Text by Liana Bettina D. Apostol and Ma. Jan Felicia D. Cuyco
Physics student Ajay Lagrimas has gotten used to the stipend delay since he entered the university in 2018.
Lagrimas left his home in Camarines Sur to try his luck in Diliman, and now he owes his daily allowance to his scholarship stipend and the money his parents could manage to send him. But when his parents couldn’t, Lagrimas has to deal with the lack of financial assistance.
Lagrimas is part of the thousands-strong DOST scholar community affected by the delayed stipend release in UP Diliman. While backgrounds vary and personal narratives differ, many of the scholars rely on DOST’s stipend to get by, which only began to pour into some scholars’ bank accounts around two months into the semester.
“Minsan, kailangan mo munang umutang sa mga kaibigan and orgmates mo. Minsan din, di ka muna kakain for a meal para makatipid ka. Limited rin yung ginagastos mo kahit for acads na, kaya may effect din sa mga gamit mo sa acads,” said Lagrimas.
When Lagrimas signed the contract for the undergraduate scholarship program under the Department of Science and Technology – Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), he expected that at the very least, it would lessen his monthly expenditures in college. This led Lagrimas to believe that expenses for his education could be provided for.
But now that it is crippling his daily allowance, the pent-up frustration is inching its way into his day-to-day living. Amidst studying on an empty stomach, paying bill after bill, and waiting on his parents’ padala, Lagrimas has to be a survivor before he is a scholar.
“If pipiliin din namin na maghanap na muna ng part-time job para makatulong sa pang-araw-araw na gastos, maaapektuhan naman yung pag-aaral namin, which is not good especially if you’re maintaining the requirements for a DOST scholar,” he said.
And, at the helm of complaints is a staff of four who sift through thousands of paperwork so that scholars like Lagrimas receive their financial aid. The UP DOST Core Group (CG) grinds through undergraduate scholarship matters inside a dim office with low-hanging cubicles, crammed in a portion of the Diliman Learning Resource Center (DLRC).
When asked to comment on the delay, the CG staff let out a disgruntled sigh as they found the same pent-up frustration of a system that demands a gargantuan job from them. The thought of scholars struggling to make ends meet is gnawing away their day-to-day work too, but then again, when there are 2, 000 pending scholarships to attend to, there is only so much a four-member staff can do.
A domino of delay
Bridging the gap between the two parties is DOST Scholars’ Association (DOST-SA), a student organization which coordinates with the CG in relaying pertinent information to the scholars in the organization.
DOST-SA head Joshua Versola identified several chokepoints that impeded the CG’s process of releasing stipends. As is the case every year, the late submission of requirements by some scholars can affect the release of stipend to their accounts.
The CG only begins to process the scholars’ stipend once they submit their Form 5 (the students’ certificate of registration and enlistment) and Transcript of Grades for students 2nd year and higher. But when a scholar submits at a later date, their application is waived to the next batch of processing.
While the CG does not set a cap on the number of scholars per batch, they only process those who pass the requirements on time.
Late Form 5 printing delays stipend release
Versola shared that the lag in printing UP students’ Form 5 for the first semester worsened the stipend delay.
Without the scholars’ official proof of enrollment, the CG resorted to accept the Form 5a (the students’ unofficial proof of enlistment) in the meantime, but still had to verify students’ standing using the Form 5.
The assessment and printing of Form 5 took almost a month after registration, since the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) had to finalize matters regarding the billing and reporting of Tuition and Other School Fees (TOSF).
The delay of Form 5 caused a “domino effect” in the processing of stipend. Since the CG had to verify the eligibility of students through Form 5, latter steps in the processing such as CG’s report-making and DOST’s budget-finalizing were on standby.
The DOST-SEI earlier released an official statement August 27 as a response to a scholar’s post calling out the stipend delay.
“As we are very much aware of the day-to-day needs of our scholars, we ensure that enough funds are made available for timely disbursement by the University,” the statement read.
The Rise for Education Alliance (R4E), an alliance of different youth organizations that calls for accessible education, also issued a statement four days later, holding a Twitter rally to call for the release of the stipends.
“The delay of the monthly DOST stipend has been a recurring issue since 2015. Years later, the delay continues to burden scholars as they struggle to pay for school and living expenses,” the statement read.
Scholars plunged in debt with late stipend
BS Psychology scholar Anna* relies on the stipend to pay her rent. As her parents living in Albay are unable to pay for her food, she resorts to borrowing money from her friends.
“Kung naubusan ako ng pera, mangungutang. Kung maniningil na yung landlord, mangungutang,” she lamented.
As a graduate of Philippine Science High School, she wonders why her college stipend is given late, especially since both scholarships are under the same department.
“2 months delayed. 40, 000 yung kabuuan per sem, 7, 000 per month. Tapos mayroon pang book allowance na importante sana sa start ng sem makuha, kasi, you know start ng sem. Kaso ayun…wala. ‘Di ako nakabili nung books na kailangan sa majors,” she said.
Fast tracking the stipend release
As scholars like Lagrimas attributed the stipend delay to the long processes involved, they also asked the DOST to ease the processes, especially since the institution in-charge is capable of producing the technology needed.
“The DOST core group is very advanced, lalo na at nandito na sila sa UP Diliman where technology is at hand. Maybe they can create a system na pwedeng magconnect sa CRS info ng student and other data since Form 5 din naman ang basehan,” he pointed out.
In order to alleviate the problem, DOST-SA has talked with the College of Science’s Office of the Associate Dean for Student, Alumni, and Public Affairs (ADSAPA) on possible steps to address the grievances of the scholars.
Although Versola admitted the accounting side is beyond his expertise, he assured that the ADSAPA will strive to fix the choke points in accounting.
Meanwhile, DOST-SA is eyeing a collaboration with the UP Diliman OUR and Computer Registration System (CRS) team to fast track the process of generating reports for scholars.
“Nagrequest kami sa ADSAPA if may mahanap ba silang way to validate lahat ng scholars at once na enrolled sila para ‘di na namin sila kailangang hintayin,” Versola said.
At the same time, the DOST-SA plans to help the CG in verifying the scholars’ eligibility through the CRS module.
“What if bigyan natin ng specific module yung DOST Core Group para maccheck nila kung enrolled or valid pa yung student scholars?” Versola proposed.
Shrinking DOST budget
However, the DOST faces an even bigger challenge that could trample over the scholars’ stipends. With almost 80 million slashed from its 2020 budget, the DOST suffers from one of the smallest shares in the national expenditure. To add insult to injury, the DOST budget has shrunk yearly since 2018.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto expressed the need for more scientists to address the country’s problems, saying that scholars are “no doubt more important for the country’s future” than members of the Congress.
Recto added the financial aid provided by the DOST scholarships “should attract the best and the brightest to pursue STEM courses”.
But for undergraduate scholars like Lagrimas, the late monthly stipend has forced him to claw his way through college with quickly dwindling cash. He can’t get a part-time job since he has to maintain his grades as part of their contract.
“This country needs scientists. And we know that our scientists and engineers are not well-funded. This reflects on DOST scholars – this is how the government treats its scientists,” he said.
Note: The name of the interviewee* has been changed at her request.