By PATRICIA LOURDES VIRAY
MANILA — “Mom, have you heard of the UP Manila student who committed suicide because she couldn’t pay her tuition?”
“Yes, I was almost in tears when I saw it in the news. She reminded me of you.”
This was the conversation that my mother and I had last March 15 when news came out about this UP Manila Behavioral Sciences freshman. She could have been any other UP student; she could have been a friend of mine; she could have easily been me. Many students are in the same case as hers, in danger of stopping school for a while because they cannot afford it anymore, but she chose to end everything.
There are rumors that she was not on good terms with her family and that her being forced to be on leave of absence only triggered her to commit suicide. Some are blaming her parents for lack of support, moral and financial. Even if this is true, we cannot ignore the fact that Kristel is a victim of the system.
I remember my first time submitting an STFAP (Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program) application. I had to answer a lot of questions and submit documents supporting my answers like my parents’ Certificate of Tax Exemption and Certificate from the Assessor’s Office that we do not own any property. I was relieved when the results came out because I was assigned to Bracket C, with a tuition of P600 per unit. I was excited to explore the university during the Freshman Registration period. I somehow envied the other students because they were accompanied by their mothers but I understand that it would be better if I went alone because we would have to spend more for the bus fare if my mother went along with me. I was about to pay my tuition when the cashier told me that paying in installments was not allowed unless I avail of the student loan. It was a shock to me that this university – the premier state university – required full payment during enrollment while other private universities and colleges allowed installments. The amount of my assessed tuition and miscellaneous fees back then was about P11,000 and I only had P3,500 in my pocket so I had no choice but to proceed to the Student Loan Office.
Since then it has been my routine every enrollment period to go to the Student Loan Office first before paying until I discovered this blue form or the Appeal for Late Payment which would allow me to pay all fees until the end of the semester. It became problematic for me and my parents during my second year in UP when I received a notice that my name was to be purged in the class list in two days unless I settle my accountabilities. Another problem back then was my dorm fees. My mother and I were crying when we were talking on the phone. This was the time that I’ve convinced myself that I wouldn’t be back next semester. She apologized to me for giving up and there is no more that she could do for me and I told her that it’s okay and I understand. Little did she know that it was really not okay and I cried to sleep every night thinking that this would be my last semester in UP.
Then a miracle happened, my mother called me and told me that my cousin who is a UP graduate wants me to go their house in Kamias st. in Quezon City and she’s asking how much I have to pay. My orgmate also visited me then in my dorm and gave me an envelope with money to pay my dorm fees. The money was from all of my orgmates who chipped in when they heard about my problem. Our dorm manager then offered me the position of student assistant for the next semester so that I will only have to pay for the lodging fee plus I get a salary.
The next academic year was better for us because I was assigned to Bracket E1 (free tuition and miscellaneous fees). I even got myself a part-time job as a tutor to lessen the burden of my mother. I am not blaming Kristel for giving up. What happened to her only made me think that I am lucky. If only a miracle also happened to her, she would still be with us today. This should serve as an eye-opener for the UP Administration. Implementing a “No Late Payment Policy” was very inconsiderate to think that this is a state university that should cater to the needs of the underprivileged. The fight is not over yet, we will finish this for you and for all of us who believe that education is a right not just for those who can afford it but for everyone.