Where they failed Kristel-A A +A
By Tyrone Velez
Thursday, March 21, 2013
THIS week has seen emotions and rage flowing over the suicide of Kristel Tejada, the University of the Philippines Manila freshman who took her own life after being forced to file a leave of absence for failing to pay her tuition.
The subsequent reaction of the UP administration has only added fire to the outrage of UP students and student activists. By blaming Kristel, they deny the problem that is clear in the eyes of many – that state universities are no longer schools that cater to the poor and deserving – and that today’s commercialized education spells doom and despair for students and parents.
I may not be a UP alumnus, but having known students and teachers from UP Mindanao, I find that their being in UP is a survival game. Not just survival in academics, but survival of the institution itself.
As government has slashed its budget to state universities nationwide since the 1990s, schools like UP have no choice but to hike its tuition fees. Since UP implemented its STFAP in 1988, it has increased its tuition to 300 pesos per unit. In 2006, the tuition rose sharply to 1,500 pesos per unit. A student at UP Mindanao pays 600 per unit.
What about scholarships? The Philippine Collegian notes that this year only 10 percent or 400 students in UP Diliman availed of free tuition; while the thousands of UP students have to pay their tuition under various income brackets.
That is just UP, think of the 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs) across the nation facing the same conditions of surviving on meager budgets and lack of facilities. Think of the despair of students eager for knowledge and a diploma, only to find such poor state of education cannot accommodate them all.
And we go back to Kristel and the pain of her dream ending. And that sparks the rage now.
Because through the years, we have seen politicians pay lip service about helping the youth, the country’s future, only to see self-promoting scholarships or projects in public schools, yet failing to give the solution of providing free, accessible education from primary to tertiary levels to all children and youth.
The national budget allocates much for debt servicing and pork goes to pet projects, but little else for the people.
We have an election now where words such as daang matuwid or gaganda ang buhay are harped by opposing camps.
But what is that to the millions of youth who dropped out of school, or to the unemployed graduates looking for jobs, or the poor who could not afford the basic needs in life.
This reminds me of another girl’s death in Davao five years ago. Twelve-year-old Mariannet Amper, who left the world by a rope, and left a note on her diary wishing for a new pair of shoes and work for her parents.
Mariannet then, now Kristel. The pain and rage remains the same. I was moved to write this for Mariannet, and it seems that I can read it again now for Kristel:
The gods are disturbed by your sleep they probe your dream, every marrow, every scar, real or imaginary and claim innocence.
You are no martyr, they say.
The words you wrote with tears are lies.
But what these gods say would not silence the dreams from every shanty, every child, every empty plate, to be filled.
This is your truth And someday we will be freed.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 21, 2013.