhD Program and the provision of up to P300,000 monetary grants to undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study abroad.
On the other hand, the administration also established more or less 400 linkages to international academic and research institutions which helped raise the number of journal articles published by UP faculty and researchers.
Contentions amidst congratulations
Pascual also delivered his last report highlighting his administration’s achievements, amidst applause from the university’s and the country’s higher education officials.
Included in this report was the ensured accessibility of UP education to ‘qualified’ students through the streamlining of the Socialized Tuition System (STS) and the availability of 100 percent student loans.
“With these, there is no reason why a student should not be able to enroll even if he or she doesn’t have the money,” Pascual concluded.
The Socialized Tuition System (STS), first implemented in 2014, is the successor to the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program, an alphabetized tuition scheme which categorizes students into brackets according to their socio-economic background and determines the amount they pay for the semester.
The STS was introduced in order to close gaps that the STFAP had, like the tedious application processes and inaccuracies in the results of the bracketing.
Pascual also said he hopes for the increase in government support for these projects especially now that talks of free tuition fees for state colleges and universities are afloat in Congress.
These statements did not sit well with Student Regent Raoul Manuel, who rose among the audience to remind the president of the right to free education.
“Sorry po, dear president hindi po kami kumbinsido sa sinabi niyo na achievement ang Socialized Tuition System,” said Manuel, “Andyan pa tayo sa pagsasabi na ang STS ay mas mabuti pa sa libreng edukasyon. Tandaan po natin sa term po ninyo namatay si Kristel Tejada,” Manuel said.
Tejada is a former UP Manila student who committed suicide after not being able to enroll due to unpaid tuition loans in 2012 under the STFAP bracketing system.
“I’ve heard you. I don’t want to talk about Kristel Tejada. Let her rest in peace,” Pascual said.
The president further clarified that the STS was not his brainchild and that, in fact, he is also for free tuition fees in universities.
“I didn’t claim that [STS is] the ultimate solution. I was talking about free tuition, and I hope that there is this tuition fund to support the free tuition policy of the government,” Pascual said.
“I didn’t introduce STS in the university. What I did was to streamline the process so that our students can avail of it in a faster way,” he added.
The statement did not appease Manuel, however, and five members of the University Student Council (USC) who stood up to join the student regent in a lightning rally calling for the junking of the STS and eUP project, failures they claim that the president has not yet been held accountable for.
The eUP Project is a P750-million system-wide information integration project seeking to “integrate and harmonize the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and system across all constituents universities (CUs) of the UP System.”
However, failures in the project’s implementation in different CUs and lack of transparency of the project’s spending prompted doubts and mobilizations from several student groups across UP units.
‘Ang laban ng Iskolar ng Bayan ay laban ng lahat’
The USC members and the student regent were escorted out of the auditorium by security personnel among boos from the audience.
“Noong pinalabas kami, sabi civility daw—minority lang naman daw kasi ‘yong mga estudyante,” College of Mass Communication (CMC) representative Hazel Lobres said.
Manuel said the programme was manipulated so that Pascual’s term-end report went first; this garnered an angered reaction from the student council members which was what had them escorted outside.
“Saan ka nakakita ng programa kung saan ang kanyang mga constituents na dapat n’yang pagsilbihan ay nandito sa labas at ayaw n’yang kausapin?” said Manuel.
Meanwhile, different progressive student groups had gathered at the Institute of Biology’s doors to protest against honoring Pascual, calling for his accountability for various “anti-student” policies his administration implemented.
“Kung mayroon dapat pasalamatan sa araw na ito, hindi ‘yang pahirap na pangulo na yan kung hindi ang iskolar ng bayan na patuloy na lumalaban para sa ating mga karapatan,” said USC Councilor Arvin Alba.
The protesters were barred from entering the building by security guards stationed at both entrances.
Even students who were not part of the mob but were on their way to their classes were denied access to the building. Students inside the venue were also not allowed to leave the premises.
The tension quickly escalated with the face-off between the students and security officers resulting to a physical altercation after the student groups asserted that as stakeholders with grievances, they should be allowed to enter the building.
“Ang balak talaga ay makapag-register nung mga panawagan namin [dahil] for the past six years nagbibingi-bingihan ang Pascual administration,” said Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) Chair Josiah Hiponia. “Humahantong pa sa violent dispersals para lang maipaabot sa kanya iyong mga hinaing natin.”
Despite the chaos that ensued during the mob on Pascual’s last day, Hiponia remains hopeful about the next president’s term, although he admitted that Concepcion and Pascual see eye to eye in some issues like the implementation of the eUP Project.
“Noong ako po ay lumibot at nagtanong sa ating mga kasama sa unibersidad, wala naman po akong napakinggan na kumokontra doon sa purposes noong eUP,” Concepcion said in a UP forum held last Oct. 13.
Despite the various protests that UP students held against the eUP Project, Concepcion said that the eUP system is needed for the modernization of the university.
“Alam kasi natin na ‘yong background n’ya—na may pagka-anti-student s’ya sa pagiging dean sa College of Law, kung saan maraming grievances ang mga law students,” Hiponia said, “Pero siyempre, ‘yong mga bagong simulain very optimistic tayo tungkol diyan.”
He said that nevertheless, student groups will continue to forward their campaigns, hoping for Concepcion to hear them out, especially on the issues of free education and the end to contractualization.
In a statement released by Manuel on Facebook as per the UP President’s selection, Concepcion showed the “most positive commitments” among the UP President candidates regarding the Student Agenda, especially the fight for free education and the junking of other school fees.
At the end of the protest, the student-protesters admitted not holding grudges against the guards.
USC Chairperson Bryle Leaño addressed them, saying the students and workers are on the same side and that they should not be the ones at each other’s necks.
The real enemy, for Leaño and for the students that gathered to protest was Pascual and his “anti-student and anti-people” policies.
“Ang laban ng iskolar ng bayan ay laban din ng mga gwardiya, laban din ng mga kawani, at laban din ng lahat ng sektor ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas,” he said. “Ipaliwanag natin na hindi mali ang paglaban. May mali kaya tayo lumalaban.”
Both parties shook hands with each other and exchanged apologies before the students left.