Iskolar ng Bayan-A A +A
Friday, March 22, 2013
THOSE who enter the portals of UP as a student learn to treasure the student number (you are not a person, you’re a number), and UP ID as proof that they supposedly belong to the crème de la crème.
In fact, when UP students meet for the first time, one of the first questions they ask one another is their student number. Like a soldier’s serial number, students have to memorize the UP student number, as dinned in our heads during the Freshmen Orientation and warned to never, never to forget.
That’s quite a feat. Until our last breath, we will remember our student number. If you think I have a good memory, think about this. I have many government issued IDs (SSS, BIR, passport) but I need codigos to list down their numbers. Heck, I can’t even remember my cell numbers!
To paraphrase US chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, for UP students, the student ID and number is not like life, it is life. It is this affinity that schoolmates across generations and school years—bond over easily.
That’s why my heart cried out as well when I read the tragedy that was the lot of Kristel Tejada, a 16-year old Behavioral Science major at UP Manila. Wrote Teddyboy Locsin, “When they took away her UP ID, it was the last straw she was still grasping at, like ripping her small heart out of her chest.”
I contrasted her plight with my time at the State University, a period in my life that I consider one of my happiest moments. Then as now, the first biggest hurdle was how to pass the highly competitive UP College Admissions Test (or UPCAT) and earn one of life’s first bragging moments.
Once an applicant passed, she automatically qualifies for a partial scholarship, courtesy of the State. That’s why UP students call themselves “Iskolar ng Bayan” because taxpayers pay for their privileged—or the right—to a quality tertiary education.
I can connect with the social media posts of those who joined the UP System in the 1970s. Except for the meager allowance of a parent scholar, the biggest worry was to fulfill academic requirements. I don’t recall that my UP schoolmates had any tuition issues.
Joyce M. Mendez, a Philippine Collegian staffer and fellow Dilimanian, asked me in my Facebook “Whatever happened to that program, ‘democratization,’ introduced during our time that in fact allotted more slots and slightly lower averages for poor students from the provinces? This new system seems so harsh, lacking in compassion (one of the greatest of human qualities) and anti-poor.”
That campaign on students’ rights and welfare resulted in the institution of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) scheme to enable poorer students to join the UP System, with the well-off scholars subsidizing the poor students.
It turned out to be a jump from the frying pan into the fire, however. Vince Docta, another colleague from UP Los Baños, commented, “Ayusin din nila STFAP (instituted in 1975)! anlulupet ng requirements: affidavit of non employment, certificate of tax exemption.. pero pg nalaman na renting ka, disapproved! (On the basis na may capacity to pay ka ng upa). gusto nila destitute ka tlga.”
Tejada’s UP Manila professor, Andrea Bautista-Martínez, confessed in social media that she was guilty of being unable to “act on Kristel’s dilemma.” She wrote in her Facebook account, “I will miss you... Go on and find your peace... God will keep you in His loving arms... I love you, anak!”
In an open letter, Martínez emphasized that she “opposed to the university’s “repressive policies… from the very start.” She added that Tejada took her life “due to financial constraints which prevented her from continuing her studies, had been “a victim of a system that deprived her of her constitutional right to education.”
The irony is that a day before Tejada committed suicide, UP President Alfredo Pascual instructed all heads of the state university's campuses not to bar the enrolment of qualified but poor students.
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 22, 2013.